With a remarkable collection of contrasting landscapes, New Zealand’s Otago region is set to amaze all those who pass through. Whether you end up exploring the peninsula, local towns and cities or the historic mining settlements, there are loads of beautiful wonders to relish. Here are 10 of the most breathtaking to inspire your next journey.
Gibbston Valley is part of the Wakatipu Basin and is one of the most scenic vineyard locales in the Central Otago region. Its proximity to Queenstown makes it a favourite stopover for those wanting to spend a day tasting the local drops and getting to know more about the region’s viticulture. The best renowned winery along the valley is aptly named after its location: Gibbston Valley wines is a major producer of Pinot Noir varietals and its wine cave is the largest of its kind in New Zealand.
Lake Wanaka is New Zealand’s fourth largest lake by surface area and home to a township with the same name. It stretches across 42 kilometres (26 miles), is 300 metres (980 feet) deep and flows out into the Clutha River. The lake is a breathtaking sight in all seasons: many who visit Wanaka spend the summertime getting the most of its water activities, while winter travellers might choose to wander by the shorelines and maybe even snap a picture of the lonesome willow tree that has practically become a postcard for the township.
Lake Hayes is a small, peaceful lake that lies right between Queenstown and Arrowtown. Its mirrored glacial waters provide a stunning perspective of the area’s beautiful mountain ranges. A short stroll or cycle along the Lake Hayes Walkway tends to be the favoured route for those wanting to explore these surrounds; the loop trail only takes a couple of hours to explore and is quite handy to one of the region’s finest picnic spots.
Located within a scenic one-hour drive from Dunedin, Taiaroa Head is notable for housing the world’s only mainland royal albatross breeding colony. This stunning Otago Peninsula headland is a haven for wildlife lovers: guided tours will not only get you nice and close to the famous nesting albatrosses, it will also introduce you to the native penguins, endangered seabirds and marine mammals that reside on these shores.
The Taieri Gorge is a deep river canyon that stretches from the fertile agricultural landscapes of the Taieri Plains, just outside of Dunedin, to the outskirts of the town of Pukerangi. The 40-kilometre (25-mile) gorge was carved by the Taieri River as it cut across the Central Otago region and into the Pacific Ocean. A walking track from the rural Dunedin suburb of Outram will enable hikers to experience awesome natural sights for themselves; alternatively, the scenic train journey on the Taieri Gorge Railway will also get you nice and close to it.
Spanning across 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles), Victory Beach is the longest on the Otago Peninsula. The pristine beach is located within a 24-kilometre (15-mile) drive from Dunedin’s city centre – a gravel road near Portobello provides access to it. Sand dunes are among its most prominent features; and if you’re lucky, you might also spot a few resident sea lions, fur seals and yellow-eyed penguins doing their rounds. A visit to Victory Beach is not complete without a trip the nearby Okia Reserve, where a series of perfectly carved basalt volcanic columns known as The Pyramids come into full view.
Sandymount is a prominent hill on the Otago Peninsula that’s surrounded by soaring cliffs and chasms. The walk up the summit via the Sandymount Track comes with plenty of oceanic vistas and interesting detours: just off the main route you’ll encounter notable gems like The Chasm, Lovers Leap and Sandfly Bay. The track is closed in September and October for the lambing season.
Sandfly Bay is another Otago Peninsula must-see that’s lined with awe-inspiring sand dunes. Locals were inclined to believe that the bay was named after a pesky biting insect that’s common in the great New Zealand outdoors, but the reality is that Sandfly Bay was named as such because its sands are known to fly from the dunes into the wind-swept shores. Walking tracks around the bay allow visitors to glance at the resident yellow-eyed penguins and sea lions in their natural habitats without actually disturbing them.
Portobello is a secluded seaside village in the Otago Harbour, halfway between Dunedin and Taiaroa Head, which is surrounded by beautiful coastlines and wildlife too. It lies at the foot of the Portobello Peninsula and is named after a locality in the Scottish city of Edinburgh. Natural attractions aside, this picturesque township is also known for iconic local fixtures, including the historic Portobello Hotel (which is a actually pub these days) and the Happy Hens ceramic shop which has become a hit among visitors for its collection of brightly painted wooden chickens.
Among the headlands that make up the Otago Peninsula, you’ll find the picturesque Cape Saunders. Captain James Cook named the cape in 1770 in honour of Royal Navy Admiral Sir Charles Saunders. Cape Saunders is best viewed via the walking tracks around Allans Beach and Mt Charles summit, the latter of which is the highest point in the entire peninsula. Keep in mind that the trail to Mt Charles crosses over some private land; if you want to explore it, you’ll need to get permission from the landowners first.