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Things To Do In Otago § Places to go, Activities & Sightseeing

Discover evocative painted landscapes where folded tussock clad hills narrate the story of the 19th century gold rush era. Find treasures in Dunedin’s cityscape with its magnificent Oamarua basalt stone foundations. Enjoy skydiving and adventures in the tourist town of Queenstown nestled in the Southern Alpes and discover small settlements on quiet byways leading to The Catlins.

Travel guides

What to do
Cycle your way through history and vineyards

For families where there are various degrees of fitness levels the Arrow River Bridges excursion is relaxing with plenty to see and do for all interests. Everyone is fascinated by people plunging ...

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Inland Otago road trip guide where to go and what to see

Discover who turned up and named places and the legacy left behind. There are railway bridges, lonely cemeteries and railways now reimagined as cycle trails. Find the people who now call the ...

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Central Otago inland road trip: Queenstown to Dunedin

Uncover side roads where nineteenth century gold miners once trudged in hope of fortunes made. Discover the diverse landscape moves from alpine tussock, then folded burnt yellow hills to rolling ...

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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. ...

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DUNEDIN

A nineteenth century economic power house for emerging colonial New Zealand. Majestic stone buildings reflect the wealth of the period and now are a quiet architectural story. Repurposed boutique stores, art galleries and shops occupy bank headquarters. Architectural gems include the beautifully restored High Court and the iconic Dunedin Railway Station, the backdrop for many instagram photos. Dunedin is an underrated heritage gem for visitors with a bent for heritage as Port Chalmers and the district has stories to tell. For holiday ideas check out our Dunedin travel guide, best FREE things to see, what to do: NZ Jane. Nearby Port Chalmers is a worthwhile day trip from Dunedin with plenty to do and see.

The downtown of Port Chalmers, the suburb of Dunedin city (New Zealand).
The downtown of Port Chalmers, the suburb of Dunedin city

Nature and wildlife buffs do not miss out with the majesty of the Royal Albatross colony a drawcard, the marine waters are home to dolphins, seals and whales with stunning views from the surrounding rolling hills.

Major towns such as Timaru and Oamura are threads connecting the journey south on State Highway as it follows the coast and hills. Oamura is fun. Genuine dyed in the wool heritage bottled and reimagined for visitors. Oamaru has curated the history of Oamaru New Zealand into quirky, fun encounters. You are not going to forget your visit in a hurry. Kids are welcome to clamber, jump and climb at Steampunk. The blue penguins will capture your heart as they waddle back to their nests in the evening, Oamaru is definitely worth a stopover.

Best places to visit

OTAGO – REGIONS

INLAND DUNEDIN – STRATH TAIERI DISTRICT

Strath Taieri is a large glacial valley and river plateau in New Zealand’s South Island. It is surrounded by the rugged hill ranges to the north and west of Otago Harbour. Since 1989 it has been part of the city of Dunedin. The small town of Middlemarch is located at its southern end. Settlements include Middlemarch, Clyde Hyde, Pukerangi, Opir and Hindon.

Middlemarch and its district major highway is SH87

Travelling time to Middlemarch:

From Distance Time
Queenstown 233 km 3 hr
Wanaka 226 km 2 hr 45 min
Cromwell 174 km 2 hr 10 min
Clyde 152 km 1 hr 50 min
Alexandra 148 km 1 hr 45 min
Dunedin 80 km 1 hr 5 min
Palmerston 78 km 1 hr
Christchurch 383 km 5 hr 10 min
Middlemarch, New Zealand
Middlemarch

CENTRAL OTAGO – MANIOTOTO DISTRICT

Central Otago is exquisite, it is austere and beautiful in its sweeping alpine contrast. The land has inspired internationally renowned artists and craftspeople. It drew Grahame Sydney and Ralph Hotere to call the place home. Photographers relish the opportunity to capture the light and contrast.

Small town stories are a repository of stories of harsh struggles and endurance. The lure of gold, of instant wealth was a nineteenth century lottery ticket that left a legacy of stone huts, lonely graves and abandoned settlements.

St Bathans former police camp now accommodation, New Zealand
St Bathans former police camp now accommodation

Today small settlements such as  St Bathans have less than 10 permanent residents yet are evocative fascinating places to visit. Formerly thousands called Towns include Middlemarch, Ranfurly, Naseby home. Discover their stories and find out why the locals are so passionate about Central Otago. The wide open spaces encouraged the pastoral holdings and the advent of rail opened up the area for rapid transport links. Today small heritage settlements are a treasure trove of heritage stories from the 19th century gold rush era, to pastoral activities and the present. The small towns are home for artists, crafty folk offering quirky unique pieces to linger over and purchase.

Warm dry summers entice visitors to bike around the bronze landscapes of central Otago. Luscious fruit roadside stalls are a reason to stop and savour the sweet taste of sun ripened apricots, pears and peaches. Ranfurly is the largest town in the district.

TRAVELLING TO RANFURLY

From Distance Time
Queenstown 170 km 2 hr
Wanaka 162 km 2 hr
Cromwell 111 km 1 hr 20 min
Clyde 85 km 1 hr
Alexandra 85 km 1 hr
Dunedin 144 km 1 hr 45 min
Palmerston 78 km 1 hr
Christchurch 383 km 5 hr 10 min
Ranfurly tourist information center situated on Central Otago Railway bicycle trail in New Zealand
Ranfurly tourist information center
Cromwell heritage buildings Otago, New Zealand
Cromwell heritage buildings Otago

CROMWELL

Cromwell’s historic district at the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers was swallowed by the lake in the late 1980’s due to the construction of the Clyde Dam. The heritage precinct was carefully removed and reimaged in its current location by the newly created Lake Dunstan foreshore. Today visitors continue to stroll through a heritage precinct. Gravel soils, river valleys and warm summers underpin a successful horticulture / vintner industry fostering a farm to gate culinary experience for visitors. Fresh fruit, single origin estate wines and boutique artisan goods have become part of the gold fields’ magic experience. Check Ten Inspiring Reasons to Visit Cromwell to start the journey

CLUTHA

Southern Otago blending seemingly into Southland with its coastal rugged splendour. Rural New Zealand is on full show with farmland intersected by braided rivers. The mighty Clutha weaves a path through the landscape dominating the region with its power and might.  There are pleasant family walking trails, from 10 family walks to explore near Milton, what to see, guide: NZ Jane to the Catlins family walks.

The wildlife, the jagged coastline and lush bush folded around the hills and valleys of the Catlins is breathtaking. Check The Catlins travel guide, things to do & see, activities: NZ Jane for holiday ideas and where to find sea lions, hooker seals, rare yellow eyed penguins and waterfalls. The Catlins is the rockstar of the Clutha district.

Clutha district towns include Lawrence, Balclutha, Owaka, Kaka Point, Milton, Waihola, Papatowai, Taieri Mouth, Tapanui, Kaitangata, Beaumont and Clinton

Be intrigued by road signs to THE CATLINS and delve into a landscape where wildlife reign from New Zealand fur seals, to penguins.

Clutha river, New Zealand
Clutha river

QUEENSTOWN, WANAKA & LAKE DISTRICT

An international superstar destination Queenstown, Wanaka and Arrowtown are a guaranteed favourite for visitors year round. Winter is brief chilly days, bright with light glinting off snow, mountains and glaciers. The promise of winter sports from skiing, snowboarding contrasts with the joy of toasty warm cafes and restaurants. Frost is a photographer’s delight with postcard scenes from white coated trees, rushing mountain rivers and Victorian fronted Arrowtown.

A hiker soaks in a dramatic sunrise on a snowy Roy's Peak trail over Lake Wanaka in New Zeland.
Lake Wanaka

Wanaka is an undisputed favorite for many repeat visitors to the Queenstown district due to its proximity to Queenstown. Wanaka is packed with tour operators offering exhilarating adventure options from high wire balancing past waterfalls to adrenaline laced rock climbing. Equipment for skiing, summer sports or active outdoor pursuits adds up. Who doesn’t want to SUP or kayak to a marine reserve and picnic on a remote beach. The idea of jet boating to a quiet place to fish feels like heaven or an expensive way to fish. Glorious scenery is free, it is what to do while in Wanaka that costs. Wanaka offers airborne heights where you land on a glacier or the wild calls with horse trekking or 4WD into the pristine alpine landscapes.

Foodie delights / Vineyards nestled in the Gibbston Valley and the reward of finding award winning single origin wineries, boutique food producers and passionate locals who welcome visitors to their cellar doors.

ROAD TRIPS

SOUTHERN SCENIC ROUTE

The Southern Scenic Route from Dunedin to Queenstown is a journey of several parts, from the rolling farmland of Clutha to Catlins wildlife safari experience to the rugged Southland coastal settlements of Nugget Point, Fortuse and Invercargill. The journey sweeps inland past the charming Riverton port … Kingston flyer, Devil's staircase finishing in Queenstown.

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The Catlins, find a quiet spot and relax, New Zealand
Invercargill to Queenstown winter views, New Zealand
Kingston Flyer, South Island New Zealand

INLAND OTAGO ROAD TRIP

Small towns with a rich legacy of gold mining offer visitors a chance to get off the beaten track.

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Alexandra, New Zealand
Ettrick, Otago, New Zealand @Shellie Evans
Roaring Meg Power Station Waterfall, New Zealand @ikoiko1023

CENTRAL OTAGO ROAD TRIP

Luisicous summer fruits, artists who call the quiet remote landscape home and the story of settlement makes for a memorable journey, check out for holiday ideas.

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Arrowtown, New Zealand @Sunshine Coast Daily
Kawarau Suspension Bridge @Doc
Lighthouse on Nugget Point. It is located in the Catlins area on the Southern Coast of New Zealand, Otago region. The Lighthouse is surrounded by small rock islands, nuggets

OTAGO GUIDES INCLUDE

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