Otago is a great hilly swathe of New Zealand’s South Island, including historic Dunedin, the old gold rush belt, the Otago Peninsula - known for its wildlife, the wonderful wine country of Central Otago and the Waitaki River region and lush Waitaki Valley. The best places to stay in Otago range from Dunedin’s small city boutique hotels to remote farming lodges.
One of the most popular ways to see this vast, scenic region, is slowly - with many opting for the Otago Central Rail Trail, which sounds like a train journey, but is actually a cycling route.
Dunedin is Otago’s largest city, and often referred to as the Edinburgh of the South, because of its Scottish heritage. This is a lively student town with a great live music scene and some lovely Victorian buildings in the city’s centre.
For many people this is an easy base for exploring the Otago Peninsula, which is a very popular spot for visitors, with its amazing, and accessible, diversity of wildlife. There are penguins, sea lions, fur seals and albatross, just as a rule, and at different times of year you can see all sorts of other wonders, from migrating seabirds and whiles and dolphins.
The other option as an Otago Peninsula base is Omaru. This is a sleepy, eccentric town, known for its steam trains and penny farthings, hip boutiques and galleries run by antiquarians and bohemians. It’s the opposite of Dunedin almost, but an extremely unique place with some of New Zealand’s best preserved Victorian architecture.
Central Otago is scattered with tiny towns, which sprung up during the gold rush and have never quite petered out. Many of them are now finding their second (or third) winds as charming sleeping and eating stations along the Otago Central Rail Trail. Some of the prettiest towns are Clyde, Naseby and Cromwell, which also has a wonderful farmer’s market.
The Waitaki Valley is a greener part of Otago, with hills and valleys, some flooded into lakes. This is a great place for salmon fishing, waterskiing and wine tasters looking for fresh ground.
Our pick of the best places to stay in Otago are slightly more off the beaten track, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu
Range of accommodation at the north end of Lake Wakatipu, from shared dorms to delightful double ensuites. Communal kitchen, restaurant, outdoor hot tub and stunning lake and mountain views. Fabulous watersports and a great base for Routeburn, Greenstone, Caples and Rees and Dart walking tracks.
Set on a sheep, cattle and deer farm on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, this luxury lodge has open fireplaces, schist stone and timber beams. Rooms with antique furniture, large double beds and private balconies overlooking the bay. There is mountain biking and riding on the farm.