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Inland Otago side roads exploration

Adventure beckons, Take the detour. Take time, slow down and enjoy places where tourists are far and few. 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. Find out about a significant Chinese mining precinct on the outskirts of Lawrence. Spend time in a quirky butcher museum in Milton and linger in local museums where volunteers look after the past. Enjoy local cafes before rejoining the main highway to Dunedin. The detour, on the inland Otago road trip commences in the town, Alexandra.

Trip Overview

Ettrick, Lawrence, Milton, Whale Fossil Lookout, Sinclair Wetlands hidden central Otago corners


  • Horseshoe Bend swing bridge while munching orchard fresh apples
  • Tuapeka Lawrence museum with its fascinating stories and hidden treasures
  • Chinese mining heritage stories
  • Photo moments against a backdrop of Victorian gothic architecture
  • Quirky butchery museum in Milton
  • Nationally significant Sinclair Wetlands and the prolific bird life

Duration: 2 days or more depending on interests
Start Queenstown
Finish Dunedin (route can be reversed)


December to April

  • A number of tour operators are seasonal and close during the winter months.
  • The trip is suitable for motorhomes.

What is summer without crisp, orchard fresh apples? When you visit Ettrick you are in the home of the New Zealand apple industry. The Central Otago climate with its brisk winter frosts and consistent warm dry summers has fostered a robust apple economy. The dry climate has led to several organic orchardists in the area. Look for orchard gate stalls for the freshest, crisp apples.


  • Organic apple roadside stalls
  • Horseshoe Bend swing bridge
  • Views of the Teviot Valley
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Lawrence art deco elegance among faded Victorian storefront shops, Central Otago, New Zealand
Lawrence art deco elegance among faded Victorian storefront shops, Central Otago

The centre of the universe for gold mining fever in the mid-nineteenth century is now a backwater town with a wealth of history to explore, beautiful rolling hills and a chance to relax, revive and find the slow lane.


  • Tuapeka Lawrence Museum with its dredging equipment, stamping machinery, a plethora of contraptions from early bikes to sewing machines is rabbit warren in a former mining office. There are discoveries to be made in every hallway. The museum is definitely old fashioned yet intriguing and definitely, a must-go destination for heritage buffs
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Sod Cottage in Milton, New Zealand
Sod Cottage in Milton

In a small town, located on SH1 the elaborate art deco former post office is now the Tokomairiro Museum. A substantial collection of Milton Pottery, as well as artefacts retrieved from a sailing ship that wrecked near Milton in 1907 are on display. Milton is home to a butcher’s museum. Butchery Museum with historic equipment and photographs dating back to the early 20th century, managed by Rex Spence who is a practicing butcher (South Kill Abattoir). As you drive through the town perhaps you will notice an odd kink in the road.

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Whale Fossil Lookout


Lake Waihola in New Zealand
Lake Waihola

Milburn Whale Fossils and Lookout detour is just outside town. You will get great views of Lake Waihola and kids can imagine the world where whales and dolphins swam. The lime quarries are where unearthed dinosaur bones were found. It is estimated the bones are over 24 million years old. The whale fossils were found 170 m above current sea levels. A small exhibition displays the pictorial history of the lime and phosphate working in the area, as well as displays of 24-34-million-year-old whale and dolphin fossils.

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Sinclair wetlands

Birding hot spot alert

Otago Sinclair Wetlands signage, New Zealand
Otago Sinclair Wetlands signage

Take a detour off SH1 to explore the little known Sinclair wetlands located between Lake Waihola and Lake Waipori. It is fascinating to think about the wetlands as the natural landscape with cows and sheeps grazing on now drained wetlands. The Sinclair wetlands are a network of river channels, natural swamps and clear waterways covering 315 hectares. Two shallow lakes drain and filter their water flows through the wetlands into the Waipori River then the larger Taieri River.

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