Whether you are looking for superb scenery, craving adventure or want to get up close and personal with the local wildlife, Otago is the place to be. Endowed with a rich cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty the region is one of New Zealand's best kept secrets. The region fits perfectly in a self-drive itinerary between Christchurch and the Southern Lakes and a minimum two night stay would be advisable.
Those that know the region best, the owners of Pen-y-bryn Lodge - James & James offer their advice for exploring the area ...
"This is something different for everyone, and one of the nice things about our part of New Zealand is that it’s the kind of place where there is literally something for everyone. When I first came to Oamaru and visited Pen-y-bryn for the first time, my perfect day consisted of heading out to watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean down by our waterfront or at the Moeraki Boulders—this is an amazing photographic opportunity that I still take advantage of when my schedule permits. Then I wandered the historic centre of town, which has an amazing and unparalleled collection of beautiful Victorian buildings, the likes of which you cannot find in too many other places. While these used to be gritty workaday places (woolstores, grain elevators, and customs houses, for example) today they are beautifully maintained shops, galleries and restaurants, and are owned and operated by some of the friendliest and most interesting (possibly “quirky” is a better adjective) people you’ll ever meet. You could spend days just visiting all of them, but there’s more to do! I would then go for a drive up the Waitaki Valley to see some of the amazing landscapes of North Otago, from the Elephant Rocks, to the Anatini Fossils and the Vanished World trail near Duntroon, and cap that off with a sampling of the wines of the Waitaki Valley in Kurow. After that I would come back to Oamaru and unwind at the lodge with an adult beverage and some canapés before heading to dinner in our dining room and preparing to see the blue penguins come in from their day out to sea at dusk. It’s a long day, so perhaps it’s better to spread it out over a few days, rather than trying to do it all in one!"
It is a meandering drive through beauty of one of New Zealand's most impressive geographic regions of lakes, rivers and majestic rock formations.
The best experience is to book an exclusive guided tour hosted by Sue of Waitaki Wine Tours in her luxury mini van. Visit award winning “Boutique Vineyards”, the new but old cellar doors popping up along the roadside and historic landmarks in the Waitaki Valley. Sue's tour departs from Oamaru and featuring the secret spots suggested by your hosts at Pen-y-bryn.
The Wines of the Waitaki Valley
The first plantings in the region were Pinot Noir in 2001. There are currently 12 labels being produced in the Waitaki Valley.
On the edge climatically, these small, intensely managed north facing vineyards are densely planted, have low yields and produce great concentration of flavours.
Cooler evenings assure high levels of crisp acidity.
The unique soil structure is rich in alluvial greywackle, schist and littered with limestone giving it a distinctive minerality and complex fruit flavours to these cool climate wines. Wine experts compare the Waitaki Valley conditions to be similar in terrior to Burgundy + Alsace in France.
These conditions are both challenging and rewarding but vineyards are producing great Aromatic wines. This area is attracting top NZ winemakers to purchase land or use contract growers, so they may add these unique flavours to their portfolios. The main varieties are: Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
The small town Oamaru itself owns some of the most impressive historic 19th century architecture in New Zealand. A visit to the working historic Victorian Precinct is a must with its great array of shops, galleries, a foodie’s delight and a far cry from any city shopping mall. Art galleries, museums and a stunning opera house add to the culture and heritage offerings to absorb. Historic property Pen-y-Bryn Lodge is located in Oamaru.
Coastal North Otago
South of Oamaru and en route to Dunedin includes the Kakanui coastal route sweeping past deserted beaches and gentle farmlands. Great beach walks are on offer as is fresh local produce of which Kakanui tomatoes are famous. Also south of Oamaru you can live the heritage that is the Totara Estate and Clark’s Mill. The world famous Moeraki boulders are near to Moeraki village where fishing charters are available or lap up the atmosphere which is unique to the incredible oceanfront seafood restaurant that is Fleurs Place.
Set between rolling hills and rugged coastline, Dunedin is popular for its unique combination of a bustling university, architectural heritage and exotic wildlife.
Dunedin is centred in the region of Otago, well known as a natural playground and for the quieter pleasures of wildlife, enchanting scenery and local cuisine. Dunedin is recognised as one of the best-preserved sites of Edwardian and Victorian architecture in the southern hemisphere. And modern culture is thriving too in Dunedin with theatres, art galleries, cafes restaurants and bars scattered throughout the city.