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Travel guide

Central Otago attractions, things to do and places to go – travel guide

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In this Article
Top 11 attractions and things to do in Central Otago

Central Otago, a world of difference

In this Article

Central Otago is a holiday destination away from the crowds of Queenstown. The wide open blue skies beckon the adventurer to explore side roads of Central Otago and find out why film directors fall in love with the extraordinary landscape.

Central Otago is located in New Zealand’s South Island. Known for its gold mining history, its pinot noir wine trails, and striking vast blue skies and folded hills, the region is rapidly becoming an excellent cycling destination with four well-known dedicated cycling trails.

OUTDOORS

Explore a landscape painter’s relish for the depth of light and contrasting tussock-clad folded mountain ranges. The distinctive rounded mountains, with their rock tors and gold tussock, are inhabited by unique creatures such as the Otago skink, the mountain stone wētā, and the New Zealand falcon/kārearea. Alpine flowers display their fragile beauty in spring, occasionally carpeting the tops in subtle colour. Visitors are memorized by the remote splendour and the majesty of the semi-arid world of Central Otago.

Middlemarch

OUTDOORS – WHERE TO GO AND WHAT TO SEE IN CENTRAL OTAGO

  • Sutton Salt Lake winter views with an easy family-friendly cycling and walking trail
  • Walks and tracks from short easy strolls to multiple day tramps to the top of Rock and Pillars Range are found nearby What’s so great about Middlemarch – Best Bits
  • St Bathans quarry lakeside with the extraordinary blue water is close by, check out What’s so great about St Bathans. Blue Lake is a stunning moon-like landscape deserving further exploration. The lake’s beginnings start with gold prospecting and miners sluicing and dredging for gold. The lake is effectively a drowned quarry. The sharp blue colour of the water contrasting with the striped white quartz tailings is spectacular creating a must go location for photographers.
  • Alexandra lookout vantage points with sweeping views of the Central Otago folded hills, alpine semi-arid tussock and settlement of Alexandra
  • Take the slow route on a road trip. Explore and find out what the original landscape looked like before the cows turned up. Walk on a boardwalk through a surviving wetland and peat swamp. Pass panoramic views of the Taieri Plains found Inland Otago side roads exploration – Best Bits.
  • Take time in Cromwell to lace up the hiking boots and explore BANNOCKBURN SLUICINGS SCENIC RESERVE. A landscape denuded of vegetation is stark evidence of the huge changes to the landscape when the pressure of water cannons created an environment dominated by rock rubbles, striped bare hills and various shades of ochre, dust and yellowed tracks. Bannockburn is elevated giving visitors a chance for a great landscape shot of the vineyards, the waterways and the central Otago plateau region.
  • Alexandra is where FLAT TOP HILL CONSERVATION AREA is found. The reserve is a superb natural example of the original landscape form of Central Otago. The region is semi-arid with low rainfall. Indeed Central Otago is the driest region of New Zealand, receiving less than 400 mm of rainfall annually. Otago | NIWA.
Bannockburn sluicing striped hillsides evidence of the harsh environment resulting from gold mining Otago, New Zealand
Bannockburn sluicing striped hillsides evidence of the harsh environment resulting from gold mining
Alexandra Bridge over the Clutha River, Alexandra, Otago, New Zealand
Alexandra Bridge over the Clutha River

Highlights for Alexandra, Central Otago walking trails

  • Conroy Creek historic gold mining sites in the Aldinga Conservation Area
  • Swim and picnic in Conroys Dam
  • Witness evidence of the sheer destruction of a powerful water gold mining dredging and water cannon. Earnscleugh Tailings Track: Alexandra area, Otago region mining tailings are nationally significant as the only complete record of dredging activity from 1863 to 1963. They’re an awe inspiring sight, hundreds of metres wide like a giant’s ploughed field.
  • Walk along shared cycle Otago Rail Trail
  • Explore the lesser known Clyde River shared track
  • Flat Top Hill Track with its outstanding town and country views of Central Otago

And the four cycling trails of:

Are shared paths where walkers and cyclists relish the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of Central Otago.

Male Mountain Biker Rides over the Brow of a Hill, Central Otago, South Island New Zealand
Central Otago
19th century abandoned miners stone cottage Otago Gold Fields
19th century abandoned miners stone cottage Otago Gold Fields

HERITAGE GOLDFIELDS, GOLD MINING TRAILS – PLACES TO GO AND THINGS TO DO

There’s gold in the’ hills … the lure of instant fortune. The rush was in full flood in 1861 with Gabriel’s Gully (Lawrence) where the gold fever spread its tentacles. Within a year 10,000 mines set up tents in Gabriel’s Gully. Evocative names Dead Horse Pinch, Serpentine and Lonely Graves echo the unfulfilled optimism of 19th century prospectors. Visitors are intrigued by the relics, the stone shelters and the evidence of arduous hard physical labour to extract gold. Attractions range from walks among the sites, restored main streets and museums carefully documenting the story of the search for gold. The magnificent scenery of Central Otago and the lush temperature bush of the West Coast is a bonus… READ MORE

CENTRAL OTAGO KIWI TOWNS

Folded golden tussock clad hills set against skies stretched from horizon to horizon. It is majesty and overpoweringly beautiful. The landscape is home to a series of communities where life is governed by the remote landscape. It is a journey where urban life fades into the timelessness of places where the rhythm of life is largely governed by the seasons.

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Photographers check out the local kiwi town info for the best or quirky place for a selfie.

TIP

Don’t rush past the Central Otago kiwi towns, stop, explore and check out the local attractions and things to do in Central Otago communities and towns.

GETTING TO & GETTING AROUND CENTRAL OTAGO

Either Dunedin or Queenstown are the usual points of entry to Otago. Both destinations are within easy driving distance with plenty of things to do and see. Central Otago is the place for a road trip. It is ideal country for a motorhome in the summer although winter is not recommended due to snow and icy road conditions. Remember always to check New Zealand, attractions, things to do and places to visit, the definitive travel guide – Best Bits for road driving tips and suggestions and your bucket list of what to do and see in New Zealand is aptly assisted by Amazing 12 Aotearoa New Zealand unmissable attractions – Best Bits.

Dunedin Railway Station Platform, Otago, New Zealand
Dunedin Railway Station Platform
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Time for one road trip only while visiting New Zealand?

Touring Central Otago by road is the best way to go.

Cromwell heritage buildings, Otago, New Zealand
Cromwell heritage buildings

HOW MUCH TIME IS REQUIRED TO VISIT CENTRAL OTAGO?

Allow 3 – 5 days for your visit to Central Otago. Wine trails, heritage goldfields and lingering studio art galleries as well as the distances between destinations.

WHAT IS THE BEST PLACE TO VISIT IN CENTRAL OTAGO?

The best place to visit in Central Otago that embraces key elements, scenery, walks, historic gold trails and wineries is Cromwell. You can easily visit Cromwell in less than 2 hours from Queenstown.

Queenstown Cromwell 59.2 km
Queenstown Naseby 175 km
Queenstown Clyde 84.6 km
Queenstown Ranfurly 171 km
Queenstown St Bathans 145 km
Queenstown Roxburgh 129.4 km

 

Dunedin Cromwell 220.3 km
Dunedin Naseby 143 km
Dunedin Clyde 197.9 km
Dunedin Ranfurly 131.5 km
Dunedin St Bathans 168.9 km
Dunedin Roxburgh 149.5 km

The three touring routes exploring Central Otago take the road trip down side roads and detour to quiet places devoid of tourist crowds.

Inland Otago side roads exploration – Best Bits

Inland Otago road trip guide where to go and what to see – Best Bits

Power of the Dog film locations, places to go – Best Bits

  • Absolutely beautiful Central Otago scenery, gold diggings heritage sites and small towns each with their own unique personality.

For more road trip holiday inspiration check out Central Otago inland road trip: Queenstown to Dunedin – Best Bits

Otago Sinclair Wetlands signage, New Zealand
Otago Sinclair Wetlands

And consider linking your Central Otago road trips with The Catlins, Southern Scenic Road Trip: Wildlife Safari Road Trip, The Catlins – Best Bits and Southern Scenic Road Trip: Invercargill to Fiordland National Park – Best Bits.

Vineyard views, Cromwell, New Zealand
Vineyard views, Cromwell

WINE TRAILS IN CENTRAL OTAGO

Combined with heavenly scenery, stunning walks Central Otago vineyards are unmissable for wine trail lovers.

Get out, meet and greet the growers. Cromwell’s wine trail embraces 20% of the country’s wineries. That is tremendous for an area covering only 5% of New Zealand’s vineyard area. Choices galore, packed between heritage gold mining locations, perched on valley sides overlooking scenic rivers and the home of award winning Pinot Noir wines. Boutique family focused land management enhances the visitors wine experience.

… read more Cromwell’s wine trail, 11 popular wineries to visit – Best Bits

WHERE TO STAY IN CENTRAL OTAGO?

 

HANG ON … COMING SOON

WEATHER & CLIMATE OF CENTRAL OTAGO

The climate of Otago is perhaps the most diverse of any region in New Zealand. The region is in the latitudes of prevailing westerlies, and exposed coastal locations often experience strong winds, but the winds are lighter inland. Winter is typically the least windy time of year, as well as for many but not all areas, the driest.

Annual precipitation in Otago typically decreases with increasing distance from the western ranges and the east coast.  Indeed Central Otago is the driest region of New Zealand, receiving less than 400 mm of rainfall annually.

Dry spells of more than two weeks occur relatively frequently in Central Otago, but less so elsewhere. Temperatures are on average lower than over the rest of the country with frosts and snowfalls occurring relatively frequently each year.  However daily maximum temperatures in summer can exceed 30°C, especially about inland areas of Otago.

On average, coastal Otago receives less sunshine than many other parts of New Zealand.

Otago | NIWA.

Pinders Pond, Central Otago, Roxburgh, New Zealand
Pinders Pond, Central Otago, Roxburgh

BEST BITS TRAVEL GUIDE

Best Bits travel guide is published by nzjane.com. Owned and managed by PacificJane Ltd.

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