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NZ Otago Information

Around 180,000 people populate Otago, a region on the southeast end of the South Island of New Zealand. The weather in Otago is the hottest in the summer and the coldest in the winter of anywhere in New Zealand. The Māori never settled this region; rather, it was an area they traveled through to get from one place to another. Settled by the English in the 1850s, in the 1860s Otago was home to a gold rush. The area still bears the imprint of this time in the many historic sites that have altered its landscape.

The major city of the region and second largest city in the South Island is Dunedin. As home to the oldest university in New Zealand, the University of Otago, Dunedin is a university town through and through. Dunedin was founded as a Scottish settlement and the street layout was designed to match that of the city of Edinburgh. The city’s gold rush history is evident in the beautiful Edwardian and Victorian architecture. Tours of Speight’s Brewery and the Cadbury chocolate factory are highly rated with visitors. A number of small art house cinemas play a wide range of independent films.

Dunedin is noted for its ecotourism, with a royal albatross colony and several penguin and seal colonies within the city limits. Though an often-harsh wind and chilly water make wetsuits a necessity, there are over 40 surf breaks within an hour’s drive of Dunedin, making it some of the best surfing in the South Island.

The sprawling town of Oamaru has some of the best-preserved buildings remaining from the wealth of the gold rush days. Spread out along an expanse of beach front Oamaru is well known among tourists for its yellow-eyed and blue penguin colonies.

Further inland is the center of New Zealand’s adventure tourism, Queenstown. Nestled on a lake amid the mountains, Queenstown does have the feel of a ski village, with the exception being that it does not empty out during the summer months. Prices in Queenstown are a bit higher than the rest of the South Island, but that is to be expected in a resort town. Bungee jumping, skiing, jet boating, mountain biking and paragliding are some of the many activities offered. The world’s first bungee jumping site has a constant flow of thrill seekers jumping off a bridge in a set up eerily reminiscent of an assembly line. No need to worry, however, in spite of the crowds, everything is triple checked for safety.

Smaller than Queenstown and much less commercial is the nearby town of Wanaka. While it offers many of the same activities, this quiet mountain town is a bit further off the beaten path. It has access to the same ski fields as Queenstown as well as the wide variety of adventure sporting activities. Tandem paragliding is especially popular, offering visitors a chance to fly through the air with a trained paraglider and appreciate the untouched wilderness that is characteristic of this area.

NZ Otago references