Wildlife, nature, culture, viticulture and adventure. It’s fair to say the Otago region, on New Zealand’s South Island, has plenty of interesting sights and experiences to keep its visitors busy. Come with us as we delve into the area’s best attractions.
New Zealand’s fourth largest lake and its surrounding township have become popular destinations over the years, partly because of its exquisite beauty and partly because of the number of water-based activities it offers the active travellers among us. Wanaka’s other highlights include easy access to some of the country’s best ski fields as well as Mt Aspiring National Park’s stunning hiking terrains.
Otago Central Rail Trail
Love long-distance cycling? Then the Otago Central Rail Trail is going to be right up your alley. Known for being the country’s first ‘Great Ride’, the trail is open year-round and follows the old route of the Otago Central Railway – a train system which was fully operational from 1879 to 1990. The 152-kilometre (94.4-mile) ride can be broken into manageable sections or even walked at your leisure.
New Zealand’s adventure capital attracts visitors from all corners of the globe who wish to experience its epic activities and awe-inspiring scenery. The town is well-placed for a year-round thrill, with snow enthusiasts flocking to its ski fields in the winter and summer explorers marvelling at the hiking and water-based adventures on offer in the warmer season.
For the culture and history aficionados, a trip to Dunedin is an absolute must. The city is known for its interesting Scottish and Maori heritage, its incredible showcase of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, a thriving street art scene, among various others attractions by the coast and inland.
Arrowtown is a charming settlement near Queenstown. It is a good place to visit in the autumn months if you want to see the golden foliage at their prime. For the history buffs, its surrounding hikes and biking trails will also give you a whole new perspective of the Central Otago region’s rich gold mining history.
The Otago Peninsula
Wildlife enthusiasts should put the Otago Peninsula on top of their bucket lists. The coastal area is one of the South Island’s best places to see native bird life in their most natural form. At the foot of Tairoa Head, you’ll find the Royal Albatross Centre – the only mainland breeding colony of its kind in New Zealand. Eco-friendly Dunedin provides the optimal departure point for those who want to see the world’s rarest penguin – the hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin – and Pilots Beach is where you’ll discover colonies of native Little Blue Penguins.
Nugget Point is one of the Otago region’s most dramatic natural wonders. A series of wave-eroded rocks that resemble gigantic gold nuggets can be viewed by going up the iconic Tokata Lighthouse in the Catlins coastal area. Definitely spend some time exploring the entire location, as Nugget Point is known to house a number of native species like fur seals and penguins.
Toitu Otago Settlers Museum
First opened in 1908, the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most comprehensive venues of its kind. It is entirely dedicated to showcasing the history of Dunedin and the wider Otago region, blending Maori and European heritage with evolution in technology, fashion, art and lifestyle to paint a picture of how the area has changed over the centuries.
The Otago Farmers’ Market
Rain, hail or shine, you can count on the Otago Farmers’ Market to transform Dunedin’s Railway Station into a buzzing destination on any given Saturday morning. Unlike many of its regional counterparts, this market is a year-round operation, relying on several artisan vendors and local producers to help to retain its reputation as one of the oldest and most diverse traditional farmers’ markets in New Zealand.
Over the years the town of Oamaru has become world-famous for embracing steampunk culture in full force. Steampunk HQ is its home for all things related to the retro-futuristic convention: movies, sculpture, sci-fi art relics, you name it. The museum, which opened its doors in 2011, is also famous for its a full-scale spit-fire train engine and the heritage building that houses its incredible collections.
Steampunk HQ, 1 Itchen St, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand. +64 27 778 6547
The Central Otago vineyards
The Central Otago region has built a strong reputation, locally and globally, for its Pinot Noir blends. The grape varietal makes up most of its plantings, but the vineyards are also known for their sparkling wines, Sauvignon Blancs and Rieslings too. Queenstown tends to be the best departure point for those wanting to visit the area’s wineries and there are guided tours specifically designed to educate visitors about the different wines they can expect to taste throughout the region.