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Otago places

by Malcolm McKinnon

This is a comprehensive guide to the towns, coastal and inland areas, and other places of interest in Otago.



125 km north of Dunedin and 86 km south of Timaru, Ōamaru enjoys a protected location in the shelter of Cape Wanbrow. It had a population of 13,050 in 2013.

The town was laid out in 1858 by Otago’s provincial surveyor John Turnbull Thomson, who named the streets after British rivers.

Bad taste = good health

Lane’s Emulsion, a tonic made with cod liver oil , was devised by Ōamaru pharmacist Edward Lane and first sold in 1898. It proved so popular that a factory was set up in the town, where the tonic was produced until 1984.

Growth and religion

The boost given by public works, including harbour development, and an export trade in wool and grain from the 1860s, saw the town more than triple its population from 1,657 in 1871 to 5,791 a decade later. By the mid-1880s the town centre was home to an impressive array of buildings made from locally-quarried limestone.

In the first two-thirds of the 20th century nearly half of Ōamaru’s population described themselves as Presbyterian. The district went ‘dry’ in 1906, and stayed that way until 1960 – the last South Island district to resume alcohol sales.


In the early 20th century Ōamaru became noted for education. It was home to two state high schools – Waitaki Boys’ and Waitaki Girls’ – and three Catholic ones – St Kevin’s, Teschemakers and St Thomas’s. Waitaki Boys’ High School gained a national reputation during the rectorships of J. R. Don (from 1896) and Frank Milner, who held the position for nearly 40 years from 1906.

Limited development

Apart from a few years in the 1920s, and in the 1950s and 1960s, the town itself hardly grew after 1881. Its small hinterland – a triangle of farmland, no more than 35 km on each side (the Pacific Ocean, the Waitaki River and the Kakanui Mountains) – limited its development. After the Second World War the port mainly had trans-Tasman and coastal trade.

The modest circumstances of many locals, who might work on the railways or in a foundry, flour mill or shop, is captured in Ōamaru-raised Janet Frame’s novel Owls do cry (1957) and the first volume of her autobiography, To the is-land (1982).


The town’s population reached 12,429 in 1961. It grew modestly in the 1960s but not after that. The port closed in 1974. Many young people left for education and work; the 2013 census recorded 828 10–14-year-olds in the town, but only 561 20–24-year-olds.

Visitor attractions

From the 1980s Ōamaru began to promote its built heritage and other attractions, notably a blue penguin colony at Cape Wanbrow. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘white stone city’, as fine colonial stone buildings line its main streets and port area. The impressive public gardens were laid out in the 1880s. The Forrester Gallery, housed in the former Bank of New South Wales building, has an art collection which focuses on regionally significant works.


5 km west of Ōamaru in the Waiareka Valley, Weston had a population of 807 in 2013. It is most noted for its limestone quarries, the main source of the renowned Ōamaru building stone. In the early 2000s the Holcim company’s plan to build a cement plant in the valley was vigorously opposed locally.


9 km north of Ōamaru, Pukeuri had a 2013 population of 210. Its meat-freezing works date from 1914. The works have a labour force of 1,000 during the peak season, and were the largest employer in North Otago in 2008, paying around $30 million in wages annually.

Latitude 45 degrees south – halfway between the equator and the South Pole – is marked on State Highway 1 just north of Pukeuri.

North Otago

Rural North Otago comprises farming districts around Ōamaru, coastal settlements to its south, and the Otago side of the upper Waitaki valley. Tours from Ōamaru visit historic Burnside homestead, the nearby Elderslie estate’s gardens, and Tōtara Estate, which processed the carcasses for New Zealand's first frozen meat shipment in 1882.


Duntroon is 45 km north-west of Ōamaru, where State Highway 83 meets the Danseys Pass road to Central Otago. Named after the Scottish home town of estate owner Robert Campbell, it had a population of 87 in 2013. Rock outcrops and fossil beds in nearby rolling hills are a distinctive part of the landscape, and there are Māori rock drawings at nearby Takiroa. The 1876 Campbell homestead is a short distance from Ōtekaieke. Ngāpara, on a back road towards Ōamaru, has a flour mill, one of many that operated in the district before milling was centralised.


Kurow is in the upper Waitaki River valley, 68 km north-west of Ōamaru. The town is on State Highway 83, at a bridge over the river which connects it with the Hakataramea River valley in South Canterbury. The name is a version of Te Kohurau, meaning many mists. The population ballooned in the 1920s due to the construction of the Waitaki dam, which was completed in 1935. Kurow’s 2013 population was 312. It is now primarily a farm service township.


Ōtemātātā is on the Waitaki River between the artificial Lakes Benmore and Aviemore, 95 km north-west of Ōamaru. It was established in 1958 as a construction town for the Benmore and then the Aviemore power stations, and had a population of 4,000 in the mid-1960s. The much-reduced total of under 300 in the 2000s is supplemented in summer by holidaymakers.


Junction town 119 km north-west of Ōamaru, with a 2013 population of 267. Many thousands of travellers pass through Ōmarama en route from Aoraki/Mt Cook and the Mackenzie Country to Queenstown, Wānaka and Central Otago, via the Lindis Pass. Wind currents in the district provide ideal gliding conditions. The town’s name refers to the moon (marama).


14 km south of Ōamaru on the coast east of State Highway 1, Kakanui had a 2013 population of 372. A port was built in the 1870s and a harbour board was established, but was abolished in 1886 after sea damage wrecked the harbour. Holiday homes were built in the township from the 1920s. There are fine churches at Maheno and Herbert, both a few kilometres inland on State Highway 1.


34 km south of Ōamaru, Hampden had a 2013 population of 300. A camping ground was established after the First World War, and tourist-oriented businesses have operated since the 1980s.


Fishing and holiday locality 37 km south of Ōamaru, on a peninsula east of State Highway 1. A coastal whaling station was established in 1836, and a Māori settlement grew up on the hill above. Moeraki was the district’s first port, and a Pākehā township developed along the road and branch rail line which led between the port and the main road and railway. The port lost ground to better-sited Ōamaru, but is still home to fishing vessels. Moeraki is known for the ancient spherical boulders that litter the nearby beach. A millennium walkway, a penguin colony and Katiki lighthouse (built in 1878, and automated since 1975) are popular with visitors.

North of Dunedin


Palmerston is the centre of East Otago, with a 2013 population of 795. It is 59 km south of Ōamaru and 56 km north of Dunedin, at the junction of State Highway 1 with the ‘Pigroot’ (State Highway 85), originally a route to the Central Otago goldfields. Puketapu (343 m) is capped by a memorial to Liberal Party politician Jock McKenzie, who represented the district in Parliament for many years. An opencast gold mine opened at Macraes Flat, 32 km inland, in 1990.

Shag Point

Shag Point, 10 km north of Palmerston, has been the site of Māori settlement, coal mining and holiday houses – as well as shags, seals and rare yellow-eyed penguins. A moa-hunting site was situated at the mouth of the Shag River.


Waikouaiti, 45 km north of Dunedin, had a 2013 population of 1,125, and promotes itself as the ‘birthplace of Otago’. It was a long-standing Māori settlement. Whaler Johnny Jones established a shore station at nearby Karitāne in 1837, and a farm and homestead at Matanaka in 1840. Some of the farm buildings were open to the public in the early 2000s.

A new road was built in 1864 and the town developed alongside it. In 1866 the settlement became the borough of Hawksbury (also the name of its river at the time). It was called Waikouaiti from 1909. The town has a small museum, a racecourse and a golf course.

King of Karitāne

Karitāne gave its name to nurses who were trained to work with mothers and newborn babies under Truby King’s scheme. The first Karitāne hospital was, unsurprisingly, in the town of the same name. King had built a house, Kingscliff, there when he was superintendent of Seacliff mental hospital.


Karitāne, 34 km north of Dunedin at the mouth of the Waikouaiti River, had a 2013 population of 360. The furthest point of the promontory, Huriawa (the locality’s original name), was a stronghold of the Ngāi Tahu chief Te Wera. The location has a fresh water spring, and was the site of an unsuccessful intra-tribal siege. In the 2000s it was a historic reserve.


Settlement just east of the coast road between Waitati and Waikouaiti. The former Seacliff mental hospital, which opened in 1884, was built on a side road. The hospital had over 500 inmates at its peak; the main building closed in 1958.

The site is now Truby King reserve, named after Seacliff’s first superintendent. A scandal over the construction of the building – which was built on unstable ground – ruined the career of architect Robert Lawson. A replacement hospital, Cherry Farm, opened in 1954 on State Highway 1 just south of Waikouaiti. It closed in 1992.

Confined at Seacliff

In 1942, in one of New Zealand’s worst fire disasters, 37 out of 39 patients in the locked Ward Five of Seacliff hospital died. For periods between 1947 and 1955 Janet Frame, one of New Zealand’s most accomplished writers, was a patient at Seacliff. She had been mistakenly diagnosed as schizophrenic.


Settlement 27 km north of Dunedin, between Blueskin Bay and the ocean, with a 2013 population of 450. Sand dunes open onto an expansive ocean beach, part of which is the spit separating the bay from the open sea.


With a 2013 population of 513, Waitati sits on Blueskin Bay, 20 km north of Dunedin. The highway north from Waitati to Waikouaiti crosses hill country. Known as the Kilmog, this stretch of road long had a reputation for winter closures and difficult driving conditions.

On Māpoutahi peninsula, past the holiday and retirement settlement of Doctors Point, are the remains of a large fortified . It was the site of a major battle, probably in the mid-1700s.

Whalers named the area Blueskin after a much-tattooed Ngāi Tahu chief. An eco-sanctuary has been developed at nearby Ōrokonui. On the coast north of the road to Port Chalmers are two other holiday settlements, Pūrākaunui and Long Beach.

Otago Harbour

Port Chalmers

Port Chalmers, with neighbouring Careys Bay, Sawyers Bay and Roseneath, had a population of 2,577 in 2013. 14 km north-east of Dunedin, it is on the north side of Otago Harbour at the end of State Highway 88.

The locality, known to Māori as Kōpūtai, is where local Ngāi Tahu sold the Otago block to the New Zealand Company in 1844. A European town was founded there when Otago was settled in 1848. It was named after Thomas Chalmers, the Free Church of Scotland leader who had died the previous year.

The Union Steam Ship Company started in 1875, and one early building – a pumphouse – survives at Port Chalmers. In 1882 the first frozen meat shipped from New Zealand to the northern hemisphere left from the port .

Port Chalmers became a borough in 1866, and part of Dunedin city in 1989.

A tale of two ports

From 1881, when the Otago Harbour Board opened the dredged Victoria Channel from Port Chalmers to Dunedin, the ‘port’ and ‘city’ factions fought over which would be the main port. Port Chalmers finally won that battle when it became the lower South Island’s deep-water container port (opened in 1977). It became a major forest products export port, and hosts cruise ships through the summer.

Buildings and monuments

The town centre has an impressive combined town hall and library building, and a scenic road follows the coast. The headland flagstaff and signal station is above the port; nearby Campbell Buchanan Lane commemorates a young Port Chalmers sailor who died in action in the Solomon Islands in January 1943. The Hōtere Garden Oputae has four sculptures, including one by Ralph Hōtere which was previously at the artist’s nearby studio.

Iona Presbyterian church was built in 1883. The Scott memorial, commemorating the ill-fated British Antarctic expedition of 1910–12, sits high above the town on the road to Waitati.

Nearby Roseneath, on another promontory, is purely residential, but Sawyers Bay has industry as well.

Careys Bay, north of the port, has a historic hotel and a tradition of alternative lifestylers.

Quarantine Island

Also known as St Martin Island, the island was first used for quarantine purposes in 1863, when the Victory arrived with a smallpox case on board. Buildings from the quarantine years remain.


A small settlement of cribs (holiday houses) north-west of Port Chalmers, Aramoana had a permanent population of around 270 in 2013.

No smelter

In 1996 the Christchurch Press interviewed 88-year-old Lina Davis, a long-time Aramoana resident, about defeating the aluminium smelter proposal. ‘People came here for the peace and the bracing air and sea. They did not want a giant factory at their backdoor, she says. They did not want the birdlife, fish, wetlands and beaches threatened.’ 1

In the later 1970s a proposal to site an aluminium smelter at Aramoana met with vigorous – and successful – opposition from locals, conservationists and economists.

On 13 and 14 November 1990 local recluse and gun collector David Gray murdered 13 people, four of them school children, in a shooting rampage before being killed by police.

A natural world

Inland of the sandspit on which Aramoana is sited is an extensive salt marsh. It is a haven for kingfishers, godwits and other wading birds, and a habitat for plants that relish the salty environment – Sarcocomia quinquefiora, shore pimpernel, saltmarsh musk, sedges, jointed rush and others. In 1998 Aramoana was gazetted a protected area.

    • ‘Spirit of peace at Aramoana.’ Christchurch Press, 14 February 2007. › Back

Otago Peninsula

Otago Peninsula is the eastern flank of an extinct volcanic system. The highest summit, Mt Charles/Poatiri, reaches 408 metres. On the Otago Harbour side a sealed waterfront road links Taiaroa Head with Dunedin; on the remote ocean side, some of the roads are gravel. Dry stone walls, made of scoria, are a reminder of the Scottish origins of its early settlers. New Zealand’s first cooperative dairy company produced cheese from its factory on the peninsula in 1873. A separate county for many years, the peninsula joined Dunedin city in 1968.

Macandrew Bay

The road to Macandrew Bay was built in the 19th century with the help of prison labour, including Māori prisoners from Parihaka. A Māori name for the bay is Te Rotopāteke (bay of the brown duck). Craft shops and newer buildings sit alongside an old-style dairy (convenience store). The nearby Glenfalloch woodland gardens, with flowers and plants from all over the world, were developed by Philip Baring in the early 20th century.

Highcliff Road and Larnach Castle

A soldiers’ memorial stands prominently above Highcliff Road. Camp Road leads to the substantial Larnach Castle, designed by Dunedin architect Robert Lawson for businessman William Larnach in 1871. Larnach named it, with extreme understatement, ‘the Camp’. Passing through a series of owners after Larnach’s suicide in 1898, it has belonged to the Barker family for over 40 years, and in the early 2000s was run as a tourist operation, function centre and hotel.

Broad Bay

Harbour ferries ran from Broad Bay (known to Māori as Oho Rahi) into Dunedin in the first 30 years of the 20th century. A number of business families, including the Speights beer barons, had holiday houses at Broad Bay. Building magnate James Fletcher erected his first house there in 1909; it is open to the public.


The principal settlement for the peninsula’s farms and the site of its district museum. Early settler Walter Christie called his house Portobello after his Scottish birthplace and the name came to refer to the settlement. In 1904 a marine hatchery and biology station were established at nearby Quarantine Point; in 1951 they were taken over by the University of Otago. Since 1997 they have been complemented by a marine studies centre and aquarium.


A long strip of homely, sometimes eccentric cribs (holiday houses), Ōtākou is an important Māori centre. It has a marae, church, and Tamatea meeting house. Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou has its offices here. The name itself is the basis of the name Otago.

Next to the meeting house is a substantial residence with a magnificent carved gateway. The cemetery behind the church includes the graves of many Ōtākou ancestors, including Ngāi Tahu leader Taiaroa, who died in 1863.

Taiaroa Head

At the entrance to Otago Harbour, Taiaroa Head has the remains of a Māori . The lighthouse dates from 1865; it is now automated and monitored from the adjacent signal station. Fortifications from 1885 – to ward off a possible foreign naval attack – were maintained until 1945. The disappearing gun has been restored.

Taiaroa Head is a breeding reserve for the royal albatross. The first record of an albatross egg there dates from 1920, after forest was cleared. Albatrosses mate only in alternate years; each year no more than a dozen pairs raise their single chick here, from November to September. A yellow-eyed penguin reserve is located on the seaward side of the head.


The principal city of the lower South Island, with an urban population of 112,035 in 2013. Once New Zealand’s largest city, Dunedin remains significant on account of its history, and its status as a centre for university education, and scientific and medical research.

Early years

The town was founded in 1848. Charles Kettle, surveyor for the New Zealand Company, placed the Octagon at its heart, with Moray Place forming an outer octagon of thoroughfares. George and Princes streets – the names of Edinburgh’s principal streets – were the axis, and a town belt reserve separated town and country.

After 10 years the settlement’s population was just 1,712. It was the gold rushes from July 1861 that transformed Dunedin – its population increased to nearly 15,000 by the end of the 1860s, and nearly tripled between then and 1881. In the mid-1860s, and between 1878 and 1881 (but never again), it was New Zealand’s largest urban centre.

The city invested in education, religion and public works. Bell Hill, between the Octagon and the harbour, was demolished to allow expansion. Substantial buildings included Otago Museum (1876–77); the main building of the University of Otago with its clock tower (1878); the council chambers (1878–80); and St Joseph’s Catholic cathedral (1886). Architect Robert Lawson was responsible for some of the most distinctive buildings – First and Knox Presbyterian churches (1873 and 1876), Otago Boys’ High School (1884), and Trinity Methodist Church (1870), since 1978 the home of the Fortune Theatre. Dunedin Public Art Gallery was set up in 1884; it moved into a refurbished building in 1996.

Boom times

In 1900 Dunedin’s capitalists thrived on the back of a gold dredging boom. They traded nationally and internationally. The city’s schools and university were New Zealand’s best. Missionaries from Dunedin ranged as far as China and India, and the city’s vigorous working class was the backbone of the nascent national labour movement. Jewish, Lebanese and Chinese communities gave a distinctive cast to the city’s business and public life.

Banks and other financial institutions clustered along Princes Street, south of the Octagon. Nearby Walker (now Carroll) Street was a poor neighbourhood. The city’s bourgeoisie built substantial residences adjacent to the town belt, most notably the Theomin house Olveston (1906). Cable cars ran to hill suburbs, and trams to ‘the Flat’ (South Dunedin).

Railway station glories

Dunedin’s railway station was effusively celebrated in a 1970s guidebook: ‘In the concourse, exaltation is everywhere to be seen; the NZR cipher is engraved on scores of windowpanes, woven into ornate scrolls above the ticket windows and incorporated in matching stained-glass windows, each portraying a locomotive approaching at full steam. Sixteen ceramic nymphets look down approvingly at a majestic mosaic floor, whose tiles repeatedly mirror the cipher.‘ 1

A wave of public building saw the completion of the law courts (1900–2), the main railway station (1904) and St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral (1915). The city cherished its past, developing the Settlers Museum (1898) adjacent to Queens Gardens, and the Hocken Library (1910), based around the book and manuscript collection of local doctor and coroner Thomas Morland Hocken. Electric power was reticulated from the city’s Waipori Falls power station from 1907.

With the end of the gold dredging boom, Dunedin’s hinterland had a mostly pastoral economy; it was the South Island’s leading wool-selling centre. The city gained new enterprises – cinemas and publishers – and the 1925–26 New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition was a powerful vote of confidence. But Dunedin’s 1926 population of 85,000 was not surpassed until the late 1940s (partly because of the 1930s economic depression).

After the Second World War

In the era of post-war growth, partly a product of prosperous farming and the expansion of industry and state activity, new suburbs were built on the hills west and south of the city. Shops and offices were increasingly located north of the Octagon. Mōmona, the new airport, opened in 1962, and the Olympic-size Moana pool opened in November 1964.

However, population growth was modest. Businesses increasingly preferred to be sited close to larger markets, and jobs went with them. Dunedin’s 2013 population was just over 10% more than in 1956 – in that period Auckland’s population had more than tripled.

In the 2010s a number of businesses thrived. They included the very specialised, such as McKinlays footwear, and the more substantial, such as the Cadbury chocolate factory in downtown Dunedin. But many others had closed – notably woollen mills, whiteware assembly plants and freezing works.

The University of Otago had a student roll of over 18,800 in 2013 – more than six times what it was a half-century earlier – and played a dominant role in the city’s economy and its social and intellectual life. Increasing numbers of international students made the city’s population more diverse.

New Zealand’s first Chinese garden opened in July 2008, close to the Otago Settlers Museum and Queens Gardens. The decision to build a covered sports stadium near Logan Park, in the hope of making Dunedin an ‘events’ city, was controversial. The Forsyth Barr stadium was completed in August 2011.


    • Diana and Jeremy Pope, Mobil New Zealand travel guide: South Island and Stewart Island. Wellington: Reed, 1974, p. 106. › Back


Northern Dunedin

North Dunedin

Suburb north of the central city; site of the University of Otago, whose buildings dominate the area. The Dunedin Botanic Garden, established in 1863, separates the suburb from North East Valley. Logan Park is one of Dunedin’s main sports grounds.

The Water of Leith, which flows through Leith Valley, along the western side of the Botanic Garden, and then through the university grounds, is named after a stream in Edinburgh, Scotland. The first exotic freshwater fish brought into New Zealand – brown trout – were released in the stream in 1869.


Otago University students are nicknamed scarfies, after the long scarves they wear in winter, which are blue and gold in support of the province’s rugby team. Scarfies is also the title of a 1999 movie, a comic thriller about five student flatmates who find a crop of marijuana being grown in the basement of their dilapidated Dunedin home.

North East Valley

Long narrow valley, previously on the main road north. North East Valley is on the road to Mt Cargill and an alternative route to Waitati. Annual competitions – in running, and in rolling Jaffa sweets – are held on Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street.


Suburb on the hill slopes either side of Signal Hill Road between North East Valley and the harbour, above the Northern Cemetery. The buildings of Knox College, dating from the first decade of the 20th century, stand out at the approach to Ōpoho.

The beautifully landscaped and cared-for cemetery was closed to burials in 1937. Signs direct visitors to the grave of Thomas Bracken, journalist and member of Parliament. Bracken composed the words of the national anthem ‘God defend New Zealand’, and the poems ‘Not understood’ and ‘Dunedin from the bay’. Part of the latter is quoted at Bracken’s Lookout in the cemetery.

There is also a memorial to Taranaki Māori from Parihaka who were imprisoned without trial in Dunedin from 1879. A number died and were buried in paupers’ graves.

Signal Hill offers extensive views over city and harbour, and is the site of a massive memorial commemorating the 1940 centennial of European settlement in New Zealand.

West Harbour

West Harbour, along the west side of Otago Harbour on the road to Port Chalmers, includes the suburbs of Burkes, St Leonards and (the largest) Ravensbourne, the site of a fertiliser works. A borough since 1877, West Harbour was incorporated in Dunedin city in 1963. Situated on terraces above the water’s edge, the expanse of houses is easy to miss from the harbourside highway. The suburbs have few shops or other facilities.

Mt Cargill and Flagstaff

Mt Cargill (675 metres) is the highest summit on the west rim of the harbour, and almost twice the height of the highest hill on Otago Peninsula. Another summit, Flagstaff (668 m) is north-west of the suburb of Wakari.

Town belt

Land was set aside as a town belt when Dunedin was first laid out, and became important for leisure and recreation as the town expanded. The western side in particular creates a park landscape for nearby houses. Below the belt, many of Dunedin’s most influential and wealthy early residents built on Heriot Row and Royal Terrace, in the angle formed by Pitt and London streets.

Māori Hill, Roslyn, Belleknowes and Mornington

These suburbs lie on the western side of Dunedin’s town belt, spreading along the ridge that overlooks the city. Their axis is Highgate and then Kenmure Road. Trams made these neighbourhoods easy to reach, and many streets became the preserve of affluent citizens.

Kaikorai Valley, Wakari, Halfway Bush and Brockville

Kaikorai Valley is an industrial area behind the Mornington ridge. Kaikorai Valley High School, later Kaikorai College, opened in 1958. On two hillsides above it, separated from each other by a deep ravine, large numbers of state (public) houses were built after the Second World War, enlarging the suburb of Wakari and forming the new suburb of Brockville. Halfway Bush, once a rural locality on a back road halfway to Taieri, is also now suburban.

Southern Dunedin


Caversham is the oldest of the southern suburbs. On the approach to it from the city is Carisbrook, the home of Otago rugby since the early 20th century. The Southern Cemetery and the Oval, a cricket ground, mark the southern end of the town belt. Early Otago leaders Thomas Burns and William Cargill are both buried in the cemetery.

For 30 years from the late 1970s the University of Otago history department carried out in-depth research on late 19th and early 20th-century Caversham and its neighbouring suburbs.

South Dunedin

The commercial axis of South Dunedin lies along King Edward Street. The suburb is dominated by the Hillside rail workshops, later Hillside Engineering Group. The workshops were sold back to the government, along with the rest of Toll Holdings NZ’s rail operations, in 2008. They were closed in 2012.

St Kilda and St Clair

King Edward Street becomes Prince Albert Road once it reaches St Kilda, home to the Forbury Park raceway, the A & P (agricultural and pastoral) showgrounds and a magnificent surf beach. An 1,100-metre offshore waste-water system has recently been built out from the St Kilda coast.

St Clair beach is a western extension of St Kilda beach, and has salt-water baths. Substantial houses line the streets on the slopes above the coast. St Clair was the site of an early surf lifesaving club; South Coast Boardriders, established in 1966 and one of New Zealand’s strongest surf clubs, is also based at the beach.

Southern hill suburbs

On the hill slopes east of St Kilda are the suburbs of Musselburgh and Tainui. They abut the suburbs at the landward end of Otago Peninsula – Waverley, Vauxhall, Shiel Hill and Andersons Bay.

Extensive state (public) housing was built after the Second World War on the hills west of Caversham, forming the suburbs of Corstorphine and Kew.

Green Island

8 km south-west of the Octagon, in central Dunedin, with a 2013 population of 6,291, the borough of Green Island was historically distinct from the city. It lies in the Kaikorai Valley, and for many years was dominated economically by the Burnside meat-freezing works, which opened in 1883. Until 1989 it retained its own local council, which took in the suburbs of Abbotsford (site of a 1979 landslide which destroyed or damaged 69 homes), Burnside, Concord and Sunnyvale. From the late 1970s the freezing works mostly handled venison. It closed completely in 2008, because of lack of throughput. Other industrial enterprises process or service primary produce – skins, hides, agricultural machinery or fertiliser. The suburb is probably named after tiny Green Island, off the coast.

Waldron’s ville 

Waldronville was developed in the 1950s by Bill Waldron, who bought a local farm, subdivided it and built houses. The street names include Vampire, Vulcan, Viscount and Valiant roads, as well as Dakota Place and Delta Drive – all named after aircraft. 


A coastal settlement 19 km south-west of central Dunedin, Brighton was expected to grow to rival the British resort town of the same name. It never developed on that scale, but its ‘underdevelopment’ is part of the appeal for residents and visitors. The road to Brighton passes Waldronville and Ocean View.

Saddle Hill

Saddle Hill, with twin summits of 430 m and 473 m, was sighted from sea and named by James Cook in 1770. It is a landmark on Dunedin’s southern skyline.



17 km west of Dunedin on the Taieri Plain, and with a 2013 population of 9,210, Mosgiel has been part of Dunedin city since 1989. It has a large population of retired people; 32.5% of its population was over 65 in 2006, compared with 15.7% for Otago as a whole.

Poetry of the racecourse

Poet Bill Manhire grew up in Otago and Southland, where his parents ran a series of pubs. He later studied at Otago University. His poem ‘Wingatui’ is a wistful evocation of the racecourse, with its birdcage (where horses parade before a race) and jockeys’ silks:

Sit in the car with the headlights off.
Look out there now
where the yellow moon floats silks across the birdcage.
You might have touched that sky you lost.
You might have split that azure violin in two. 1

Anzac Park is at the centre of the town. Holy Cross College, on the edge of Mosgiel, trained Catholic priests from 1900 to 1998. The Invermay agricultural research station dates from 1949. Nearby Wingatui is home to a racecourse and the start of the Taieri Gorge scenic railway. Taieri aerodrome is now used by light aircraft.

The woollen mills, established in 1871, closed in March 2000 because of competition from synthetic products and lower production costs in other countries. Now called Mill Park industrial estate, the buildings are home to a number of small businesses. A Fisher & Paykel dishwasher plant closed in 2008, and nearly 500 jobs were lost.


27 km west of Dunedin on the northern edge of the Taieri Plain, Outram is the centre of West Taieri. A township developed at the ferry crossing of the Taieri River on the route to the goldfields from 1861. Major J. L. C. Richardson, ex-British Indian army, local settler and one-time provincial superintendent, named the settlement after a fellow officer. The historic park at Outram Glen has a vintage machinery museum.


24 km south-west of Dunedin on the South Island main railway, Allanton is on the Taieri Plain near Dunedin’s Mōmona airport. It was originally a settlement of 1870s immigrants, many of them Polish, who worked on building the railway. Later it became a centre for local farms.

Waipori Falls

The houses of Waipori Falls village are tucked into the trees on a hillside near the falls, site of the main power station (one of four) for the Waipori scheme. The settlement is in the middle of the Waipori scenic reserve, a tract of native bush which extends some kilometres either side of the Waipori Stream. Waipori Forest, an exotic plantation, dates from 1924.

Lake Mahinerangi

Lake created by the hydroelectric scheme at Waipori Falls. The lake submerged the mining township of Waipori; it was named after Mahinerangi Barnett, the daughter of Dunedin’s mayor. The Edgar Stark bridge across the lake is named for its designer.

On high ground south of the lake are the Otago Pioneer Quartz and Pioneer Stream historic reserves, and the Canton battery, used to crush quartz so gold could be extracted. The former is the site of the first underground quartz mine in Otago, established in 1863.

Taieri Mouth

Taieri Mouth is a holiday settlement at the mouth of the Taieri River; Taieri Beach is 3 km south. There is evidence of early Māori settlement at Taieri Mouth, including large cooking pits and human remains.

    • Bill Manhire, Good looks. Auckland: Auckland University Press, Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 15. › Back

Tokomairiro and Tuapeka


With a 2013 population of 1,926, Milton is the centre of the Tokomairiro district, broadly the catchment of the Tokomairiro River, which runs between the much larger Taieri and Clutha rivers. Milton is a service town for the district, which previously had a separate status as Bruce county. Milton was originally known as Mill Town after its large flour and oat mill. That mill later became part of the Bruce woollen mill, which was the town’s principal employer until it closed in 1999. Another business, Bruce Woollen Mill, operated from the mill buildings in the 2010s.

Union Street, the 2.25-kilometre main street, rivals Carterton in the North Island for its length relative to the town’s size. The town shares its name with 17th-century poet John Milton, and streets are named after British poets, or are poetically inspired.

Beach settlements

Toko Mouth and Chrystalls Beach are coastal holiday settlements. A 24-metre basalt column at Chrystalls Beach is known as Cooks Head.


Settlement adjacent to a shallow lake of the same name on the Taieri Plain, 35 km south-west of Dunedin. Lake Waihola is popular for water sports. A lake crossing provided part of one route from Dunedin to the Tuapeka goldfield. The name is a dialect version of Waihora. There is a wildlife reserve at nearby Lake Waipori.

The Sinclair wetlands, between the two lakes, consist of over 315 hectares of lagoons, waterways and islands.


Lawrence is 92 km west of Dunedin by road on the Tuapeka River, a tributary of the Clutha/Mata-Au. It had a 2013 population of 417, down from 540 in 1996.

Lawrence developed in the 1860s gold rushes. Peel Street was the main street then; now it is Ross Place on State Highway 8. Two buildings date from 1866, five years after the original rush. Churches built to last came later – the Ōamaru stone Presbyterian church in 1886 and the brick Catholic St Patrick’s in 1892.

A settlement of Chinese miners just outside the town had 300 residents in 1870.

Beer from Lawrence’s Black Horse brewery, first set up in 1866, was ‘famed from Canterbury to Bluff’. The brewery closed in 1923. Several hectares of daffodils planted by the brewery attracted excursion trains and buses from Dunedin in spring. Today an annual arts festival each January draws visitors to the town with its attractive valley setting.

Gabriels Gully and Waitāhuna

4 km from Lawrence, in a side valley off the Tuapeka River, Gabriels Gully was the site of Otago’s first gold rush. Another mining site and gold settlement, Blue Spur, is nearby, and has a walking track with interpretive signs.

10 km south-east of Lawrence, another gold-rush locality, Waitāhuna, was home to a Chinese gold-mining settlement for a number of years from 1866. It had 150 residents in 1870.

South Otago


Balclutha, dubbed the ‘big river town’ by its promoters, is on the Clutha River/Mata-Au, about 10 km upstream from its mouth. With a 2013 population of 3,918, it is the principal town of South Otago.

A ferry first plied the Clutha at Balclutha in 1852. The river was bridged in 1868, and a borough (town) council was formed in 1870.

After severe flooding in 1878, floodbanks were built to protect the town. The Finegand freezing works opened in 1912. A high school and hospital date from 1925 and 1926. The existing six-span arched concrete bridge opened in 1935.

Balclutha’s population tripled between 1945 and 1976, from 1,500 to 4,500. Housing expanded up the slopes on both sides of the river. Livestock numbers soared; the kill count at Finegand peaked at 2 million in the 1984/85 season. Numbers have fallen since, and the town’s population has been static.

Four kilometres south, on the road to Ōwaka, the Telford Farm Training Institute was founded in 1964. Part of Lincoln University, Telford provides practical experience and technical training for students. The distinctive stone Otanomomo homestead is used as the administration building.


Thirty-two kilometres west of Balclutha and 41 km east of Gore, Clinton had a population of 282 in 2013. Originally known as Popotunoa after the nearby bush-clad hill, it was named Clinton in 1873. Clinton was ‘dry’ between 1894 and 1956, when alcohol sales resumed.


Twelve kilometres south-east of Balclutha, Kaitangata – ‘Kai’ to locals – had a 2013 population of 762. Coal was first mined in 1869, and was taken to Dunedin by rail from 1876.

An explosion in 1879 killed 34 miners. In the early 1900s, when the town had nearly 1,500 people, 440 men worked in the mines.

The last underground coal mine closed in 1970, but some opencast mining continued in the 2010s. Nearby Lake Tuakitoto is a wildlife sanctuary.

Stirling and Benhar

Stirling’s cheese factory opened in 1982. From the early 1880s Benhar was the site of the McSkimming brick, ceramics and porcelain factory, which closed after a fire in 1990.

Kākā Point

Twenty-two kilometres from Balclutha, close to Port Molyneux. Kākā Point was a port in the 1860s and 1870s, until rail linked Balclutha with Dunedin. There is a popular surfing beach; an unsealed road leads to the Nugget Point lighthouse. Acclaimed poet Hone Tuwhare (1922–2008) lived for many years at Kākā Point.


Twenty-seven kilometres south of Balclutha, with a 2013 population of 303, Ōwaka is the main centre of the rugged Catlins district. Once a sawmilling town, it later became a centre for farming and tourism.

The Tahakopa branch railway reached Ōwaka in 1896 and Tahakopa in 1917. It closed in 1971. The tunnel hill walk follows the former rail line. Near Tawanui, the local Lions Club runs the Catlins Woodstock music festival each January.

Sea lions can be seen at Cannibal Bay; Surat Bay is named after the Surat, which was wrecked there on 1 January 1874.

From Maclennan, a road goes up the Tahakopa River valley, and ultimately through to Wyndham.


Papatōwai is an ecotourism centre. Tautuku, a surf beach, is 1 km further on, below Florence Head. The east side of the Tautuku estuary has a wetland walk; the west side, still forested, includes Lake Wilkie, a lake that formed behind sand dunes. Māori own land on the Tautuku Peninsula.

McLean Falls has a holiday park, café and bar. Cathedral Caves, a series of sea caves, can be visited at Waipāti Beach. Chaslands is named (and misspelt) after sealer and whaler Thomas Chaseland, like the nearby Chaslands Mistake.

Clutha River/Mata-Au

The South Island’s longest river, and Otago’s main river, the Clutha River/Mata-Au runs from Lake Wānaka to its mouth on the coast south-east of Balclutha. Two-thirds of the Clutha’s water comes from the mountainous catchments of Lakes Wānaka, Hāwea and Wakatipu, and of the Shotover River.

Lake Wānaka is fed by the Makarora River to its north; the continuous stretch of water from the Makarora’s headwaters to the mouth of the Clutha is 338 km long. Though slightly shorter than the North Island’s Waikato River (354 km), the river discharges almost twice the volume.

Hundred-year floods

The two biggest floods on the Clutha were exactly a century apart. A massive flood on 14–16 October 1878 damaged or destroyed six major river crossings. Then a hundred years later, on 13–15 October 1978, the Clutha and a number of other southern rivers inundated a huge area, killing thousands of stock and forcing many people to evacuate their homes.


The Clutha’s principal tributaries are the Kawarau, which drains Lake Wakatipu; the Manuherikia, which drains one of Central Otago’s basins; the Pomahaka, which drains West Otago; and the Tuapeka. The name Clutha is a version of Clyde (a Scottish river); the Māori name is Mata-Au. The river was named Molyneux by British navigator James Cook.

Exploiting the river

In 1900 there were 187 gold dredges on the river. Steamers used to ply the lower river in the later 19th and early 20th century. There are hydroelectric power stations at Roxburgh (1956) and Clyde (1990). Later schemes to harness more hydroelectricity have been vigorously opposed, and have not proceeded.

Upper reaches of the river

The outlet from Lake Wānaka at Dublin Bay marks the start of the Clutha River. The Hāwea River, the outlet for Lake Hāwea, joins the Clutha 3 km downstream. In 1958 a control gate and a 30-metre earth dam were installed at the Lake Hāwea outlet, allowing the lake to rise by 18 metres to ensure a water supply to the Roxburgh hydroelectric station. When the water level falls an unattractive shore is exposed. The level of Lake Wānaka is also managed to ensure a water flow for the Clyde and Roxburgh power stations.

Naming Frame

Because of her desire for privacy, author Janet Frame changed her name to Nene Janet Paterson Clutha by deed poll in 1958. She chose the name Clutha because of the river’s significance to her creative imagination. (Nene was after the Māori leader Tāmati Waaka Nene, whom she admired; it was also similar to her childhood nickname, Nini.)

Clyde Dam, Cromwell Gorge and Lake Dunstan

Controversy raged over the plan to build the Clyde Dam at the lower end of the 20-km Cromwell Gorge, flooding 86 hectares of apricot orchards. Cromwell town was to be flooded too, but would benefit from the construction of a new town, and the creation of a lake. Work started on the dam in 1981, and was finished by 1989. In 1993 the station was commissioned and Lake Dunstan (26 square kilometres) filled up.

Roxburgh Dam, Roxburgh Gorge and Lake Roxburgh

Stretch of the Clutha between Roxburgh and Alexandra. Lake Roxburgh, product of the Roxburgh dam, extends halfway up the gorge. To Māori the gorge was Kā Moana Haehae (the division of the waters). Since the 1998 Ngāi Tahu settlement this is the name of the bed of Lake Roxburgh.

Roxburgh was the first big power scheme in the South Island after the Second World War. The dam and power station were built between 1949 and 1956. A display on the east side of the river, titled ‘A town now gone!’, is at the site of the long-dismantled construction village.

The present-day village, on the west side of the Clutha just below the hydroelectricity station, was built by the government to house the engineers and others who managed the hydro dam. The power station is now operated remotely from Clyde, and most houses in the village are privately owned.

The lower Clutha


In the mid-1990s a petition against a proposed hydroelectric dam at Beaumont was signed by 26,000 people. The project didn’t proceed – but it was reconsidered in 2009, only to be shelved again in 2012.

Tuapeka Mouth

Farming settlement at the junction of the Tuapeka and Clutha Rivers, 35 km north-west of Balclutha and 14 km south-west of Lawrence. In the 2010s it was mainly known for its ferry, the sole survivor of a number of early Clutha River ferries. A punt is mounted on steel pontoons; wire ropes attach it to overhead cables, and the river current provides the power.

Inch Clutha

In its last kilometres below Balclutha the Clutha River divides into the Koau (west) and Matau (east) branches. The fertile Inch Clutha farming district lies between.

Strath Taieri and Maniototo

Taieri Gorge railway

The Otago Central railway line started at Wingatui and finished in Clyde, in the heart of Central Otago. Since 1987 a tourist train has run along the 58-km section of track from Dunedin to Pukerangi via Wingatui (and to Middlemarch in summer). After tunnelling through the ranges, the route follows the Taieri River along a gorge as far as Pukerangi.


Locality 80 km north-west of Dunedin, with a 2013 population of 153. Middlemarch is the centre of Strath Taieri, a basin of the Taieri River between the Rock and Pillar Range and the Taieri ridge. The Otago Central Rail Trail for cyclists and walkers runs between Clyde and Middlemarch; the town is the terminus for the Taieri Gorge railway line and for twice-weekly summer excursion trains from Dunedin.


A gold-rush locality on the edge of Strath Taieri, 109 km north-west of Dunedin and 29 km north of Middlemarch. Hyde was originally named Eight Mile, as it was eight miles (13 km) south-east of the earlier Hamilton diggings. One of New Zealand’s most serious rail crashes, near Hyde in 1943, killed 21 people. Taieri Lake station, east of the settlement, has 1860s and 1870s buildings; beyond, on the other side of the Taieri ridge, is the bleak Moonlight flat.

Maniototo Plain

Large basin in Central Otago, lying between a number of mountain ranges. It was named after the Maniototo station, whose homestead is 6 kms west of Ranfurly. The plain covers roughly the same area as the former Maniototo county, which existed from 1876 to 1989. The name is probably a contraction of Mānia-o-toto, plain of blood.


Ranfurly, on State Highway 85 between Palmerston and Alexandra, 90 km north-east of Alexandra, had a 2013 population of 663. The railway reached Ranfurly in 1898. Formerly known as Eweburn, its name was changed to Ranfurly when the governor, Lord Ranfurly, visited in 1898. It then became the centre for Maniototo. Ranfurly declined after the railway line closed in 1990, but later began promoting its art deco buildings to visitors.


13 km north of Ranfurly, Naseby had a 2013 population of 120. Originally known as Hogburn after the local stream, it was the earliest settlement in Maniototo, and New Zealand’s smallest independently-governed town for many years. The 1863 gold rush saw a peak of 5,000 miners within the year. Naseby is known for its winter sports and for curling, a Scottish game of ‘bowls on ice’, played in winter on frozen ponds.

Upper Taieri

The Taieri River – New Zealand’s third-longest, at 318 km – rises in a remote part of Central Otago, at the junction of the Lammermoor and Lammerlaw ranges. Meridian Energy’s plan to build New Zealand’s largest wind farm on the Lammermoor Range was shelved in 2012.

The Dunstan Trail

At first, the return trip from Dunedin to Dunstan (Clyde) took two to three weeks. This was reduced to three days each way when scheduled coaches began from Dunedin in November 1862, then one or two days with stables and relays of horses. There was usually an overnight stop at Styx (Paerau). Coaches stopped using the route in 1864 when the ‘Pigroot’ (now State Highway 85) displaced it. It continued to be used by wagons, and later became popular with mountainbikers and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

A high road to the Dunstan (Clyde) gold diggings crosses the Taieri at Paerau (also known as Styx after the river that joins the Taieri at that point). The hotel buildings date from 1861.

Further north the river passes through farming districts. A TB sanatorium operated at Ōrangapai, near Waipīata, from 1925 to 1961. At Puketoi, west of Pātearoa, the 1867 homestead building survives. Hamilton, a gold mining site, is in the foothills of the Rock and Pillar Range.

West Otago and Teviot Valley

Blue Mountains

Tapuaeuenuku (footprints of the rainbow) was named the Blue Mountains by Walter Mantell in 1851. The mountains are known locally as ‘the Blueys’; the highest peak, Tapanui Hill, is 1,019 metres. In the 2010s plantation forests were owned by Ernslaw One, a Malaysian company, which operates the Blue Mountain Lumber plant at Conical Hill. The Blue Mountains forest conservation area lies along the western flank of the range and is used by deer and pig hunters. Black Gully and Whisky Gully have bush walks.

Tapanui flu

In the early 1980s, Tapanui GP Peter Snow noticed that some of his patients had symptoms that resembled those of farm animals with selenium deficiency. Working with Otago University colleagues, he studied the local outbreak of what came to be known as Tapanui flu, or chronic fatigue syndrome.


Tapanui, which brands itself as ‘the edge of the forest’, had a 2013 population of 726. The principal township of West Otago, it is 71 km north-west of Balclutha, but just 38 km north-east of Gore, in neighbouring Southland, with which it has many links.

A first sawmill started in 1866; Tapanui was laid out in 1868. By the 1920s, forest had largely given way to sheep farms. Nearly all of these have converted to dairying since the early 1990s.

Kelso and Heriot

North-west of Tapanui, Kelso dates from 1865. After floods in 1978 and 1980, when the waters of the Pomahaka River rose 2 and 3 metres respectively, the township was abandoned.

The 1885 Todd cottage at Heriot, west of State Highway 90, was the birthplace of Charles Todd. He founded Todd Motors, which became one of the country’s most successful car companies. The Todd family’s first industrial enterprise was the fellmongery opposite the house, which still stands.

Roxburgh railway

The Milton–Roxburgh railway opened up the section of the Clutha River from Beaumont to the Roxburgh Gorge. The railway closed in 1968.

The 9-km Beaumont Millennium Track runs from Beaumont, where State Highway 8 joins the Clutha River, towards Millers Flat.

Millers Flat

Settlement across the Clutha River from State Highway 8, reached via a five-span bridge. 9 km south are the ‘lonely graves’ where are buried both ‘somebody’s darling’ (an unidentified body found during the gold rush years) and William Rigney. Rigney’s headstone describes him as ‘the man who buried somebody’s darling’ – but by his own account he did not bury the body, but simply erected a mānuka fence and wooden headstone on the grave.


40 km south of Alexandra, Roxburgh is at the junction of the Teviot and Clutha rivers, and had a 2013 population of 522. Finds of gold on the Teviot in 1862 by Andrew Young and James Woodhouse gave the township its start.

The town takes its name from a Scottish border town, and its streets are also named for border localities. Roxburgh was a major centre of gold dredging at the end of the 19th century. The Ladysmith dredge, named after the South African war siege of the British stronghold of Ladysmith, operated for some years on the east bank of the river. The sluicing channels made by miners were later used for irrigation, allowing orcharding to develop at the start of the 20th century. Some of the apricot yield was canned locally until the early 2000s.

Lake Onslow

22 km east of Roxburgh, at the head of the Teviot River, Lake Onslow is a product of the 1888 damming of the upper Teviot River by the Roxburgh amalgamated mining company. It is named after Lord Onslow, governor of New Zealand from 1889 to 1892. The dam was progressively raised, then rebuilt; the lake is now 830 hectares and has many brown trout.


The name of Fruitlands, 15 km south of Alexandra, is a reminder of an unsuccessful fruit-tree planting venture in 1915. It was formerly also known as the Halfway. The stone building of Mitchells Cottage was erected between 1880 and 1904 by Andrew Mitchell, a gold miner and stonemason (a skill he had acquired in his Shetland Island homeland). A memorial at Gorge Creek commemorates miners who died in the great snowfall of 1863.

Old Man Range/Kopuwai

In Māori the range is known as Kopuwai after the ‘ogre’ who once lived there. The Obelisk, or Old Man Rock, 25 metres high and 8.5 metres wide at its base, is prominent on the ridge line. The Flat Top Hill conservation area at the foot of the range conserves a dry land ecosystem.



With a 2013 population of 4,800, Alexandra is the main centre for the Central Otago district. It is 195 km north-west of Dunedin and 95 km south-east of Queenstown, at the junction of the Clutha/Mata-Au and Manuherikia rivers.

The ‘lower Dunstan’ goldfield settlement formed in 1862 was named Alexandra in 1863, when Queen Victoria’s eldest son Albert Edward married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Gold dredging boomed in the 1890s and 1900s – but after this, Alexandra was quiet.

The arched steel bridge opened in 1958, replacing the swing bridge, whose masonry pillars still stand. The electric clock on the hill above was installed in 1968. Since 1957 the town has staged an annual blossom festival in spring (September). The Central Stories museum opened in 2005. It replaced the William Bodkin museum, named after the local MP and community leader. Alexandra also has a notable cricket ground.

Alexandra is a retirement town. Over-65s accounted for 27.1% of the population in 2013, compared with 21.3% in the Central Otago district, and 15.7% in Otago as a whole.


With a 2013 population of 1,011, Clyde is 7 km from Alexandra and 27 km from Cromwell, on the Clutha River. The 1862 gold-rush town was first known as Dunstan after the neighbouring Dunstan Mountains. The name was changed to Clyde (a variant of Clutha) in 1865.

Pavement plaques identify historic points of interest. A 1934 steel-arched road bridge across the Clutha to Earnscleugh sits on the stone piers of an 1881 bridge. The railway line closed in 1990; 10 kilometres of the track became a ‘rail trail’ for walkers and cyclists in 1994, and the full 150-kilometre Otago Central Rail Trail opened in 2000. The Clyde hydroelectric dam and power station are just north of the town.

Fruit of the vine

The first wine grapes in Central Otago were planted at Earnscleugh in 1864 by John Desiré Feraud. The district now accounts for around 7% of Central Otago’s wine plantings, found both on the Earnscleugh side of the river, and between Alexandra and Clyde.


District with many gold-dredging tailings, left from the 1890s until 1963, when the last dredge stopped working. From 1922 orchards thrived with irrigation. Since the 1990s they have been complemented by vineyards, especially of the pinot noir grape.

Manuherikia River

The Manuherikia rises between the St Bathans and Hawkdun ranges, joining the Clutha more than 60 km south at Alexandra. Near Chatto Creek, Merino sheep on Moutere Station are descended from the Merino brought from Europe in 1863.

Ophir and Ōmakau

Ophir, named after the biblical gold mine, is an 1863 gold-rush settlement known originally as Blacks. The railway was routed through Ōmakau in 1906, after which it thrived and Ophir waned.

Lauder district

Farm locality 35 km north of Alexandra. Nearby Becks used to be known as White Horse, after the hotel run by Joseph Becks in the 1880s. It was later named after the publican. The Matakanui district (once Tinkers), Drybread and Cambrians were mining areas. The four-wheel-drive Thomson Gorge road crosses the Dunstan Mountains to the upper Clutha valley.

Monkey business

The Brass Monkey Rally, held annually at Ōtūrehua, is New Zealand’s best-known motorcycle rally. The rally’s name alludes to the low winter temperatures, often below freezing – ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’, as the saying goes. A huge bonfire is lit to help keep riders warm.

Ida Valley

The name refers to the sacred Mt Ida of Greek mythology. At Ōtūrehua (earlier called Rough Ridge), farmer Ernest Hayes (1851–1933) invented a range of devices to help with farming tasks. The abandoned mining town of Moa Creek was used in filming the Lord of the rings movie trilogy.

On the slopes of Rough Ridge are Poolburn dam, and the Manorburn and Upper Manorburn (Greenland) reservoirs. The oldest, Upper Manorburn, dates from 1914.

St Bathans

The northernmost gold mining settlement in the valley, 61 km north-east of Alexandra, with just a handful of permanent residents. Historic buildings include a bank and gold office dating from 1864 and the Vulcan (formerly Ballarat) hotel, built in 1882. The ghost that reputedly haunts the hotel has prompted the organisation of a ‘Ghost to Ghost’ triathlon and duathlon – a pun on the rather more strenuous Coast to Coast race from the West Coast to Christchurch.

Cromwell district


34 km north-west of Alexandra, with a 2013 population of 4,143, Cromwell is at the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha rivers. Since 1993 it is on the shores of Lake Dunstan, created by the damming of the Clutha River at Clyde, 27 km downstream; the old town was flooded by the project.

Gold in the river

A gold rush town, Cromwell was first called simply The Junction; it was renamed after the 17th-century English leader in 1863. Gold mining by individuals gave way to dredging by companies at the end of the 19th century, but by 1910 dredging had also waned.

Rail terminus

The population was no more than 600 between the two world wars, growing slowly to around 1,000 by 1966. Sheep farming and fruit-growing, the latter made possible by irrigation, were the main activities in the district.

A thriving new town

In the 1980s a new town was laid out to the west and north of the future Lake Dunstan, a by-product of the Clyde Dam project. Its shopping mall opened in 1985. Relocated buildings from the old town form a historic precinct at the end of Melmore Terrace. 70% of Otago’s vineyards are found in the Cromwell basin, including many of its premier pinot noir plantings.


Former gold mining area, where the number of diggers peaked in 1867. Bannockburn was the site of dredging operations in the Kawarau River at the end of the 19th century, as well as a coal mine, horticulture and some small farms run by miners. In later years, churches and the school all closed (the latter in 1971). Since then a number of vineyards have been planted, and in 2009 the township had new houses and an art gallery. An extensive area of old gold workings is now a reserve.

Nevis Valley

Some kilometres south of Bannockburn a road climbs the Carrick Range, reaching 1,265 metres at its high point. This former gold-mining area was also once farmed, but is now largely deserted, though it is used for snowmobiling in winter. From near the Nevis headwaters a four-wheel drive route leads to State Highway 6 in Southland.

Kawarau gorge

The Kawarau River runs through a gorge for most of the way between the Arrow Basin and Cromwell.

The A. J. Hackett Kawarau Bridge bungy, the world’s first commercial bungy jump, has been in operation since 1988. The gorge is also popular for jetboating and white-water rafting.

The Gibbston valley, in the Kawarau Gorge, is known for its pinot noir wines.

A small power station, commissioned in 1936, is located at the junction of the Roaring Meg stream and the Kawarau, about 10 kilometres upstream from the end of the gorge.


Lowburn was one of the last areas in Central Otago to have gold dredging operations. Lake Dunstan reaches as far as the Lowburn Flats.

Shrek the sheep

Shrek the Merino sheep, from Bendigo station, eluded musterers for six years. When he was caught for shearing in 2004 he was carrying a massive 27-kilogram fleece. The teachers and 13 children at tiny Tarras School wrote and published two books about the capture of Shrek to raise funds. The woolly protagonist was the guest of honour at the book launch, arriving in a stretch limousine; the first book sold more than 35,000 copies.


20 km past Cromwell on State Highway 8, Bendigo is reached via a short loop road. Starting as an alluvial mining area in 1862, from the 1880s to the 1920s it was one of the few successful quartz-mining areas in the province.

Wakatipu basin

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu is 290 square kilometres in area, and 377.5 metres at its deepest point. It occupies the valley carved by a former glacier, and has a distinctive zigzag shape, some 80 kilometres in length.

Māori tradition explains the lake – like the South Island’s other glacial lakes – as the product of digging by Rākaihautū, captain of the Uruao canoe. The lake rises and falls around 12–20 centimetres every 52 minutes.

The paddle steamer Mountaineer operated on the lake until 1932. The TSS Earnslaw was launched in 1912. Since 1969 it has been used for lake cruises, with daily sailings.

Across the lake

The mountains of Cecil Peak (1,978 m), Walter Peak (1,689 m) and Mt Nicholas (1,459 m) are also sheep stations; Cecil Peak can only be accessed by water, and receives day excursions from Queenstown. A kauri tree planted at Walter Peak station on the shore of the lake in 1965 is believed to be the southernmost kauri in New Zealand.

The Remarkables

Photogenic mountain range rising steeply above the eastern shore of lower Lake Wakatipu, with much evidence of glaciation. Double Cone (2,324 m) is the highest point. Below it, on the eastern side of the range, is the Remarkables skifield.


47 km from Queenstown at the southern end of the lake. From 1983 the Kingston Flyer ran summer train excursions to Fairlight, 14 km away along the only surviving stretch of the former railway line to Invercargill.

Kelvin Heights

Kelvin Heights and Jacks Point are upscale lakefront settlements. Deer Park Heights, between the two, was a location for the film trilogy Lord of the rings.

Dart and Rees River valleys

The glaciated valley at the head of Lake Wakatipu extends for about 10 km along the courses of the two rivers, between the Richardson Mountains and Humboldt Mountains. The rivers are braided across the valley flats. The striking mountain and basin landscape featured in the Lord of the rings films.

Glenorchy, 50 km from Queenstown on the east side of the lake’s northern tip, has about 500 residents and a number of cafes and bars. A wetland walk takes visitors across the river flats.

Paradise, 20 km north of Glenorchy, past trout-rich Diamond Lake, is the starting point for the round-trip Rees–Dart Track in Mount Aspiring National Park.

Kinloch, at the north-west corner of the lake, is a base for the Routeburn, Caples and Greenstone tracks, which cross the western ranges into Fiordland.

Shotover River

Tributary of the Kawarau River. In 1862 two shearers, Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern, discovered gold at Arthurs Point, where the river emerges from the mountains.

Māori Point on the Shotover River takes its name from the 1863 gold find of Rāniera Ellison and companions. Moke Creek (a Shotover tributary), Moke Lake and Moonlight Creek were also the site of mining.

Today the Shotover is popular for adventure sports, in particular jet boating and white-water rafting through the Shotover canyon.


A remote goldfield at the junction of the Shotover and Skippers Creek. The perilous road to Skippers is popular with visitors. The road stops before the Skippers suspension bridge, 100 m above the Skippers or Shotover canyon, which offers access to the abandoned township.

In 1886 Bullendale, at the head of Skippers Creek, was the site of New Zealand’s first hydroelectric generator-powered crushing machines, designed to separate gold from quartz. However, they were unprofitable.

Queenstown and Arrowtown


285 km north-west of Dunedin and 187 km north of Invercargill, Queenstown sits halfway along Lake Wakatipu, and had a 2013 population of 11,505.

Queenstown’s dramatic setting, surrounded by mountains on the edge of glacial Lake Wakatipu, is unequalled – particularly in autumn, when the deciduous trees are colourful.

Early history

William Rees had run sheep in the area for just two years when gold was discovered on the Shotover River in November 1862. A town sprang to life; the site of Rees’s old homestead, the Camp, is in the centre of Queenstown.

Growth over time

After gold fever waned, the town declined. Through the first half of the 20th century it had fewer than 1,000 people, with a trickle of summer holidaymakers. In 1981 Queenstown’s resident population was still less than 3,500. Since then, tourist numbers increased rapidly – in winter as well as summer. In 2007 Queenstown attracted about 1 million visitors staying at least one night; about half were domestic tourists and half were international. In 2019 the town had nearly 20,000 permanent residents and 3 million visitors.


Albert and Julia Eichardt established a hotel in Queenstown in the 1860s. It was the town’s first building to have electricity, with 70 lighted rooms by 1890. Eichardt’s became a hub for the ‘Grand Motor Tour’ in automobiles, and was served by a bus service and the lake steamer from Kingston. After the Second World War the premises survived a number of demolition plans; in the early 2000s it was a private hotel. 

Around the town

The merchant Bendix Hallenstein gave the Queenstown peninsula to the town in 1866–67. Since then it has been the site of public gardens, with a number of sport facilities.

Queenstown Hill/Te Tapanui (907 m) is the site of ‘Basket of dreams’, a millennium sculpture. Since 1967 a gondola has run to a restaurant on Bobs Peak (812 m); there is a luge route at the top. The town has two casinos in Beach Street, one of which is at the Steamers Wharf. A house made entirely of bottles was a Queenstown sight until demolished around 2005. Bus services link Queenstown to outlying districts such as Sunshine Bay, Fernhill and Frankton, where the many transient workers live.

Frankton, with flat land, is the site of the Remarkables Park shopping mall, the Queenstown events centre and the airport. The airport handled over 1 million passengers per year in the 2010s, and has non-stop flights to major centres in New Zealand and on the east coast of Australia. Sightseeing flights take visitors to Milford Sound in Fiordland, avoiding the 12-hour return bus journey.

The Kawarau Falls drain Lake Wakatipu via the Frankton Arm. The falls were dammed in 1926 to allow gold recovery, but very little was extracted.

The Arrow Basin

The Arrow Basin has developed rapidly since the 1990s. The ski field at Coronet Peak, grape plantings and a luxury golf course at Millbrook have brought many visitors, workers and residents.

Lake Hayes, known to Māori as Wai-whaka-ata, has long been a site of many holiday houses. It regularly appears on ‘beautiful New Zealand’ calendars.

From 1882 there was a hotel at Arthurs Point; it closed in 2008. There are substantial new housing subdivisions both there and elsewhere in the basin.

Coronet Peak

1,649-m peak, where the Mount Cook tourist company developed a ski field in 1939.


Town on the Arrow River, 21 km north-east of Queenstown, with a 2013 population of 2,445. It was originally known as Fox’s after the first gold digger, who arrived in 1862.

Arrowtown has more than 50 historic buildings, and new construction in the town centre is sympathetic to the earlier architectural styles. The 1870s Chinese mining district has been partially restored, and the town is home to the Lakes District Museum. The annual Autumn Festival allows the town to celebrate at its most scenic, when the nearby hills are ablaze with colour.

Macetown, a gold-rush locality on the upper Arrow River, can be reached by four-wheel drive.

Lakes Wānaka and Hāwea

Lake Wānaka

One of the major glacial lakes of the Southern Alps, Lake Wānaka is 192 square kilometres in area, 45 km long and 6 km across at the widest point. 274 km above sea level, it has an estimated maximum depth of 311 m.

The lake is protected by the Lake Wanaka Preservation Act 1973, which established a group of guardians.

Māori origins

In Māori tradition, both Lakes Wānaka and Hāwea were gouged by the kō (digging stick) of the ancestor Rākaihautū. There is evidence of Māori settlements around both lakes, but they were abandoned by the 1840s.

Jewel of an island

From the 1920s Ruby Island, in Lake Wānaka, was the site of a cabaret used by parties from the mainland. One visitor described how ‘[i]n a little boat we floated to Ruby Island, and there peeped at the log cabin cabaret set in forest loveliness where the light-hearted dance the happy hours away’. 1

Rivers and islands

The most important rivers feeding the lake are the Makarora, which rises near Haast Pass, and the Mātukituki, which has its headwaters on Mt Aspiring/Tititea. The upper part of the lake occupies a single glaciated valley. The southern part of the lake has an irregular form, with a number of bays including Stevenson Arm, separated from the main body of the lake by a hilly peninsula; there are also several islands. Aggressive lake weed has been a problem since it was accidentally introduced in 1973.

Lakeside sheep stations include Glendhu, Cattle Flat and West Wānaka to the south-west, Mt Aspiring and Minaret on the west, and Makarora and Mt Albert to the north.

The town of Wānaka is located on Roys Bay; the lake’s outlet, into the Clutha River/Mata-Au, is at the head of Dublin Bay.

Thwarted aspiration

In the summer of 1949 cameraman Brian Brake (then 22), poet James K. Baxter (23), composer Douglas Lilburn (34) and painter John Drawbridge (19) went into the Mātukituki valley to make a film about climbing Mt Aspiring/Tititea. However they were unable to reach the summit due to bad weather, and the film was never made. Nearly 60 years later, in 2006, after long-lost footage was recovered, Yvonne Mackay made a documentary about the expedition, Aspiring.

Lake Hāwea

About 125 square kilometres in area, 35 km long and 8 km wide, Lake Hāwea is a product of glaciation which scoured out the valley it occupies, depositing moraine which forms its southern shore.

Its principal source river is the Hunter, which rises near the headwaters of Lake Ōhau in the Mackenzie Country.

Mount Aspiring National Park

Otago’s only national park, with the province’s highest peak as its anchor, was established in 1964. It ranges along the Southern Alps from east of the Haast Pass to its border with Fiordland National Park. About half of the park lies on the far side of the Southern Alps, in the West Coast region. Initially 2,000 square kilometres, in the 2010s it covered 3,500 square kilometres.

The Wilkin River, which joins the Makarora, is the site of a popular tramping route that reaches the base of 2,542-m Pollux. The national park is also popular with hunters of red deer and chamois. Deer hunting by helicopter was pioneered in the area by Tim Wallis.

Mt Aspiring/Tititea

3,027-m Mt Aspiring/Tititea – also known as Te Mākahi o te Tū Rakiwhanoa – appears pyramid-shaped from the south-west, and has been called New Zealand’s Matterhorn.

The mountain was named by Otago surveyor John Turnbull Thomson; the first recorded climb was on 23 November 1909.


Wānaka district


The town of Wānaka, situated on Roys Bay, in the extreme south-east corner of Lake Wānaka, is 270 km north-west of Dunedin and 70 km north-east of Queenstown, with a 2013 population of 6,471. Wānaka, formerly known as both Roys Bay and Pembroke, has grown rapidly; between 1996 and 2006 the population doubled.

For many years Wānaka was a quiet summer holiday place, although thousands visited for New Year’s Eve celebrations – often rowdy. The skifields which opened from the late 1970s made Wānaka into an all-season tourist resort. The town hosts the annual Festival of Colour, an arts festival held in autumn.

The Anderson Heights industrial zone sits below Mt Iron scenic reserve, which separates Wānaka and Albert Town; nearby Puzzling World is a recreational maze. At Glendhu Bay a luxury golf resort is planned. Mt Aspiring College, established in 1986, is well known for its outdoor education courses.


Settlement 25 km up the narrow Cardrona River valley from Wānaka, and the site of a modest gold rush in 1862. The Cardrona hotel dates from 1863 and a district hall from 1879. For many years Cardrona School was the largest in the Wānaka district.

The Cardrona downhill skifield opened in 1977. 13 km east of the Cardrona road, on the Pisa Range, Snow Park and Snow Farm are centres for cross-country skiing. 

Crown Range

A mountain range on the west flank of the Cardrona valley. Explorers and runholders William Rees and Nicholas von Tunzelmann followed a route over the range from Lake Wānaka to Lake Wakatipu in 1859. The highest peaks are Cardrona (1,934 m) and Crown Peak (1,729 m). The highway, fully sealed since 2000, crosses a 1,076-m saddle in the range at its southern end, the highest point on a South Island main road. There are spectacular views over the Arrow basin.

Lake Hāwea and Hāwea Flat

Lake Hāwea is a holiday settlement at the south-west corner of the lake.

Hāwea Flat settlement originated as housing for workers building the Lake Hāwea dam. A grazing district, the Flat now also has a number of vineyards.


Settlement and farming district east of Wānaka. The nearby airport is the home of the Warbirds Over Wānaka air show, first mounted by aviation entrepreneur Tim Wallis in 1988 and now a biennial display of wartime aircraft and other features.

Lindis Pass

Pass at an altitude of 971 metres, on State Highway 8 between Central Otago to the south and the Mackenzie Country and North Otago to the north. Lindis Pass provides a break in the ranges that mark the northern edge of the Central Otago schist block, and is on the watershed that separates the Waitaki and Clutha River catchments. The pass was used by Māori and traversed by Otago surveyor John Turnbull Thomson in 1857; he named it for Lindisfarne island in north-east England, his home. Tarras, a locality on the approach to Lindis Pass, is named for a stream in Scotland.

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Malcolm McKinnon, 'Otago places', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Malcolm McKinnon, i tāngia i te 8 o Mei 2009, updated 1 o Hūrae 2015