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Central Otago

 

Central Otago

Central Otago – an inland region in New Zealand's southern South Island – has a colourful gold mining past, a continental climate and terrain that produces world-class gold medal wines. Once crowded with miners during the gold rush, Central Otago is now characterised by wide open spaces and a sparse population.

 

View Central Otago region maps   

Maps and local travel information for Central Otago.

Golden Landscapes

Central Otago is made up of five main areas, each with distinctive characteristics and attractions: Cromwell, Alexandra, Manuherikia, Roxburgh and Maniototo.

Further from the sea than anywhere else in New Zealand, Central Otago has New Zealand’s hottest, coldest and driest climate.

With one of New Zealand’s lowest population densities - 1.7 people per square kilometre - Central Otago's golden landscape is unencumbered by human activity, and the unhurried lifestyle offers time to explore historic gold mining sites and award-winning vineyards.

Gold medal pinot noir wines are now Central Otago’s number one claim to fame.


 

Central Otago - vast open plains
Central Otago - vast open plains
 

Heritage

Māori visited the Central Otago region on their way to collect pounamu (greenstone or nephrite jade) from the rivers on the west coast. They also came on hunting trips, building rafts to use on the Clutha river for transporting moa (now extinct giant birds) and other game back to the east coast.

Māori called the river Mata-au, which means ‘surfaced current’. According to legend, a giant named Kopuwai and his pack of two-headed dogs lived above the Mata-au on the Old Man range behind Alexandra. Old Man range is also known as Kopuwai.

Gold - discovered at Gabriel’s Gully in 1861 - brought the first influx of Europeans to Central Otago. The gold rush spread quickly through Central Otago creating boom towns and a flush of activity.

Relics of Otago’s pioneering and gold mining past are found at historic sites throughout the region.


Central Otago - golden Maniototo hills
Central Otago - golden Maniototo hills
 

Food and Wine

Central Otago - part of the world’s southern most-wine growing region - is New Zealand’s fastest developing wine region.

The small Central Otago wine region has a growing international reputation for pinot noir. About 70 percent of vineyards grow pinot noir, producing wine that is renowned for a vibrant, spicy flavour and velvety texture. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer make up the remaining 30 percent.

Wine tours and wine trails take visitors to vineyards and wineries, and around one of New Zealand’s most scenic wine regions.


Cromwell is the stone fruit growing capital of New Zealand. The region's sub-alpine climate of long hot summers and crisp cold winters helps produce some of the world's best apricots, nectarines, peaches, cherries, plums, pears and apples. Local products include apple cider, premium fruit juices and dried fruits.


Central Otago - award-winning wines
Central Otago - award-winning wines
 

Adventure / Outdoors

Central Otago’s open spaces, rugged terrain and climate provide superb conditions for outdoor adventures like walking and mountain biking, curling, ice luging and other ice sports.

Otago Central Rail Trail takes cyclists and hikers through 150km of memorable scenery and gold mining history. The route, along an old railway line, has no steep hills and many welcoming stop-offs where cyclists can soak in southern hospitality and scenery. Local tour operators organise accommodation, bike hire and bag transfers.

Naseby - New Zealand’s ice sports hub - has the southern hemisphere’s only Olympic-standard curling facility and natural luge track. Visitors can learn how to curl with a 60-minute ‘have-a-go’ session, or play a full two-hour game. The 360m natural luge track can produce speeds of up to 70kph, but caters for all levels of thrill-seekers.


Central Otago - rail trail riders
Central Otago - rail trail riders
 

Seasonal Highlights

Central Otago is a year-round destination with four distinct seasons, and a landscape that goes through the dramatic seasonal changes produced by New Zealand’s hottest and coldest temperatures.

A winter of snow, ice and hoar frosts, creates perfect conditions for winter sports - skiing, ice-skating, curling and luging - earning Central Otago the title of ‘ice sport capital’ of New Zealand.

Early Scottish immigrants introduced the sport of curling to Central Otago’s frozen natural ponds and miners’ dams to play, and traditions associated with curling have become part of Central Otago culture. There are outdoor curling rinks in Alexandra and on the Maniototo Plains, as well as Naseby’s year-round Olympic-standard indoor ice rink.


Central Otago - curling
Central Otago - curling
 

DID YOU KNOW

  • Central Otago is New Zealand’s most inland region.
  • Central Otago is the hottest, coldest and driest part of New Zealand.
  • Clutha river was named after the Clyde river, in Scotland. Clutha is Gaelic for Clyde.
  • Central Otago region covers 10,000 sq km, but has only 17,000 permanent residents.
  • Central Otago is the world’s southern-most wine production area.