Central Otago and Southern Lakes

New Zealand’s most inland region, Central Otago or “Central” as it is affectionately called by those that know it well, is made of undulating landscapes, rugged mountains, clear blue rivers, deep gorges and tussock-clad hills.  It was founded on the spirit and back-breaking toll of farmers and goldminers, relics of which can still be found around the region.  Home to many small towns and the Adventure Capital of New Zealand – Queenstown – Central Otago is a truly breathtaking part of the country that offers year-round sightseeing and activities.

Cool facts

  • People over 75 years old can bungy for free in Queenstown. The oldest person to have bungied was a 94-year old Southland man.
  • During the filming of The Lord of the Rings, more than 500 people a day lined up in Queenstown, hoping to be a part.

Must do's

  • Cycle the Central Otago Rail Trail, which starts in the small town of Middlemarch.
  • Bungy, jet boat, go white-water rafting, sky jump … challenge your limits with one of the many adventure activities in Queenstown.
  • Cycle or walk the purpose-built, Queenstown Trail.
  • Enjoy a day at Puzzling World in Lake Wanaka.
  • Hike in Mt Aspiring National Park.
  • Hit the world-renowned ski slopes in Queenstown and Lake Wanaka in winter. Engage in curling in Central Otago.

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Overlooking Lake Wakatipu and backed by the towering peaks of The Remarkables mountain range, the alpine resort town of Queenstown is a magnet for thrill seekers. Early Maori were drawn to the area is search of pounamu, followed by European settlers looking for fertile land.  The gold rush of the 1800s marked the beginning of an international fascination with the region, and today visitors from all over the world come to experience Queenstown’s awe-inspiring scenery, pure mountain air and crystal clear lakes.

Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka’s spectacular location at the foot of the Southern Alps is a big attraction for outdoor lovers.  Primarily a resort town, Wanaka is the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park, a designated World Heritage Area.  It offers unforgettable mountain biking opportunities, with plenty of off-road trails that run past lakes, rivers and through woodlands.  Wanaka is also home to some of New Zealand’s premier ski fields, including Treble Cone and Cardrona.  The surrounding peaks of Roy’s Peak, Mt Iron, Mt Grand and the Pisa Range provide stunning views of the surrounding area.

Just twenty minutes from Queenstown, the alpine village of Arrowtown was once a bustling gold rush town.  The tree-lined main streets are lined withheritage buildings andhistoric miner cottages.  Today, Arrowtown, in the heart of the Southern Lakes district, is bursting with old world charm, cafes and restaurant culture, and much more.

At the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, about 45 minutes from Queenstown, is the small settlement of Glenorchy, used originally as a resting place for early Maori travelling from West Coast to Lake Wakatipu in search for pounamu.  In 1862, the first European settlers arrived, followed by hordes of gold prospectors. In 1902, the Queenstown-Glenorchy Road was opened, allowing visitors to explore the area even further.  Now home to roughly 500 people, Glenorchy’s spectacular landscapes have become a prime location for film scouts, depicting many scenes from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Alexandra, Clyde, Ranfurly, Roxburgh
The rocky mountains and wide open plains of the Central Otago region are home to Cromwell, Alexandra, Ranfurly and Roxburgh areas. 

Nestled on the shores of Lake Dustan, Cromwell has been shaped by gold, fruit and hydro electricity.  Cromwell was the main centre for the gold rush areas of Central Otago in the mid-to-late 1800s, and some of the historic buildings can be explored at Old Cromwell Town, which was established to preserve and reconstruct buildings from Cromwell’s past, after the Clyde Dam flooded the original business district. Glimpses of the past can also be found at Carrick and Bendigo goldfields and Bannockburn.

Alexandra’s golden history dates back to the 1800s when gold dredges worked the Clutha River; piles of dredgings can still be seen along the riverbank today.  Today, Alexandra owes its prosperity to orchards and Pinot Noir vineyards.  The historic town of Clyde was a dominant settlement during the gold rush, and many of the old stone buildings are still standing today.  

Ranfurly, established in 1898 as a railhead for the Central Otago Railway line, is an art deco town and a popular stop on the Otago Central Rail Trail.  More remnants of the past and the story of the miners' Lonely Graves at Millers Flat are among the treasures to be found at Roxburgh.


Getting here and around: The centre of Queenstown is within 10 minutes’ drive from Queenstown International and Domestic Airport.  

Connectabus is Queenstown’s transportation system covering Queenstown, Wanaka, Arrowtown and the wider area. Scheduled coach services connect Queenstown and Lake Wanaka to other towns and cities in South Island.

Rental vehicles are easily available and plenty of operators provide free transportation.  Taxis and shuttles provide an affordable way to get around.

Cromwell and Alexandra are within an hour’s drive from Queenstown Airport.  Bus services connect the Central Otago towns of Alexandra, Clyde, Ranfulry and Roxburgh.  If you’re driving yourself, remember that many small towns here don’t have fuel pumps, so fill up before visiting remote areas.

Climate: Spring (Sep-Nov) – warming up with crisp days, 6-16°C; Summer (Dec-Feb) – dry and sunny, 18-26°C; Autumn (Mar-May) – cool and frosty, 6-17°C; Winter (Jun-Aug) – cold, frosty and snow, 2-13°C.

Central Otago Accommodation

  • Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park

    Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park, Queenstown Holiday Parks & Camping Grounds

    Situated in a park-like setting surrounded by outstanding natural beauty, our location is one of the best kept secrets of Queenstown. Enjoy your...

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  • Cromwell TOP 10 Holiday Park

    Cromwell TOP 10 Holiday Park, Cromwell Holiday Parks & Camping Grounds

    Cromwell TOP 10 Holiday Park is set on spacious park-like grounds in Cromwell, Central Otago. Accommodation available includes tent sites, powered...

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  • Kingston TOP 10 Holiday Park

    Kingston TOP 10 Holiday Park, Kingston Holiday Parks & Camping Grounds

    o   Welcome to Kingston TOP 10 Holiday Park, a popular overnight stop when leaving the Queenstown region heading South! Kingston TOP...

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  • Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels

    Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels, Wanaka Holiday Parks & Camping Grounds

    A range of accommodation for every budget. Free unlimited wireless internet, spas, sauna, BBQ facilities, drop -off courtesy coach. Winter extras...

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  • Arrowtown Holiday Park

    Arrowtown Holiday Park, Arrowtown Holiday Parks & Camping Grounds

    Accommodation: Powered and unpowered campervan/caravan/tent sites, self-contained holiday flats & studio units, 8brm lodge. Features: Shaded barbecue...

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  • Lakes End Lodge

    Lakes End Lodge, Kingston Bed & Breakfasts

    Lake's End Lodge is a BnB/Hostel packed with character on the banks of Lake Wakatipu. Surrounded by mountains and farmland, in the cute wee...

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Central Otago Activites

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