Central Otago Touring Route


Explore gold mining history

4 Days 341 KM


  • Historic mining towns
  • Breathtaking landscapes
  • Restaurants & cellar doors

The Otago Touring Route is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s greatest road trips. It follows an old gold mining trail through Otago’s remote high country – a region known for its rugged beauty and rich history.

More than 150 years ago, people from all over the world flocked to Central Otago in search of gold. These days, it’s the historic mining towns left behind that are the region’s greatest treasure.

Many of these towns can be found along the Central Otago Touring Route(opens in new window), which takes you from Dunedin to Queenstown, via the Straith Taieri and Māniatoto Plains – one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most distinctive landscapes.

Although short, at just over 340 kilometres, this road trip rewards the slow traveller with intriguing detours, award-winning restaurants, and the friendliest people you’ll ever met.

Day 1. Ōtepoti Dunedin to Ranfurly


Heritage architecture and private beaches


  • Larnach Castle
  • Toitū Otago Settlers Museum
  • Tunnel Beach
1.5 Hours 131.5 KM

You’ll begin this road trip in Ōtepoti Dunedin(opens in new window), Otago’s principal city. Today, Dunedin is a hub for education, manufacturing, and agriculture, but it's the city’s unique history that gives it its character.

More than any other New Zealand city, Dunedin’s history charts the highs and lows of the early pioneers. It was a key player in the whaling industry in the 1840s and was at the heart of the gold rush during the 1860s – both of which lasted for little more than a decade at their height.

This history is evident in the city’s heritage architecture. Prime examples are St Paul’s Cathedral, Dunedin Railway Station, and the Dunedin Courthouse. To learn more, take the Old Town Walk tour.

For one Dunedin’s most distinctive landmarks, visit Larnach Castle. Like all great buildings, the castle has an interesting past but one that is more impressive with a detailed retelling. For this reason, the guided tour is highly recommended.

If you’re interested in the region’s Māori and European history, visit Toitū Otago Settlers Museum and Otago Museum. Highlights for the latter, which is also the only world’s only bicultural science centre, include a replica Māori coastal village and articulated Moa skeletons (Moa is the world’s largest flightless bird, now extinct).

If history isn't your thing, explore Dunedin’s quaint seaside towns. Portobello is a great place to start: the coffee is connoisseur-grade and at low tide you can walk out to Pudding Island. If you fancy a bit of solitude, hunt out Dunedin’s hidden beach. Located just outside Dunedin’s CBD, tunnel beach is a secluded bay that is only accessible by a hand-dug tunnel. A word of caution: only visit at low tide and don’t be tempted to go swimming – the sea can be rough and has a large rip tide.

By afternoon, you should hit the road. The Otago Touring Route takes you the scenic route to Queenstown, along SH87 (not to be mistaken for SH8) towards the Māniatoto Plains.

Along the way, take time to explore some of small rural towns. Naseby, which has a population of only 120 people, is the curling capital of New Zealand. The Waipiata Pie Co. in Waipiata(opens in new window) is also a popular pitstop. 

Ranfurly will be your final stop. Thanks to a period of expansion in the 1930s, Ranfurly is a trove of colourful art deco buildings. Many of which have been carefully restored, most notably the Centennial Milk Bar – the home of the Art Deco Museum and a must-see for art deco fans.

Day 2. Ranfurly to Clyde


Remote high country


  • St Bathans
  • Clyde’s Historic District
  • Backcountry Saddles
1 Hour 85 KM

Next morning, explore the historic town of St Bathans. Comprising a single street and only ten permanent residents, St Bathans is better known for its unofficial residents, who are, well, ghosts. For a small town, St Bathans has a surprising number of supernatural inhabitants, with the most sighted ghost residing at the Vulcan Hotel(opens in new window).

The town also has a beautiful turquoise lake, notable for its origins as much as its colour. By the 1930s miners had flattened the local Kildare Hill, which had originally stood at 120 metres, to create a deep mining pit. When the sides of the pit started to encroach on the town, the pit was abandoned and left to fill with water, which mixed with minerals in the rock to create a vivid emerald lake.

After St Bathans, take time to explore Otago’s high country. Backcountry Saddle Expeditions provide two-hour horse treks across Earnscleugh Station, a large 10,000-hectare farm. Highlights include mining ruins in Gold Mining Valley, the vast riverbeds of the Clutha River, and the 1682-metre summit of the Old Man Range, a slumping hulk of schist that has eroded into enormous wind-scaped tors. If you’re a little horse shy, you’ll be pleased to learn they use Appaloosa horses, a breed that is known for its calm temperament and sure-footedness in mountain conditions.

By early afternoon, you’ll make your way to Clyde, one of the region’s most picturesque towns and your home for the night. At the height of the gold rush Clyde was the most populated town in New Zealand, a fact that has left its imprint on the town’s architecture. Over the past few years, these once-crumbling stone buildings have been diligently restored and turned into top-notch eateries and accommodation – making Clyde one of the country’s most up and coming locations.

Day 3. Clyde to Cromwell


Wineries and cellar doors


  • Wine tasting
  • Mitchell’s Cottage
  • Cromwell heritage precinct
20 Minutes 25 KM

There is a reason – or rather, reasons – why this part of New Zealand has won so many accolades for its wine. The combination of hot and cool climate, glacier-fed soils, and some clever growers make Central Otago one of the world’s top wine-growing regions. But with more than 50 cellar doors, it can be hard to know where to begin. Here’s a few ways to narrow it down.

Take a winery tour. If you’re serious about wine, try a private tour of boutique wineries with Queenstown Wine Trail (the tour covers Cromwell), or a tour given by top industry professionals with Roaring Wine Tours. If you just fancy a bit of fun, try Cromwell Classic Car Wine Tours. For a self-guided tour, try 4 Barrels Walking Wine Trail – it’s free.

If you are short on time, head into the centre of Cromwell for Misha’s Vineyard Tasting Room, Pisa Range and Wild Earth Wines(opens in new window) – these tasting rooms are next door to each other.

Or forget cellar doors and try one of the amazing winery restaurants. You can’t go wrong with Mt Difficulty, Carrick, Amisfield, and Mora Wines & Artisan Kitchen.

Part of the joy of this road trip is the isolation. The journey through these vast, empty landscapes gives you a chance to unwind and feels anything but lonely. Nothing symbolises this feeling better than Mitchell’s Cottage, a 19th Century stone cottage that sits alone in a field of odd-looking rock formations. Visiting the cottage is a simple pleasure and well worth the quick detour off SH8.

If you enjoy mining-era heritage buildings, Cromwell, your home for the night, certainly has its share of beautiful examples, such as London House Stables, Captain Barry’s Cottage, McNulty House – but it’s the more recent history of these buildings that sets them apart.

After the controversial Clyde Dam was built in the 1990s, the Cromwell basin, which included the old town centre, was flooded to create Lake Dunstan. The monumental task of relocating the historic buildings fell to volunteers, who, in many cases, had to reconstruct the buildings by hand, a stone at a time. Today, Heritage Village, as it is now called, is home to thriving cafes, art galleries and farmers’ markets – testimony to the unyielding spirit of this remarkable community.

Day 4. Cromwell to Queenstown


Historic gold mining town


  • Arrowtown gold panning
  • Cardrona Hotel
  • Jet boating
1 Hour 59.2 KM

Start the day with a visit to Arrowtown. Quaint historic buildings and alpine views aside, this historic mining town is worth a visit just for the restaurants and cafes. This little town punches well above its weight in this respect, attracting some of New Zealand’s hottest chefs.

After lunch, try Arrowtown’s other claim to fame, gold panning. This is still a popular occupation in Arrowtown, so there’s several places that will teach you how it’s done. When you’re ready to test your skills, head down to Arrow River, a two-minute walk from town.

After Arrowtown, make a quick detour to the Cardrona Hotel. This quirky building is one of New Zealand’s most photographed and probably one of its most humble. The owners have painted the building’s key features in red, which draws the eye to the misaligned windows and sagging beams. Instead of making the building look decrepit, it's a master stroke of design, giving the building unique character and beauty. The hotel also serves food, so if you need a pit stop, here’s where you should go.

If you’d prefer something more action packed, take a jet boat trip up the Dart River into Mount Aspiring National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Dart River Adventures. Much of the excitement of this journey comes from the ever-present risk of running aground. The Dart River is a braided river, so it’s wide and shallow with frequent twists and turns, but, thankfully, the guides are expert in finding the deepest part of the river to keep the boat afloat. They’re also knowledgeable about local history, so if you get a moment of downtime, ask your guide about the giant amphibious mice.

Once you’re back on land, head to Queenstown, the final stop on the tour. While the road trip ends here, your journey doesn’t need to. Queenstown has plenty to offer, including spectacular scenery, a thriving food scene, and more than 200 adrenaline-pumping activities – enough to keep you entertained for a long time.

Find accommodation along the touring route