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The Top Things to do in Central Otago

With a sunny climate and expansive landscapes that features ancient mountains, powerful rivers and alpine herb fields, the things to do in Central Otago will escalate your admiration for Mother Nature. Boasting more than 80 world-class wineries, cycling tours along three of New Zealand's Great Rides, and fascinating gold rush history, Central Otago is an invitation to experience the best things to do on the South Island of New Zealand. Here you might choose to indulge in craft beer at twilight, scream around Kawarau Gorge in a jet boat, or just soak up the fields of purple flowers in the surrounding rugged mountains. The experiences in Central Otago simply cannot be missed.

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Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago

Central Otago is filled with a range of incredible scenes, from their rolling vineyards and vibrant blue rivers to its picturesque snow-capped mountains, it is one of the most diverse landscapes in the country.

If you’re planning a trip to the Central Otago region in the South Island, ensure you see all there is to see and do all of their best activities. Here we highlight the top 10 things to see and do while in Central Otago, including a collection of scenic, culinary and physical experiences.

Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Otago Central Rail Trail

1. Otago Central Rail Trail

Location: Starting points at Clyde, Chatto, Lauder, Otourehua, Ranfurly, Hyde and Middlemarch

New Zealand’s original ‘Great Ride’, the Otago Central Rail Trail is one of the most popular trails in the country. Stretching for over 150 kilometres the trail’s wide, gravel paths are suitable for riders, walkers and even horse riders of all ages. With no traffic to speak of on this off-road ride, adventurers can get out and enjoy breathtaking landscapes all year round.

Travelling through the countryside and alpine areas, you’ll see the scenery transform from mountainous and rocky landscapes to farmland, vibrant rivers and prosperous towns.

The Otago Central Rail Trail is one of New Zealand's greatest rides taking you past some of the most picturesque areas in the region including historic gold-mining villages, country pubs, miles of green pastures and alpine scenery as far as the eye can see.

Travelling at your own pace you can stop at any or all of the highlights along the way where you’ll be able to mingle with locals and learn about the region’s rich heritage. Some of the highlights along the way include Ophir Bridge, Hamiltons Cemetery and Styx Hotel and Jail.

Whichever way you choose to follow the Otago Central Rail Trail, you’ll be sure to enjoy this historic, scenic and adventurous journey.

Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Taste the Pinot Noir

2. Taste the Pinot Noir

Location: Various Locations

The Central Otago region is renowned for its award-winning Pinot Noir; so visiting the region without at least tasting this champion wine is almost against the law.

The Central Otago region is renowned for its award-winning Pinot Noir; so visiting the region without at least tasting this champion wine is almost against the law. Exuberating vibrant, pure, flavoursome and colourful pinot noir, you’ll fall in love as you look over the rolling vineyards.

There are several ways to experience this famous wine, you can enjoy a glass or two with a meal at a local restaurant or café, embark on an organised tour around the vineyards or nominate someone from your group to be the designated driver for the day.

It is recommended to set aside at least three days to explore one of the country’s best wine regions.

Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Try Curling

3. Try Curling

Location: Various locations

Come winter, Central Otago transforms into a curling wonderland as the dams and ponds freeze solid. This ancient Scottish ice sport is a popular winter pastime in Central Otago and is a recommended activity for visitors to the area to try.

New Zealand’s curling capital is located in Central Otago at Naseby, where a purpose-built, year round curling arena was built.

This ancient Scottish ice sport is a popular winter pastime in Central Otago and is a recommended activity for visitors to the area to try. Likened to playing bowls, curling involves sliding 20-kilogram granite stones across a marked out rink. The aim of the game is to get the majority of your teams stones closer to the tea than your opponent.

Likened to playing bowls, curling involves sliding 20-kilogram granite stones across a marked out rink. The aim of the game is to get the majority of your teams stones closer to the tea than your opponent.

It is played between two teams consisting of four a side. This is an activity suitable for all ages with instructions and equipment supplied at Naseby’s Maniototo Curling International rink. If watching is more your forte, there is a two-day competition held during winter on the Idaburn Dam at Oturehua that sees all of the local clubs come together to compete.

Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Cromwell Heritage Precinct

4. Cromwell Heritage Precinct

The Cromwell Heritage Precinct is one of the region's best-kept secrets. Most of the heritage buildings are still in their original form and operate as retail shops with most hosting various artisanal businesses. This is a great place to take a stroll and pick up a unique gift.
Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Clutha Gold Trail

5. Clutha Gold Trail

Location: Starting points in Commissioner Flat, Roxburgh, Millers Flat, Beaumont and Lawrence

The Central Otago goldfields accommodated thousands of international migrants from the likes of Scotland, China and Italy all in the hopes to strike gold. The rivers running through the region were brimming with gold in the 1860s and are now filled with an incredible amount of history.

By far, one of the best ways to learn about and experience the rich gold mining heritage of the Otago region is with a cycle along the Clutha Gold Trail.

One of the New Zealand Cycle Trail’s ‘Great Rides’ the Clutha Gold Trail is a great adventure for everyone to enjoy. Take in the wealthy gold heritage and beautiful scenery of rural New Zealand.

Another great New Zealand Cycle Trail is the Clutha Gold Trail which is a great adventure for everyone to enjoy. Take in the wealthy gold heritage and beautiful scenery of rural New Zealand.

Ride at your own pace visiting all of the major stops along the way to learn about the wealthy gold heritage of the area while enjoying the beautiful scenery of rural New Zealand.

The majority of the trail travels alongside the Clutha River with smooth, wide trails guiding you along. Suitable for those with a moderate fitness level, you can begin the trail at either end and see the absolute best of the region.

Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Fish for Salmon

6. Fish for Salmon

Location: Clutha River, from Lake Wanaka to Balclutha

Try your hand at catching a big fish in New Zealand’s fastest flowing river. This giant river is home to a range of great catches including Brown, Rainbow and Sea trout, Chinook salmon and Perch.

Try your hand at catching a big fish in New Zealand’s fastest flowing river. Though quite daunting for first-time anglers, the catch rate is quite high in the Clutha River. If you don’t happen to reel in a keeper, the experience of fishing in the Clutha River is something in itself.

Try your hand at catching a big fish in New Zealand’s fastest flowing river. This giant river is home to a range of great catches including Brown, Rainbow and Sea trout, Chinook salmon and Perch.

The river runs from the lower end of Lake Wanaka to Molyneaux Bay near Balclutha which running through the Central Otago towns of Cromwell, Alexandra and Balclutha.

Fishing techniques such as spinning and fly-fishing are considered the most popular and productive ways to catch fish.

The area has specific limitations and regulations for the amount of catches, fishing methods, size limits and seasons, be sure to check before you cast your line out (a fishing license are also compulsory).

Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Goldfields Jet Boat

7. Goldfields Jet Boat

Those searching for a hit of adrenaline will enjoy an exciting jet boat ride through the Goldfields on the Kawarau River. The 40-minute tour will take you past towering gorges in the historic gold mining region.
Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Alpha Street Reserve

8. Alpha Street Reserve

Location: Alpha Street Recreational Reserve, Cromwell

With Lake Dunstan as the backdrop, Alpha Street Reserve provides an array of activities and facilities for everyone to enjoy. Pack yourself a picnic and enjoy a day beside the water with the whole family.

With Lake Dunstan as the backdrop, Alpha Street Reserve provides an array of activities and facilities for everyone to enjoy. Pack yourself a picnic and enjoy a day beside the water with the whole family.

The Reserve allows visitors to swim in the lake, enjoy sports on the large grassy area, play on the playground, cycle around the area and walk along the Lake’s foreshore.

With picnic tables, shaded areas, and toilets in the Reserve, it’s the perfect picnic spot to sit back and enjoy the New Zealand outdoors.

Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Cromwell Farmers Market

9. Cromwell Farmers Market

Location: Cromwell Heritage Precinct, Melmore Tce, Cromwell

Running every Sunday from 9am to 1pm from Labour Weekend (October) to Easter Weekend is the excellent Cromwell Farmers’ Market.

Selling the best produce from local farmers, these markets have more than just a few stalls.

With rows of fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers, artisanal products and of course, live music.

The atmosphere at the local Cromwell Markets are one to revel in, even though you might not need any fresh produce, it’s worth visiting to enjoy the environment.

Selling the best produce from local farmers, these markets have more than just a few stalls. With rows of fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers, artisanal products and of course, live music.

Stallholders include Artisan Caterers with their homemade paella and wood fired pizzas, Salmon Barn with their unique tote bags and accessories and Stock the Car Candles selling their alcohol-flavoured candles.

So pack a blanket and camp chairs and set yourself up with a delicious ready-to-eat meal from one of the local vendors and enjoy the live entertainment throughout the day.

Top 10 Things to do in Central Otago - Golf

10. Golf

Location: Various locations

With an incredibly breathtaking backdrop, teeing up in the Central Otago region is as beautiful as it is enjoyable.

Home to some award winning international and country courses, each course is less than an hours drive from each other, providing you with an array of choices.

Due to the numerous courses in the area, visitors are usually treated to leisurely paced and uncrowded golfing.

With an incredibly breathtaking backdrop, teeing up in the Central Otago region is as beautiful as it is enjoyable.Due to the numerous courses in the area, visitors are usually treated to leisurely paced and uncrowded golfing.

Central Otago is home to some of the best courses including Alexandra; an 18 hold tree lined championship course set in a delightful natural environment and Cromwell; New Zealand’s most inland course built on real ‘links’ style land.

With 18 and 9-hole options, you’ll be itching to tee off at some of the country’s most scenic golf courses.