Discover: Central Otago

Central Otago is further from the sea than anywhere else in New Zealand and with the country’s hottest, coldest and driest climate, it’s a winning recipe for wine-growing.

Lake and vines Rippon
Rippon, Central Otago. Credit: Dan Honan

Once crowded with gold-rush fortune seekers, today the region is famous for a different kind of gold – fine Pinot Noir which has become Central Otago’s number one claim to fame.

This is New Zealand’s southernmost wine region and also one of the fastest developing.  As well as some of the world’s best Pinot Noir - with a variety of stunning expressions being crafted in numerous sub-regions - ‘Central’ as the locals call it, also produces impressive, vivid white wines including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

All of the winegrowing sub regions  - Wanaka, Gibbston, Bannockburn,  Alexandra, Bendigo, and Cromwell/Lowburn/Pisa – lie within close distance,  each with distinctive landscapes, characteristics and attractions. With one of New Zealand’s lowest population densities, (1.7 people per square kilometre), the landscape is unencumbered by human activity and the unhurried lifestyle invites visitors to explore the region's geography, history and award-winning vineyards.

Numerous wine tours and scenic wine trails take visitors to the many vineyards and wineries where Queenstown and Central Otago’s winery restaurants are setting the precedent in fine dining.   Fresh gourmet produce is plentiful and the region’s sub-alpine climate of long hot summers and cool crisp winters produces a rich harvest. Cromwell is the New Zealand capital of stone fruit producing some of the best apricots, nectarines, peaches, cherries and plums in the world.

Central is a year-round destination with four distinct seasons and a landscape that goes through dramatic seasonal changes. The region’s big mountains, pristine lakes, and dramatic skies are a haven for year-round outdoor pursuits – skiing and snow sports in winter, biking and hiking in summer to mention just a few.

The multi-day Otago Central Rail Trail is popular with leisure cyclists, and two new trails – the Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold cycling and walking trails – have added considerably to the opportunities to explore Central Otago. One thing you can be sure of are the just rewards at the end of the day with some of the best wining and dining options you’ll find anywhere in the country.


Travel Tips

Fly into Queenstown and choose from several wine tour operators or hire a car to visit wineries. Gibbston is 30 minutes’ drive from Queenstown (through Kawarau Gorge), Bannockburn, Alexandra and Wanaka (all about an hour’s drive). Adventure tourism is big business here, and for historic charm, head to Arrowtown, 20 minutes’ drive from Queenstown airport. Central Otago is a five hour drive from Christchurch and about 3 hours from Dunedin. If you’re visiting in winter try the sport of curling introduced here by early Scottish immigrants. Traditions associated with curling have become part of the region's culture and there are outdoor rinks in Alexandra and on the Maniototo Plains, as well as Naseby’s year-round Olympic-standard indoor ice rink.

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