The Otago region, which is bounded on the north by the wide Waitaki River and on the south by Catlins Forest Park, takes in a green and often mist-shrouded coast, in which the chief towns are Balclutha in the south, Dunedin in the center and Oamaru in the north.
The interior of the region is sparsely populated; here the climate is of continental, with hot, dry summers and very cold winters.Central Otago consists of a plateau broken up by the folding movements in the Southern Alps, falling sharply to the west but with a gentler gradient to the east. The Clutha, one of New Zealand's wildest and most abundant rivers, has carved out deep gorges in its westward course from the alpine lakes Wanaka and Hawea. During the ice ages the landscape was reshaped. The hills, worn smooth by the ice, have rounded contours and are covered with tussock grass. The long fjord-like lakes were formed by glaciers and closed off by moraines.In the west the Otago region reaches into the Southern Alps. Its highest peaks are Mount Aspiring (3027m), Mount Earnslaw (1816m) and the Remarkables, near Queenstown, which rise to almost 2500m.
Lake Wanaka is a scenic area south of Queenstown, with gentle mountains and rolling landscape surrounding the shores.The little town of Wanaka sits on the southeast end of the lake.
Clyde, New Zealand
10km northwest of Alexandra on Highway 8, on the River Clutha, is the little township of Clyde, where gold was found in 1862. The settlement, originally called Dunstan, grew up at the south end of Cromwell Gorge and at one time had a population of 4000 gold miners, with banks and hotels. It has preserved a few buildings from the time of the gold rush.When the gold was exhausted the water of the river, previously used for gold panning, served for the irrigation of fruit plantations.
Clyde Historical Museum
A prominent feature of the little town is the memorial to the gold miners in the north. The old courthouse (1864) houses the Clyde Historical Museum, which vividly illustrates the history of gold mining in this area, including the spectacular gold robbery of 1870, when the gold stored overnight in the supposedly secure local jail disappeared.
Some buildings dating from the days of the gold rush are the Athenaeum (1874), a theater and concert hall, the former town hall (1869), now a hotel, the old Hartley Arms Hotel (1865), Dunstan House (1900), Naylor's Victoria Store (1874), now a restaurant, the old post office, St Michael's Church (1877; Anglican), St Dunstan's Church (1906; RC) and St Mungo's Union Church (1894).
Lawrence, New Zealand
90km southwest of Dunedin is the little settlement of Lawrence, founded in 1862 and named after General Sir Henry Lawrence, a hero of the Indian Mutiny (1857-8). It became the first gold-mining town in Otago after a Tasmanian prospector named Thomas Gabriel found rich deposits of alluvial gold nearby, in Gabriel's Gully, and announced his find in a newspaper. Within a short time the little settlement grew to a population of well over 10,000 - twice the size of Dunedin. Gold ceased to be worked in the area in the late 1930s and Lawrence has now become the commercial center of a wide farming area.Lawrence retains a number of Victorian buildings dating from heyday, including the courthouse and the post office. There is a local museum in Ross Place.
Near the village is the Golden Gully (Gabriel's Gully), where the first gold in the region was discovered. Adjoining it is the Weatherston goldfield.
11km southeast of Lawrence is the little village of Waitahuna, which in the 19th C was also a flourishing gold-miners' town.
Anthem House was for many years the home of John J Woods, a local government official who composed the music of God defend New Zealand, the country's national anthem.
This beautiful but remote and sometimes marshy stretch of upland country, with its many waterfalls and surf coast, lies in southeastern Otago. It takes its name from a whaler who acquired large tracts of land from the Maoris in around 1840. The government would not recognize the purchase and his descendants were allowed to keep only 92ha.The great forests on the east coast attracted large numbers of loggers. Sawmills were established and the timber was shipped from Hinahina. The only settlement surviving from the time of the timber boom is Owaka (pop. 400), at the entrance to Catlins Forest Park.
Catlins Forest Park
The entrance to Catlins Forest Park can be reached from Highway 92 or, coming from the west, via Wyndham. The park office, with a small exhibition on the Catlins area, is in Owaka.Catlins Forest Park, 600 sq.km of largely virgin forest, extends along the Catlins River to the sparsely populated coastal area, lashed by heavy surf. There are a number of attractive trails through the forest and along the Catlins River.On the coast there are numerous inlets and caves. The name Cannibal Bay recalls the bloody deeds of the 1830s, when the notorious Maori leader Te Rauparaha pressed his raids as far as the south of the South Island.Yellow-eyed penguins breed on the coast, but are very rare elsewhere in New Zealand. Colonies of seals can be seen at some points along the coast.
Balclutha, New Zealand
Balclutha, the commercial center of a prosperous sheep-farming area, lies 80km southwest of Dunedin on Highway 1, on the lower course of the mighty River Clutha. The river divides into two arms, enclosing the fertile island of Inchclutha. The Gaelic name of Balclutha (town on the River Clutha or Clyde) points to the Scottish origins of the first European settlers here.
In the past the River Clutha and many of its tributaries were rich in alluvial gold. Around the turn of the 19th C. almost 200 dredgers gouged out the bed of the river, leaving the huge spoil heaps still visible today.In 1878 Otago suffered a hard winter with an abundance of snow, and with the thaw there was severe flooding in the Clutha Valley. As a result the southern arm of the river changed its course and Port Molyneux lost its harbor.
Waikouaiti, New Zealand
An hour drive north of Dunedin on Highway 1 is Waikouaiti, the oldest European settlement in Otago.Two handsome wooden buildings dating from the pioneer days are the Presbyterian Church (1863) and St John's Church (1858; Anglican). St Anne's Church (RC) was built in 1871. The old farmstead of Matanaka at the north end of the bay also dates from this period.
Waikouaiti's safe bathing beach attracts many day visitors. The dunes were consolidated around the turn of the 19th C by sowing grass and later by planting pines.