The Waitaki region combines wild, windswept coastline with emerald rivers and towering mountains. It is home to the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark(opens in new window), a UNESCO Global Geopark, recognized for its cultural and geological significance. In particular, it provides evidence of the formation of Zealandia, which broke away from the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana around 80 million years ago, and notable features such as the Moeraki boulders, karst limestone at Elephant Rocks, Māori rock art drawings at Takiroa and the braided Waitaki River.
Heading inland, snow-capped peaks and beautiful lakes contrast with the bare brown hills that rise up from the valley floor. Stop and see Earthquakes, an impressive formation of limestone cliffs that are full of ancient fossils. Nearby you’ll find Maori rock drawings made from red ochre, charcoal and animal fat.
The Waitaki River surges through the landscape, punctuated by three hydro-electric dams - Waitaki, Aviemore and Benmore. The Waitaki Dam was built with picks and shovels in the 1930s and Benmore is one of the largest earth dams in the southern hemisphere. In summer, its bright blue colour contrasts with the burnt-orange landscape that surrounds it.
There are many pleasant walks in the Otematata area - most will take around an hour. Longer hikes include the Benmore Peninsula(opens in new window) and Deep Stream Tracks.
Omarama marks the western end of the Waitaki Valley. If you're into gliding, this is the place for it. The nor'wester blows steady and warm off the Southern Alps to form the famous Northwest Arch, a thermal that can take an intrepid glider pilot to 10,000 metres.
Tucked away in remote and rugged high-country flanked by the Southern Alps and a glacier-fed lake is the northern-most village of the district, Ohau, just 30 mins from Omarama. Ohau is a tranquil and picturesque alpine hideaway perfect if you enjoy walking, tramping, cycling and skiing.