Dunedin is located at the head of the Otago Harbour, and is the second largest city in the South Island. It is a place known for its distinctive Scottish history and Maori heritage, its remarkable Victorian and Edwardian architecture, its picturesque beaches and proximity to nature and marine wildlife. The city is also home to New Zealand’s oldest university and is therefore famous for its large student population.
Queenstown, New Zealand’s ‘adventure capital’ is incredibly popular with both domestic holidayers and international visitors. The picturesque resort town is surrounded by lake and alpine vistas, as well as having a selection of canyons, bridges and river rapids that allow it to live up to its extreme sporting reputation. Given that it draws in travellers of all ages and all walks of life, its attractions are very diverse, ranging from opulent wellness retreats to walking and cycling routes by the shores of the picturesque Lake Wakatipu.
Arrowtown is just a short 15-minute drive from Queenstown. History buffs in particular should definitely stop by for a day trip. The town offers a glimpse of the Central Otago region’s gold rush and the Chinese mining settlements that came about during the 19th century. Autumn is the best time of year to visit Arrowtown – not only because there’s an annual autumn festival to look forward to, but also because the town’s tree-lined cottages are given a whole new life thanks to the golden tones of the season.
Wanaka is a destination in the Central Otago region that has been gaining quite a bit of traction in recent times. The lakeside town offers a good base for the region’s premium ski fields, as well as having an abundance of hiking and cycling routes at its disposal. In the summer months, this is also a good place to immerse yourself in some water activities and to get to know some of the cool and quirky attractions that add to the town’s friendly demeanor.
Central Otago is particularly noteworthy for its viticulture. Not only is this where some of New Zealand’s best Pinot Noir wines are made, this is also one of the country’s seven largest wine-producing regions. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are among the other varietals the area is renowned for. Queenstown offers a good base for those wanting to get a taste of the area’s picturesque vineyards and wineries.
One of the best things about the Otago region is that it is surrounded by native bird and marine wildlife. Especially if you’re based around Dunedin, there are a number of tours and experiences you’ll get to tap into. The Otago Peninsula’s Taiaroa Head, for instance, is just within reach of the city and houses the region’s iconic Royal Albatross Centre as well as being a key place to spot various species of birds, fur seals and penguins.
The Moeraki Boulders are a compelling cluster of sedimentary rock formations found on the shores of Koekohe Beach, right between the coastal Otago towns of Moeraki and Hampden. The massive spherical boulders are actually geological concretions carved out of several millions of years of coastal erosion. A beachside stroll from the Moeraki Boulders Scenic Reserve car park is the best way to get up close to these scientifically significant natural marvels – for the best photo ops, try to get there before sunrise or sunset.
If you have an affinity for multi-day cycling, then you need to add the Otago Central Rail Trail to your bucket list. This route is renowned for being New Zealand’s original Great Ride, paving the way for other tracks of similar natures to be established across the country. The trail can be either walked or cycled, and passes through farmland and an ancient railway line that traverses several viaducts, picturesque towns and historic train stations. It typically takes three to four days for cyclists to complete the full 150-kilometre (93.2-mile) journey.
New Zealand’s third largest national park offers a trove of glacially-carved land features for Otago visitors to marvel at. A road trip from Wanaka or Queenstown is one of the best ways to access Mount Aspiring National Park and all the highlights that have made this a strong component of the South Island’s Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage area. These include the stunning Blue Pools, a series of mountains and valleys and the Routeburn Track, which is one of New Zealand’s iconic Great Walks.
Here’s another Otago hiking must-do. The Silver Peaks Scenic Reserve is located just a 30-minute drive north of Dunedin, and is composed of four 700-metre (2297-foot) peaks that are lined with an awesome assortment of trekking routes. These challenging trails are perfect for experienced trampers wanting to test their skills in some rugged countryside terrains, meandering past several historic sites, swampy ridges, some native forestry and plenty of grassed tussock along the way.