Your ultimate Otago heritage hot spots
Otago is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s jewels. Known for its diverse scenery, it’s also brimming with heritage.
From pioneering homesteads, gold rush towns and lavish castles to the trains, ships and good old kiwi ingenuity that linked them all, Tohu Whenua identifies our most iconic landmarks and journeys that capture defining moments in our history.
Here are your Tohu Whenua hotspots in Otago.
The best way to see ‘Central’ is from your bike. The famous Otago Central Rail Trail takes you through traditional country towns and sheep-farming land farmed by families for many generations. Experience warm rural hospitality, big open landscapes and starry night skies. En route, pop into Hayes Engineering Works to see the workshop and many fantastic creations of rural inventor Ernest Hayes. For a taste of wine and Wild West, explore Bannockburn Sluicings near Cromwell. Nestled between award-winining vineyards, this is a spectacular arroyo-like landscape shaped by large-scale water blasting for gold during the 19th century. A miner’s cottage, rock shelters, old water races and heritage fruit trees pepper the track.
Start your visit at the Dunedin Railway Station in the heart of town. Said to be the most photographed building in the country, 100 trains used to pass through here daily. These days it’s the home of historic Taieri Gorge Railway, which you can catch for a leisurely return trip through a spectacular gorge, or to the start of your Otago Central Rail Trail cycle adventure. Make sure you discover Dunedin’s local treasure Olveston, an Edwardian mansion with an authentic experience of how the Theomin family and their servants lived. Then enjoy amazing views as you head onto Otago Peninsula to visit our nation’s most historic castle, Larnach Castle, and its gardens of international significance.
Queenstown is famously the birthplace of bungy jumping - but did you know that the location of A.J. Hackett’s most iconic and original jump - Kawarau Suspension Bridge - is 140 years old this summer? Just as iconic is the T.S.S. Earnslaw, the oldest remaining coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere. Take a cruise across the lake to popular Walter Peak High Country Farm for the start of more adventurous experiences at the base of towering mountains. Then immerse yourself in the gold rush history of charming Arrowtown. Explore the restored huts of the Chinese Settlement, grab lunch in one of the many historic cottages along the main street, or try your luck panning for gold in the river.
Best known for its little blue penguin colony, Ōamaru will surprise you. It’s eccentric, and it’s cool. Most of the activity centers around the waterfront and its restored Ōamaru Victorian Precinct. Plan at least a couple of hours to stroll in and out of an eclectic mix of gift shops, mouth-watering bakeries, and attractions such as the Steampunk Museum and Whitestone City - all housed in ornate and well-preserved Victorian era buildings. Don’t be surprised if you’re passed by a local riding a penny farthing and wearing period costume. At nearby Totara Estate you can explore the birthplace of our billion-dollar export meat industry, join in with farm activities and feed the sheep.