Otago region of New Zealand

From the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps to the dry plains and vineyards of Central Otago, the Otago region is renowned for its stunning and diverse landscapes and vibrant culture! It is home to some of the most popular tourist destinations in the South Island, including Queenstown – the Adventure Capital of New Zealand!

An infographic on the attractions in the Otago Region of New Zealand

An Overview of the Otago Region

Otago Location:Southeastern South Island
Bordering Regions:Canterbury, Southland, and the West Coast
Region Size (km2):32,000
Population:254, 600 (as of June 2023)
Districts of OtagoQueenstown Lakes District, Central Otago, Waitaki District, Dunedin District, Clutha District
Main Cities and Towns:Dunedin, Oamaru, Queenstown, Wanaka, Alexandra, Cromwell
Most Popular Tourist Destinations:Queenstown
Mount Aspiring National Park
Moeraki Boulders
Otago Peninsula
Central Otago
The Catlins

Highlights of the Otago Region

History of the Otago Region

Maori History

Otago was the first region in New Zealand to be settled by the Māori, who arrived around the year 1300 and named it Ōtākou, meaning “isolated village” or “place of red earth”. The Māori used the region for hunting, fishing, and trading, especially for the prized pounamu (greenstone) found in the inland mountains.

Otago Gold Rush

The first European settlers in Otago were mainly sealers and whalers, who established a trading post near the entrance to Otago Harbour in 1831. In 1848, the Otago Association founded the city of Dunedin!

In the 1860’s, gold was discovered in the Otago region, sparking the Central Otago gold rush. Thousands of miners, from Europe, North America, China, and other parts of New Zealand, flocked to Otago to make their fortunes! You can see bits of this history today, in the Chinese Settlement in Arrowtown, or walking around the Bannockburn Slucings Walk in Cromwell!

Places to Visit in Otago

Queenstown Lakes District

Queenstown Lakes District, Otago Region of New Zealand

The Queenstown Lakes District is a stunning area in the Otago Region of New Zealand, known for its scenic lakes, dramatic mountain ranges, and adventure activities! The district is home to some of the most popular destinations in New Zealand, such as Queenstown, Wānaka, Glenorchy, and Arrowtown.Omarama


Queenstown, Otago Region of New Zealand

Queenstown is the largest town in the Queenstown Lakes District, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand! Nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the dramatic Remarkables mountain range, it is incredible to visit year round. Queenstown is known as the ‘Adventure Capital of New Zealand‘, and is famous for its ski resorts, bungee jumping, jet boating, and nightlife.

Lake Wanaka

Wanaka, Otago Region of New Zealand

Wānaka is a quieter and more relaxed town in Otago, and is around an hours drive from Queenstown! It is located on the shores of the stunning Lake Wānaka, and is a fantastic place to stay if you love watersports, hiking, or just soaking up the incredible scenery.

Wanaka is also near the beginning of the incredible Haast Pass, which is the drive from Wanaka to Haast on the West Coast of New Zealand. It is one of the most scenic road-trips in the South Island!


Arrowtown is a charming town that offers a look into the fascinating history of the Otago region of New Zealand. This small town was founded in 1862 when gold was discovered in the Arrow River, and it became a bustling gold rush town! There is lots of things to do in Arrowtown, from exploring the old Chinese Settlement and beautiful Heritage Buildings along the main street, to enjoying the scenic walking trails around the town. It is also makes for an awesome bike ride from Queenstown!

Arrowtown Otago Region of New Zealand

Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park is a vast and remote wilderness area nestled in the Southern Alps of the South Island, covering over 3,500 km2 of mountains, glaciers, rivers, valleys and forests! It is a paradise for hikers and climbers, and a part of the Te Waipounamu World Heritage Site.

Central Otago District

Central Otago District, Otago Region of New Zealand

Central Otago is a spectacular area of the Otago region of New Zealand. It is known for it’s dramatic landscape – ranging from snow-capped mountains and glacial lakes to the golden plains and orchards of the Cromwell Basin. It’s climate ranges from incredibly cold winters to hot and dry summers, making it ideal for wine-production; Central Otago is famous for its Pinot Noir and is home to a number of award-winning vineyards and wineries!


Cromwell, Otago Region of New Zealand

Nestled between the stunning Lake Dunstan and the Kawarau and Clutha rivers is the beautiful town of Cromwell! This town is rich in history, and was a site of the Central Otago Gold Rush in the 1860’s. Nowadays, it is known for it’s stonefruit orchards, especially cherries, apricots, and apples, as well as its fantastic wineries! There is lots of things to to do in Cromwell, from exploring the Old Heritage Precinct, exploring the incredible landscape from one of the many walking trails, or cycling the famous Lake Dunstan Bike Trail.


Alexandra, Otago Region of New Zealand

Alexandra is a charming town in Central Otago, and is situated on the banks of the vibrant Clutha River. It is surrounded by rolling hills, which are laced with some spectacular walking and cycling trails that take you through the beautiful countryside and old gold mining remains!

During the summer and autumn, Alexandra is filled with incredible, locally-grown fruit! Keep your eyes peeled for sweet apricots, crispy apples, and some of the biggest cherries you’ve ever seen!


Dunedin City Otago region of New Zealand

Dunedin is the second-largest city in the South Island, and the principle city of the Otago region. It has a rich Māori and Scottish heritage, and is home to the world-renowned University of Otago. Dunedin has many historic and architectural attractions, such as the Dunedin Railway Station, the Otago Museum, and Larnach Castle – New Zealand’s only castle! It is also the gateway to the stunning Otago Peninsula, where you can see native wildlife, such as penguins and seals, and visit the Royal Albatross Center.


Oamaru, Otago Region, New Zealand

Nestled on the stunning east coast of New Zealand’s South Island is Oamaru! Oamaru a hidden gem of the Otago region, and is filled with character and charm. Visitors can stroll along the historic Victorian Precinct, which houses boutique shops, galleries and cafes in elegant stone buildings. One of the highights of this precinct is the Oamaru Steam and Rail, where you can ride a vintage steam train or penny-fathing bicycle! If you are looking for something a little more quirky, you can check out the Steampunk HQ, a museum and gallery that is filled to bursting with futuristic gadgets and sculptures inspired by Steampunk!

Oamaru’s Blue Penguins!

Oamaru blue penguin colony!

Oamaru is famous for it’s wildlife, especially the Blue Penguins and Yellow-Eyed Penguins that nest along the coastline. You can visit the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, and watch the world’s smallest penguins as they return to their burrows at dusk every evening!

Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders in Otago Region of New Zealand

Just south of Oamara, along the gorgeous Otago coastline, you will find these incredible natural wonders! The Moeraki Boulders are a group of large spherical stones that are scattered on Koekohe Beach, looking like they have been dropped there by giants! These boulders have been formed over millions of years, and are one of the most fascinating attractions in Otago!

The Catlins

The Catlins, Otago region of New Zealand

The Catlins is a spectacular coastal area in the southeastern corner of the South Island, stretching between Balclutha in Otago to Invercargill in the Southland region. It features a diverse landscape of forests, waterfalls, cliffs, beaches, and wildlife.

Nugget Point

Nugget Point is one of the most iconic natural attractions in the Catlins region! It is a spectacular and dramatic headland that stands 76 meters above the water and gives you panoramic views over the coastline and the rocky islets below. If you are lucky, you might even spot some of the wildlife that call this reserve home!

Nugget Point in the Catlins