Enjoy The Many Faces Of Otago


Explore and immerse yourself in the magnificent Otago this summer 

Story Cecilia Huang (Department of Conservation) Photos as credited

Otago is your all season go-to place. It’s renowned for its amazing diversity - mountains, lakes, alpine lakes, river valleys, beech forests, waterfalls, glaciers, podocarp rain forests and much more. Read on for a taste of what Otago has to offer. 

Wānaka is one of Otago’s most popular holiday spots. It has beautiful lakes, rivers, mountains and historic sites that offer a great range of recreational activities.

Along the shores of  Wānaka you have a choice of multiple tracks suitable for families. Waterfall Creek Track, Glendhu Bay Track, Eely Point Walk and Beacon Point Walk are all managed by Queenstown Lakes District Council. They are short walks where bikers and dogs are also welcome. Moving away from the lake front, we have Department Of Conservation managed tracks and facilities alongside the picturesque Clutha River. The Outlet Track follows the Clutha River/Mata-Au; you can start or finish at the Lake Wānaka outlet or Hikuwai Conservation Area in Albert Town. This is a shared use track where bikers give way to walkers. A signed junction takes you on to the Hikuwai Link Track, a popular 600m gently graded track that connects Gunn Road with the Outlet Track.


Mt Aspiring National Park Credit Jack Mace


On the true left of the river across the Albert Town Bridge is the Deans Bank Track; this 11.5km loop track is popular with mountain bikers (graded as Intermediate: Grade 3). It meanders along the upper slopes of the Clutha River/Mata-Au and offers spectacular views of surrounding peaks and Otago landscapes. 

Following the Clutha River, you can either take the 2-3hr, 12km Newcastle Track or the more challenging 5-5½hr 18.5km Upper Clutha River Track (easy walking, Intermediate: Grade 3 mountain biking). You can walk the whole length or sections of the track, a loop option is possible when combined with the Newcastle Track. The river track follows along the riverbank, offering views of the Clutha’s emerald-green water with the odd trout lurking in its shadows. Fishing is very popular as the Clutha River/Mata-Au is home to a large population of introduced brown and rainbow trout. A current fishing licence from Fish & Game New Zealand (fishandgame.org.nz) is required. 

The reward of completing the full length of the Upper Clutha River Track is the historic Reko’s Point Conservation Area at the east end, the site of 19th and 20th century gold mining activity, before reaching Luggate township.  


Rock Wren Monitoring Credit Kerry Weston CC BY


North of Albert Town, the hidden gem of Bottom Bay is easily accessible from SH6. It is a pleasant picnic and swimming spot on the Lake Hāwea foreshore from which you can enjoy magnificent alpine scenery. Continuing north along SH6 towards Makarora, a right hand turn onto Meads Road will lead you to Kidds Bush Reserve Campsite, located by the lake. This standard, wheelchair-accessible campsite has a boat ramp, cooking shelter, and temporary portable toilets while the building of the new toilet bock is taking place. There are many activities available in the area, including fishing, swimming, and tramping. The Kidds Bush Nature Walk loop track starts from the campsite and takes you through a mountain beech forest. 

Continuing north, you enter Mt Aspiring National Park, the 3rd largest of New Zealand’s national parks. The landmark peak from which the park derives its name is known to Māori as Tititea (glistening peak). Together with Aoraki/Mount Cook, Westland/Tai Poutini, and Fiordland National Parks, it is also part of the renowned South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Covering 2.6 million hectares, this world heritage site is one of the great wilderness areas of the Southern Hemisphere, and is known to Māori as Te Wāipounamu (the place of greenstone).


Rock Wren Tuke Credit Kerry Weston CC BY2


Rifleman/titipounamu, bellbird/korimako, South Island robin/toutouwai, yellow-crowned parakeet/kākāriki, yellowhead/mohua, tomtit/miromiro, South Island fantail/pīwakawaka and New Zealand pigeon/kererū are examples of native birds can be found in the area. Towards evening, native bats/pekapeka can be seen in some places and moreporks/ruru are often heard. Blue ducks/whio and paradise shelducks/pūtakitaki live in some of the valleys.
The Park’s alpine areas are home to native kea and the threatened rock wren/tuke/pīwauwau, which has been crowned the winner of the Bird of the Year for 2022.

Along the beautiful Haast Highway SH6, take a short walk through native forest on the Makarora Bush Walk. This looped nature walk passes through a remnant patch of lowland podocarp/silver beech forest, including large specimens of mataī, miro, kahikatea and rimu. Continuing north, you may choose to take a well-deserved break at Cameron Flat Campsite. Easily accessed from the highway, this standard campsite has 30 non-powered/tent sites, a cooking shelter, toilet and is wheelchair accessible. Remember to boil water from the tap before use. There are plenty of activities for you to choose from such as hunting, tramping and fishing. The famous Blue Pools Track, one of the country’s best Short Walks, is opposite the campsite. This 3km, 1hr return scenic walk meanders through mature beech and podocarp forest, with spectacular mountain views. After crossing a swing bridge over the Makarora River, continue on a boardwalk to the second swing bridge, overlooking the magnificent crystal-clear pools at the mouth of the Blue River. Cross this bridge for magnificent views up the river gorge. 


Cameron Lookout Walk 6 of 11 FocusFillWzE5MjAsMTA4MCxmYWxzZSwwXQ


Another short walk close to the campsite is Cameron Lookout Walk. This 1km, 20mins return short walk takes you through silver beech forest to a viewing platform overlooking the Makarora valley and surrounding mountain peaks.

Further up north on State Highway 6 the Bridle Track, Haast Pass Lookout Track, Fantail Falls Walk, and Thunder Creek Falls bush walks are all easily accessed from the Haast Highway and walking times vary between 5min - 3hr return. Nearby Pleasant Flat Campsite is another standard, wheelchair accessible campsite. Situated beside the Haast River, it accommodates 22 unpowered/tent sites and has a cooking shelter, flush toilets and picnic tables. It is an attractive camping area with impressive views of Mount Hooker. Fishing, swimming and tramping are just a few steps away from your tent or campervan. Remember to boil water before use. Continuing further along SH6 you’ll eventually reach Haast on the West Coast.


4661 Otago Central Rail Trail Miles Holden v3


It’s fair to say that the Otago Central Rail Trail is also a major drawcard for visitors to the area. This popular bike trail is also a Tohu Whenua heritage site, renowned for its rich history and stunning Central Otago views. This cycle journey is 150 km one-way, though it is easy to do day trips and shorter multi-day rides. Its easy-graded mountain biking track takes you through traditional country towns and land farmed by families for many generations. Highlights along the trail include Tunnellers Camp, the art deco town of Ranfurly, Poolburn Gorge and the iconic Wedderburn Station made famous by the artist Graham Sydney. There are two basic camping areas with toilets on the trail. One is between Daisybank and Tiroti, and one is between Waipiata and Kokonga.  

Fire Safety
Please note fireworks cannot be lit on Public Conservation Land. Take extra care when using gas cookers and anything that may spark in the backcountry this summer.

Always check the local fire danger level at www.checkitsalright.nz before lighting a fire. 


Article was kindly provided by nztoday.co.nz




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