The Otago region is located towards the south of New Zealand’s South Island. It is New Zealand’s second largest region by size, with an area of approximately 32 000 square kilometres, and recorded a population of 205 400 in the 2006 census. Otago is an increasingly cosmopolitan region with a rich history and a commanding landscape that differs from its surrounding regions.
Otago was a whaling and sealing are throughout the late eighteenth century, and experienced a major gold rush between 1861 and 1863, which saw tens of thousands of gold miners flock to the area from all over the world.
The University of Otago, established in 1869, was the first university to be founded in New Zealand and is considered by many to be one of the best universities in the country today. Because of this, Otago has earned itself a reputation for its student life, and University of Otago students even have their own nickname – scarfie, after the patriot blue and yellow scarves traditionally worn by their students during the cold winter months.
Spiritually, Otago was the homeland for the Otago Association, a splinter group of the Free Church of Scotland, which became renowned for its ground breaking belief that the lower class had just as much right to choose ministers as the upper class. Otago is also home of the Otago Daily Times, the first national paper in New Zealand and the longest surviving to date.
Central Otago is the only area in New Zealand to have a continental climate, while the coastal regions experience more of an oceanic climate. However, the region’s cold and frosty winters are usually followed by dry, hot summers. These weather conditions make Otago a premier wine growing region. Central Otago has a reputation for producing New Zealand’s best pinot noir; the region also produces chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, merlot and Riesling wines.
The flat, dry lands of Central Otago are bordered by the high alpine mountains to the west. The landscape of these mountains has been created by recent and ancient glacial activity, and the rivers discharge into glacial lakes. The snow covered mountains, forests and lakes in this area are perfect for summer and winter holidays.
To the east, the remnants of volcanic activity dominate the scenery. The coastline is characterised by grassy landscape and white sandy beaches. The Otago Peninsula frames Dunedin’s harbour and is a spectacular home to albatross, fur seals, penguins and nesting birds. Many rare animals, including the yellow eyed penguin, call Otago Peninsula home.
Visitors to this region find that the people are typically hard working, social and laid back. The people of Otago are fiercely loyal to their region, and are known to be friendly and helpful to tourists.
- Lanarch Castle, in Dunedin, is the only castle in the country. The former residence of politician William Lanarch, the 43 room mansion was restored in 1967 and is now open to the public. The castle’s grounds were named a Garden of International Significance in 2008 and the impressive ballroom, which was a 21st birthday present for William Lanarch’s daughter, is now a beautiful restaurant.
- The Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head is the only mainland breeding colony of albatross in the world. Due to a dedicated predator control effort by marine biologists, these animals are friendly and fearless, so you can get up close.
- Queenstown is a famous ski destination, but the rest of the Southern Lakes District, including Wanaka, Hawea and Arrowhead, are worth exploring. The townships of Wanaka and Hawaea offer a beautiful, laid back environment, while Arrowhead is a popular historic town that showcases New Zealand’s mining history.