Home to the famous towns of Queenstown and Wanaka, the Otago region is located near the bottom of the South Island amongst a mixture of rugged coastline, snowy peaks and picture-perfect mountain lakes. This region is truly breathtaking so it is worth taking the time to explore it properly!
There are hundreds of attractions and activities to do in the region, the main ones being ski fields, hiking, sightseeing, mountain biking and mountaineering depending on the season. Home to the Mount Aspiring National Park and the gateway to Fiordland and the West Coast the Queenstown/Wanaka area in particular is one of the adventure hubs of the world and cannot be missed!
You can fly directly into Queenstown or alternatively fly to Dunedin or Christchurch and then drive or bus wherever you would like to go in the region. Often people join tours in Otago as there is simply so much to see and do.
Oamaru is located in North Otago on the South Island. Oamaru is well known for its rich cultural history, beautiful coastal environment, scenic walkways and many other attractions. Another big draw to Omaru is to visit the little blue penguins which are the world’s smallest penguins! Only found in Australia New Zealand. Tours run daily, there’s a broad range of options to choose from including scenic boardwalks and seated evening viewing. Other attractions in the town include those such as the Steam Punk HQ, Moeraki boulders and whiskey distillery. Omaru also has a lot of beautiful natural attractions, so it pays to have a car as a mode of transport to make getting around easier.
Photo Credit: Penguin Place
The Moeraki Boulders are one of the most popular attractions located within the Otago Region in the South Island. The boulders are spherical shape giving them a unique distinction from other rocks with in the area and across the world. The boulders themselves are set in clusters on a sandy beach making for a spectacular sight when you get to the coastline. The boulders have been formed into a concrete-like substance over many years and in more recent times exposed due to coastal erosion. The boulders are located about 3 km south of Hampden, when you arrive at the car park, there is a 300-meter walk that will take you directly to the beach.
Photo Credit: Miles Holden
Alexandra is a town located within central Otago in the South Island. The town has a rich gold mining history, many fantastic wineries and walkways all waiting to be explored. Most wineries within the region have amazing tasting rooms, vineyard tours and walkways nearby. This being of no surprise as Otago is one of the most significant wine-producing regions in the country. Alexandra’s a great place to stay and has a broad range of accommodation options from Beautiful Airbnb farm stays to Alpine Chalets. Being just a short drive away from Queenstown, one of the biggest tourist attractions in New Zealand, it makes for a great stepping stone to visit and pick up some bottles of wine along the way.
Photo Credit: Julian Apse
Bannockburn is a small historic gold-mining town located in the Otago region of the South Island. Goldmining took over the town from 1862 through to 1871 making changes to the landscapes in the area can still be seen upon visiting Bannockburn today. The area is primarily used for viticulture these days, producing some of the best wines in the country from several nearby wineries. Other attractions in the area include the Highlands Motorsport Park, gold sluicing walks and mountain biking trails. Bannockburn also hosts some great accommodation options if you’re planning on sticking around to try the world-class wines.
Otago Rail Trail is a 152 km cycleway that is usually done over 1-5 days. Located in the heart of Otago, it makes for some beautiful landscapes and scenery to ride amongst. As you ride along the scenery is continuously changing with vast open valleys, river gorges and plenty of sheep to see! The trial is a grade 1 trial so is achievable for almost anyone the regional also supports excellent weather and has several accommodation options along the way. Tour companies within the area can help provide bike rentals and drop off/pick up services depending on your group size and where you’re looking to start. There are many other amazing attractions around the region to check out before and after the ride, including fly-fishing, golfing and world-renown wineries.
Wanaka is a small resort town located in the Otago Region of the South Island. The township is set upon the shores of the large Lake Wanaka with views of the Southern Alps towering up at the far end. Wanaka is known for being an adventure hub for outdoor enthusiasts as there are many great training spots and multi-sport events on in the area.
There are also a few great ski resorts nearby such as Treble Cone and Cardrona. During the winter months, they become a popular place for skiers and boarders. Throughout the summer months, many activities take place such as rock climbing, kayaking/paddle boarding the lake, mountain biking and much more.
Hikes up the nearby Roy’s Peak and surrounding hills/mountains are accessible and are well-marked with tracks, if you have a camper or rental be sure to check where you can park up for the night.
Many great pubs, cafes and restaurants sit right near the waterfront, making for a great view as you sit to eat your meal. The range of cultural food is vast, making it a popular place to come and recharge after those big adventures in the outdoors!
Top things to do around this area!
-Roy’s Peak Hike
-Visit the Wanaka Tree
-Dart River Canoe
-Cardrona Hotel & Bar
-Waterfall Climb & Crayoning
Queenstown is a popular tourist hub, and it’s not hard to see why. The town is situated on the shores of the beautiful Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by huge towering mountains and ridges as far as the eye can see. The population ranks 36th in size for the country with just over 28,000 people living here.
Not only does it have an immense abundance of natural features but also a vast range of activities such as Off-Roading, jet boating, parasailing, skiing/snowboarding and the world’s first commercial Bungy! There are 3 major ski fields within an hour’s drive of Queenstown they include Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Cardrona. The best months to visit for snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding are between mid-June and Mid October, similar to those of the North Island.
Hiking and Mountaineering are also very popular within the area with 3 of the Great 9 Walks, the Route burn, Kepler and Milford Tracks being within 3-5 hours’ drive away. Mountaineering can be undertaken with a guide or if experienced with a buddy on nearby peaks such as Double Cone on the Remarkable’s Mountain Range only 40 minutes away. If you are looking to get higher up or just check it out via helicopter the country’s highest peak Mount Cook is just over a 3-hour drive away.
Top things to do around this area!
-Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park
-Kawarau Bridge Bungy
-Remarkables/Coronet Ski fields
-Queenstown Skyline Gondola & Luge
-Routeburn Great Walk
The Routeburn Track is located in the Otago region and is one of New Zealand’s great walks. The track is 33 km one way and usually done between two and four days with multiple stops in D.O.C huts being made along the way. This is one of the more relaxed great walks in New Zealand and is rated intermediate to easy. Whether you are planning to do the track solo or with a group, there are many drop-off/pick up options available from tour/transport of companies within the region. It’s not called a great walk for nothing, there are some fantastic views of surrounding mountain peaks, deep misty valleys and luscious green forests. The Routeburn Track will leave you wanting to see more of this beautiful country! This walk, along with many other great walks, are becoming very popular, so be sure to book well in advance for accommodation.
Photo Credit: Stewart Nimmo
Glenorchy is a small settlement located at the north end of the famous Lake Wakatipu where you’ll also find Queenstown. Getting to Glenorchy is done via boat or car. It is roughly 45 km by road, and several boats leave daily taking you to the destination, including the well-known TSS Earnslaw (steamship). The scenery around Glenorchy has been used in several films including the famous Lord of the Ring’s series! Many LOTR tours operate in the area ranging from 4WD safaris to Helicopters. There are many fantastic hiking trails in the area, including the Routeburn Great Walk. Shorter hikes such as the Glacier Burn and Earnslaw Burn also depart from Glenorchy. There are several options when it comes to accommodation including lodges and BnBs but be sure to book early as this area sells out fast during peak season.
Cadrona is a small area located between Wanaka and Queenstown in the Cadrona Valley. Almost anyone driving between the two towns will choose the Cadrona Valley crown range Road as it is the fastest and most scenic route. It also boasts one of the best ski fields with New Zealand. Cadrona ski field is well known throughout New Zealand for having great snow and long runs, not only that but the Cadrona hotel which is a historic pub/hotel is located at the entrance/exit to the ski field Mountain Road! The Cadrona Valley is magnificent. It will be put deep into your memories every time you think back to the experience of driving through the valley or skiing the nearby slopes.
Lake Hawea is located in the Otago Region of the South Island close by to the well-known town of Wanaka. Lake Hawea is a truly vast body of water covering an area of just over 140km² and having a depth of nearly 400m. It is no wonder the lake had such significance to the local Maori. The small-town rests upon the shores of the southern end of the lake which hosts some great accommodation options if you’re looking for a nice relaxing getaway with some stunning views. This area has many great attractions and activities available to tourists ranging from hiking in the nearby hills to White water rafting the rapid blue rivers. Amazing nearby hikes include the Rob Roy Valley, Diamond Lake, Mount Iron and Roy’s peak. With many other townships and nearby attractions, you likely want a car to get around this area as it's rural and spread out.
Mount Aspiring National Park is located in the heart of the southern alps in the South Island. The National Park covers a large area of 3562km² and is made up of towering mountains, deep forests and alpine mountain lakes. Most accommodation options will be found near Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea or on the West Coast if you’re up for a small drive. Some beautiful walks to do around the area include the Blue Pools walk, Rob Roy Glacier and Mount Brewster track. This region is full of hiking and alpine hut managed by D.O.C you’ll need to check before you go on bookings and fees for each hut. Other ways of experiencing the National Park include rock climbing, mountaineering, jet boating, and mountain biking. It really depends on the experience you’re after, there’s something for everyone!
Photo Credit: Small World Productions
Coronet Peak is the ski field located just a short 20-minute drive from Queenstown where is skiing and boarding the slopes become very popular over the winter months. Although throughout summer months much of the ski fields facilities remain open as mountain biking and paragliding become popular with the lack of snow. Accommodation is best found the nearby towns of Queenstown or Arrowtown when looking to visit Coronet Peak. Although most tourists choose to heat up the slopes during the day to see the incredible 360° panoramic views the ski field also offers night skiing which can be a fantastic experience!
The Remarkables are a mountain range well known to anyone who has flown into Queenstown. This mountain range is one of the most impressive ranges in the Otago region, this is most likely because of the fact that it's a constant backdrop when looking out your window in Queenstown. The mountain ranges not only very aesthetically pleasing but also has a fantastic ski field located just a 20-minute drive from Queenstown. Although snowboarding and skiing are some of the most popular activities on the slopes, you can often see Mountaineers heading up some of the near-vertical peaks! They even host a mixed ice climbing festival here annually. The mountain road is steep and windy, so be sure to take extra care when heading up to check out the breath-taking views.
Arrow town is a beautiful little town only a 20-minute drive from Queenstown. The town’s population is just a small 2,000 people and has some great history known as the gold mining town of the Otago region. The first recorded gold found in the Arrow River was reportedly found in 1862, soon after a full town of 1000 people was formed all in search of the precious metal. At the peak of this gold rush, the population actually got to over 7000 people. Today it’s mostly a tourist attraction as many of the old stone and wood buildings still exist taking you back in time when visiting. The Town has limited accommodation but a great campground nearby, with tourists coming through frequently some fantastic restaurants and cafes have being established to accommodate you on your visit. You can do lots of short nearby walks to visit the Arrow river and witness where some of the Chinese lived in their time gold mining the river. Plenty of tracks carry on up the steep valleys after crossing the small river. Top things to do around this area include visiting Lake Hayes, Historical Arrowtown Tour, Lord of the Rings 4WD Tour and panning for gold.
Photo Credit: Garry Lisbon
Gibbston Valley is located not far from Queenstown and is one of the most scenic valleys the Central Otago region. It is very well known for hosting some of the most amazing vineyards and wineries in the South Island, including wineries such as Nevis Bluff, Mount Rosa, Gibson Valley wines, Chard farm and many more. Tour operators such as Altitude Tours offer amazing wine tasting tours of the Gibbston Valley. Other great ways to experience the area are via the amazing cycle/walking trails that have been put in place to give you easy access to the valley.
Dunedin city has a great Scottish and Maori history. It is the second-largest city in the South Island with a population of around 128,000 people. The area hosts an extensive range of hiking and cycling trails that are easy to access when visiting the region. You can also see many forms of sea life at the nearby beaches such as sea lions, albatross and rare yellow-eyed penguins only found in New Zealand! Some of the best beaches include Brighton, Aramoana and St Clair Beach, just to name a few. Getting around this region would be best done by car or camper as the attractions, and nearby towns are spread apart. There are also many great tour companies operating within the region that can cater to whatever adventure you have planned. Top things to do around this area include Wildlife Cruises, mountain bike trails, Tunnel Beach Track and Otago Peninsula.
Photo Credit: DunedinNZ
Caitlins Coast is located at the far south-east corner of the South Island. Well known for its rugged areas, rough seas and beautiful temperate rainforests. On the Catlins Coast, you’ll find a fantastic array of marine wildlife ranging from the hooker’s sea lions to the rear yellow-eyed penguin and everything in between. Although you won’t find too many people along this coastline (only around 400 in the biggest town of Owaka), you will find some beautiful natural attractions with super friendly people running them! The Catlins coast is definitely one of the more untouched areas in the country, showing you what New Zealand and has been like for thousands of years.
Photo Credit: Miles Holden
The Roy’s peak walking track is located just a short 6 km from the Township of Wanaka. This track is well known for giving some of the most stunning views and photo opportunities in the Otago Region. Many international photographers travel to this area to get the perfect shot. Although this track will leave your jaw dropped with the uninterrupted breathtaking views, it’ll also have your lungs puffing a little due to the decent elevation climb. The track takes around 5 to 6 hours and is very well maintained, achievable for most. Shuttles run from the nearby town of Wanaka, and there is a carpark at the base of the track. Be sure to check weather conditions before you leave so can get the best views and stay warm.
The Rob Roy Glacier walk is located in Mount Aspiring National Park and around 1 hour from Wanaka Township making for an easy day trip. The track itself takes around 3 to 4 hours with the distance of 10 km return, it’s graded easy and is well-maintained to suit all people and ages. Upon arriving at the track, you’ll start to notice why it is such an attraction with all the native birdlife, alpine plant species and towering peaks. The Rob Roy Glacier like many others in the country, used to be a lot bigger. It is now a hanging glacier that creeps down the valley every year causing small avalanches and large waterfalls to form. Be sure to check weather conditions before you go into warm clothing with you.
Photo Credit: Julian Apse