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The BEST things to do in Otago New Zealand

A photo of arrowtown one of the best things to do in Otago

Photo credit: Denise Jans on Unsplash

Otago is a place like no other in the South Island of New Zealand. Fancy seeing snow-capped mountains, glacier lakes, river valleys, world-class ski resorts, beautiful beaches and dramatic landscapes? There are so many things to do in Otago!

Home to the adventure capital of the world (Queenstown) you are sure to get your adrenaline and adventure fix in Otago! Oh, and wine… lots of wine! Below is everything you need to know and the best things to do in the epic region.

Where is the Otago region, New Zealand?

Otago is located in the middle and southern half of the South Island. It doesn’t quite reach from the West Coast- East Coast but it almost gets there! Take a look at the map below to get your bearings.

 The population of Otago and main Otago towns

 245,300 in the entire region.

  • Dunedin (4.5 hours from Christchurch) – The largest city located on the coast about 5 hours drive south of Christchurch. It is full of rich history. It is a historical Scottish settlement filled with quirky, arty, bustling vibes. The Victorian Era buildings around the place add to its unique charm but perhaps the highlight of the area is the nearby beaches and wildlife. Located on State Highway 1 Dunedin is definitely worth checking out on your roadie! Even if you only stop for a coffee!
  • Oamaru (3 hours from Christchurch) – Only 1 hour 30 minutes drive North of Dunedin also on the coast is a completely underrated town. But it has some cool Victorian buildings, steampunk and penguins!
  • Alexandra (5 hours 20 minutes from Christchurch)- A mixed bag of a climate. It gets the hottest days in summer and some of the coldest days in winter! There are plenty of orchards nearby! If you are looking for work head here. Or, Cromwell.
  • Queenstown (5 hours 45 minutes from Christchurch) – Not only one of the best places to go in the South Island but probably the entire country. It has a population of 16,000 but it is a lot bigger with international tourism. It is a sight-seeing paradise! I am sure you are aware of the well-known activities on offer. If not, your choices are endless. For example, you can choose to go heli-skiing, sky diving, bungy jumping, paragliding, riding on the gondola, jet boating, rafting and more, almost anything you can imagine can be done in Queenstown!
  • Wanaka (5 hours from Christchurch) – Queenstown’s less busy, no less beautiful sister! Only 1-hour drive from the adventure capital. The town is situated around Lake Wanaka with beautiful alpine vistas. There are just as many epic activities to try in the area as in Queenstown but with more of a Kiwi, holiday feel.

Otago weather & when to visit

Photo credit: Katie McBroom on Unsplash

Otago is home to some of the best and most commercialized ski fields in the country. Meaning it is an epic place to visit in the winter! But it is also home to some of the hottest temperatures in the country during summer… Meaning it is also one of the best places to visit then too! Honestly, a visit to Otago during any season is an absolute must. Autumn in Arrowtown is a picture-perfect paradise with oak trees surrounding the town.

Summer- The temperatures range from 10 – 30 degrees and there are lots of sunshine hours! The daylight lasts up to 10 pm at times! (NZ has daylight savings from Sept-April)

Autumn- Get your butt to Arrowtown! The temperatures range from 0-25 degrees and the days are usually warm and calm but the nights are cold and can drop below zero. Be careful if you are thinking of hiking during this period and make sure to take clothes and equipment for all seasons.

Winter- The temperatures can range from -6 to 15 degrees and there are lots of frosty days and limited sunshine! But awesome skiing weather!

Spring- The temperatures range from -3 to 20 degrees like anywhere in NZ the weather can be changeable at this time of the year.

How to get around Otago 

Like anywhere in New Zealand the best way to get around is to self-drive. But since Queenstown is in Otago and has an international airport you might like to fly directly into there from somewhere in the country, then rent a car or campervan to explore the region. However, since Queenstown and Wanaka are tourism hot spots it means public transport is a bit better than in other places!

To get around the region if you are not self-driving check out:

Intercity bus for anywhere especially to get to Dunedin.

Queenstown tourism website for shuttle options

Ritchies- Wanaka

Where to visit & the best things to do in Otago

Photo credit: Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

Outlined above were some of the major towns and cities that you might come across & below are some of the best things to do there and a few extra spots to see!

Visit Queenstown

The adventure capital of New Zealand means you must visit… A few activities other than the mainstream ones like bungy jumping, skydiving, gondola and jet boating include…

Visiting one of the ski fields- One of the best things to do in Queenstown in Winter. Queenstown has 2 nearby ski fields to choose from including Coronet Peak (20 minutes’ drive) and The Remarkables (35 minutes’ drive). They both cater to all ability levels from beginner to advanced. And both have beautiful views looking down on Queenstown and the surrounding area.

Related: Want a budget-friendly holiday? Check out my article on the best FREE things to do in Queenstown!

Looking down on Queenstown one of the best places and things to do in Otago

Photo credit: Katie Mcbroom on Unsplash

Wineries– One of the best things to do in Otago! Calling all red wine lovers! Otago is for you! One of the best things to do in Queenstown in summer is to visit the nearby wineries. There are so many awesome wineries to choose from in Otago (my favourites are Devils Staircase and Roaring Meg). Pop around and see for yourself by either self-driving or catching a shuttle or bike tour. I suggest a self-guided bike tour for a little sightseeing in between the winery visits. Check out Around The Basin for more info!

Walking options- Queenstown Hill is a beautiful 2-hour return walk located close to the CBD. Located off Belfast Terrace. Or, Mt Crichton is a 2-4 hour return loop walk just out of the town with great views of the region and a visit to waterfalls and an iconic miners hut! Or, Bobs Cove, a tranquil 20-minute scenic walk through the luscious native forest takes you to a different angle of Lake Wakatipu. The water here is astonishingly clear and blue.

THEY ARE ALL DOG-FRIENDLY WOOH!

Fergburger– Maybe you have heard of these famous burgers! If not, then you are in for a treat! Basically, there are REALLY big and DELICIOUS gourmet burgers. Located at 42 Shotover Street. The line is always huge even at 9 am but it moves quite quickly. However, to save waiting it is best to order online. Be sure to check out Mrs Ferg next door for a yummy pie and coffee!

Visit Glenorchy

A 45-minute drive from Queenstown takes you to this picturesque little town at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. The town sits on the border of Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. The village is decorated with snow-capped rugged mountains, Lake Wakatipu and beautiful beech forest. There are plenty of adventure activities and things to do in Glenorchy.

Visiting Glenorchy is one of the best things to do in Otago

Photo credit: Katie McBroom on Unsplash

A few things to try include:

Visit Wanaka

Queenstown’s less busy, no less beautiful sister! I highly recommend adding Wanaka to your list of things to do in Otago. Only 1-hour drive from the adventure capital. I recommend stopping in here even if it is just for a walk along the waterfront or a photo with #thatwanakatree!

One of the best things to do in Otago is visiting that wanaka tree

Wanaka must do activities include…

Hiking the iconic Roys Peak- A steep climb 5 minutes’ drive from Wanaka town centre. The hike has beautiful views down on the town, Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring and surrounding peaks. It is a constant switchback uphill climb next to mountain tussock that is sure to get the lungs going! The hike takes 5-6 hours return to the carpark.

Hiking Mt Iron- A beautiful short loop walk takes you to the main rocky mountain knob overlooking Wanaka and the region. It is a popular dog walking and running spot. The hike is 4.5km and takes around 1 hour 30 minutes. It starts from a carpark off the main highway. You can’t miss this hill while driving into Wanaka!

Visiting the Lavender Farm- A picture-perfect spot to soak up the sights and aroma of lavender! Take a photo on the tractor, frolic around the fields, visit the gift shop and even grab a herbal tea or lavender ice cream! Open 7 days a week 9 am – 5 pm located at 36 Morris Road. The cost to enter the fields is $5. Check out their website here for more details.

Puzzle world- You can’t miss the funky and colourful buildings when driving into Wanaka! It is a unique family friendly location with illusions, bizarre buildings, and all sorts of things to get the mind going! A bit of fun for all ages! Located at 188 Wanaka-Luggate Highway. They are open daily from 9am – 4:30 pm. Check out their website here for more details.

Skiing- The closest ski fields to Wanaka are Treble Cone (38-minute drive) and Cardrona (40-minute drive). Treble Cone has the reputation that it is for ‘hard outs’ but they do have a dedicated area for beginners. But if you are looking for a more family friendly place to ski then Cardrona is the way to go. Also, the roads to both ski fields are unsealed. Please remember to carry chains. Alternatively, catch a shuttle from Wanaka by either contacting the Information Centre or popping onto the ski fields websites.

Wanaka Tree– Have you heard of #thatwanakatree? A walk along the waterfront is a must while travelling through Wanaka. Enjoy a swim, kayak or paddleboard on the lake and be sure to pop down to see the instafamous Wanaka tree! It is supposed to be the most photographed tree in New Zealand. It is a solitary tree along the shore of Lake Wanaka and is usually surrounded by water. The best time to see it is in autumn. Access the tree by walking along the waterfront (away from the town centre) and you should see it!

Related: Discover some of the best free things to do in Wanaka in my article here! 

Visit Arrowtown

Visiting Arrowtown is one of the most beautiful and best things to do in Otago

Photo credit: Denise Jans on Unsplash

A charming historical gold mining town only 20 minutes’ drive from Queenstown. The town is extremely picturesque with gorgeous restored historic buildings and rows of oak trees down the main street. It is a bustling little place with many people out wandering soaking up the sights. The best time to visit is during Autumn as the trees around the town turn into incredible shades of yellow, orange and red. But pop in any time of year for a wander!

What to do in Arrowtown…

Stroll down the main town centre– This is probably the best thing to do in Arrowtown. Park your car and take a stroll along the main street. Witness buildings that look like they are directly from a museum or a historical theme park. The buildings are colourful and themed around the pioneering days. Remember the camera!

Historical Chinese settlement– Learn about Arrowtown’s gold mining history by taking a stroll around the restored and recreated Chinese Settlement. Chinese gold miners were forced to set up their huts along the banks at the edge of town. Access the settlements off Buckingham Street down towards the water.

Visit Patagonia Chocolates- Award-winning mouth-watering ice-cream and sorbets, desserts, hot chocolate, coffee, gourmet chocolates anyone? Pop into this gorgeous café located on Ramshaw Lane opposite the river for a treat to enjoy dining in or takeaway.

Lakes District Museum– If a stroll down the main centre isn’t enough of a history fix head into the award-winning museum to learn more about early European and Māori settlement in the area. Take a look at the exhibits and learn about the gold rush era as well as enjoy the attached art gallery. Located along the main street (Buckingham Street). Check out their website here for more details.

Visit Dunedin

A view looking down on Queenstown one of the best places and things to do in Otago

Photo credit: Victoria Kurtovich on Unsplash

As mentioned above, Dunedin is the biggest city in Otago. Meaning it is definitely worth the visit! Even just for the Victorian buildings, beaches and coffee!

Below are a few of the best things to do in Dunedin:

Port Chalmers- A 20-minute drive from Dunedin takes you to this charming little harbourside town. It has an arty creative culture with galleries and relaxing eateries. It is quite a bustling place with Dunedin locals taking weekend trips out here, and before COVID-19 it was a busy cruise ship port. Take a walk around and soak up the atmosphere!

Larnach Castle– Located on the Otago Peninsula is a unique castle built between 1871 and 1874. It is definitely worth a visit for the interesting Victorian décor, gardens and stunning views over the Otago peninsula. Make sure to head up the tower for the best view! The cost is $35 adult, child 5-14 $12 infants free located at 145 Camp Road. Check out their website here for more details.

Tunnel Beach- A place to take your breath away with dramatic cliffs and rock arches. The rocky coastline has a 2km return walk that takes around 1 hour (depending on how long you want to enjoy the area). Access the walk off Blackhead Road in South Dunedin. And remember the camera!

Drive up Baldwin Street– The steepest residential street in the world is worth a trip while in Dunedin! There isn’t much to say except that it is a super steep street and there are a couple of random events held here each year including the Jaffa Race during the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival.

Visit Moeraki

Moeraki is one of the most beautiful places and best things to do in OtagoA hidden gem but one of the best things to do in Otago. It is a little seaside town 1 hours’ drive north of Dunedin off State Highway 1. It is worth popping in to soak up the golden sand beaches, wander around the village, spot some seals and of course visit the bizarre Moeraki Boulders.

What to do in Moeraki? 2 of the best things to do include:

Kaka Point Lighthouse- To see seals!

Moeraki Boulders- 50 spherical rock shape boulders

Accommodation in Otago  

There is a range of accommodation on offer throughout Otago it is probably not a good idea for me to just chuck a bunch of options at you. To make your life easier I have suggested some good sights below to go and check out with your specific dates. But it is always good to stay at places that other people have recommended so, I got you!

Check out the following websites and do your own self-search…

BOOKING.COM

BOOKABACH

AIRBNB

HOLIDAY HOUSES

But also check out my favourite and recommended options in the Queenstown/Wanaka area!

Twelve Mile Delta– (dog friendly) a 15-minute drive out of Queenstown on the way to Glenorchy is a spacious basic campsite with 100 spaces. It is a cheap option to base yourself for a night or two while exploring the area. It is quite a beautiful campsite on the shores of Lake Wakatipu surrounded by regenerating forest. It is also really close to nearby walks including Mt Crichton and Bobs Cove. Basic facilities with toilets and drinking water. No bookings required as it is a first come first served campsite. Cost is $15 per adult $7.50 per child (5-17) infants free.

Albert Town– A picturesque campsite right next to the Clutha and Hawea river only 5 minutes’ drive from Wanaka. There is a wide-open space with plenty of parking options. Located just off State Highway 6 in Albert Town. Limited facilities but they are clean. $10 per person, first come first served!

Glendhu Bay Motor CampA little slice of paradise only 10-minutes’ drive from Wanaka. Enjoy picture perfect settings in a classic Kiwi camping ground. Glendhu Bay Motor Camp have powered and unpowered camping options as well as a lodge and cabin. If you can, try and get the closest camp spots to the lake for a million dollar view without the price tag! Cost is $19 per adult and $9 per child.

Kingston campsite- A beautiful campsite for self-contained vehicles on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. It looks too good to be FREE! Toilets are clean and there is space for 50 sites. Access the camping ground off State Highway 6 on the way to Kingston.

Black Sheep Backpackers Queenstown- Most backpackers feel crowded but this one was clean, quiet and comfortable. One of the cheapest backpackers in Queenstown with the best facilities – There is a hot tub! Black Sheep Backpackers is located very central just a 2-minute walk from the Queenstown Gardens. They have a range of room options including dorm beds, triple rooms, family rooms, double, twin and deluxe options!

The Camp in Lake Hawea- I picked this spot because they have glamping options as well as an on-site food truck! Winning! But it is a perfect location right beside Lake Hawea. If you are not keen on glamping I am sure you will find something for your needs at The Camp as they have tent sites, cabins, powered sites, cottages and a holiday house to choose from.

Hulbert House Queenstown – A luxury boutique lodge in a restored Victorian villa. They have six rooms to choose from all with their own unique style. You can choose from a lake view room or garden view. If you have the cash then this is the place to splash! Hulbert House is located at 68 Ballarat Street only a couple of minutes’ walk to the main town centre.

Camp GlenorchyA unique eco retreat in the heart of Glenorchy named in Time Magazine’s 2019 World’s 100 Greatest Places. Camp Glenorchy is truly amazing. Stroll around the grounds and in the main building to see the magnificent architecture and design and learn all about its making. The great thing is while they do have luxury options, they also have something for everyone including, bunk huts, and powered and non-powered camping sites.

Glam Camping Queenstown- Another incredible glamping stay! Glam Camping is located on well-maintained grassy paddocks overlooking Moke Lake close to Queenstown. Featuring glamping tents and domes in a picture-perfect setting. It really is a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of life!

Photo credit: Peter Luo on Unsplash

The perfect 1 Day Otago itinerary

So you’re only spending 1 day in the entire Otago region? I feel ya, you’re on a time schedule so let me help you have the BEST one day you can possibly have!

There really are so many things to do in Otago it is hard to narrow down the perfect day. During winter it can be home to some of the coldest temperatures in the country and the complete opposite in summer! Picking the perfect day really depends on when you are visiting. Outlined below are the perfect days in summer and winter.

Summer  

It has to be 1 day in Queenstown. Picture the wind in your hair, sun shining down on your face and wine in your belly. There is no better way to spend a summers day! Take a wine by bike tour with Around The Basin and spend the day cruising around the Gibbston Wine Region. They will pick you up from your accommodation in Queenstown and take you into the Kawarau Suspension Bridge to begin riding. They then return you back to your accommodation. Of course, dinner has to be Fergburger and then either continue the drinking activities or take a dip in the lake to freshen up! Awesome!

Winter

Alright, I guess I am a bit bias because I love to ski… So another perfect itinerary is 1 day in Queenstown.

The perfect day in Otago during winter is best spent enjoying the slopes. The best place to be during winter is either Queenstown or Wanaka. I have chosen Queenstown for the activities you can do after skiing.

Start the day by waking up at an accommodation option of your choice, I suggest Black Sheep Backpackers (budget friendly). Wander down through the gardens for a scenic walk, grab a coffee and some breakfast in the town to start the day right. Then make your way to Coronet Peak ski field by either catching a shuttle from the town centre of self-driving. Enjoy your day on the slopes and make sure to stop for a mulled wine at one of the bars at the resort.

Head back down to your accommodation for a quick shower and recharge before popping down to Fergburger for dinner. Then, head into the Onsen Hot Pools for some well-deserved relaxation! Bliss!

If you are not a skier that’s cool! I suggest spending the day in Queenstown soaking up the views from the waterfront and taking one or two of the walking options. You could hike to Mount Crichton and Bobs Cove in the day and then head into Fergburger and the hot pools!

Loved this article on the best things to do in Otago? Make sure you pin the images below for later! 

Other articles you might like to check out: 

The best beaches and things to do in Canterbury

The ultimate South Island Road Trip

Where to travel New Zealand in a campervan

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