Fun things to do in Otago

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    Penguin Watching

    by Kakapo2 Updated Jan 17, 2012

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    Although there are other areas where you can see penguins, even in Marlborough, on Banks Peninsula (Flea Bay, you have to book a trip in Akaroa) and the West Coast, the best region to view them is Otago. You can book tours for penguin watching in Dunedin or go to the colony in Oamaru and pay for it, but there are places where you can see them for free. When they have youngs or are moulting you can see them during the day (Yellow-Eyed Penguin Sept-Dec, Little Blue Aug-Nov) but the biggest chance to spot some is late afternoon to early evening when they come back to the shore from fishing.

    Great places for Yellow-Eyed Penguins on Otago Peninsula are the penguin hide at Sandfly Bay (including strenuous walk back to the car...) from where you can also see seals and Alan's Beach. I also met some at the Petrified Forest in the Catlins, they were nearly waddling into me.

    An absolutely fabulous spot is the Penguin Hospital at Katiki Point near the Moeraki Boulders. There a lady looks after all the injured and sick poor devils. There you can see all kinds of penguins, also from other regions. The hospital depends on donations to get enough baby salmon to feed the sick animals. There is also a penguin colony which you can watch from a hide (a little wooden hut), and seals also take their sunbaths there. Sometimes penguins sit on the cliffs - just take the track to the right of the lighthouse. See directions to this place further down.

    Update Oct. 2008

    The Penguin Hospital now has a website, embedded in a website of the Katiki Point Charitable Trust:

    http://www.penguins.org.nz/index.phtml?page_id=833;816;816;867;952;

    http://www.penguins.org.nz

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    Roll out the Barrels !

    by cnango Updated Aug 29, 2011

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    From picking the Central Otago grapes to storing and aging wine in barrels, the Peregrine Winery produces fine wines in a very traditional way. Some of the wines they produce are : Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonney, Pinot Nior, Sauvgnon Blanc and Roses.

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    Kawarau Bungy Centre

    by cnango Updated Aug 29, 2011

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    Kawarau Bungy Centre is worth visiting even if you don't actually do a bungy jump. The centre is built into the mountainside.You enter the building then go down a spiral ramp. There is a shopping, interactive activities, a cafe , large viewing area and of course the bridge from which the bungy jumping is done.

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    Gibbston Valley Winery

    by cnango Updated Aug 29, 2011

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    Gibbston Valley Winery & Cheesery are located in Central Otago, a short drive from Queenstown. The winery has a wine cave tour,gift shop, patio dining and a wine tasting bar. You can taste 4 different wine selections for NZ $5.00 (refunded if you purchase 3 bottles of wine).

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    Our favorite Winery,Chard Farms

    by cnango Updated Aug 29, 2011

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    A short drive from Queenstown in Central Otago, there are several vineyards. One of the best vineyards is Chard Farms.Turn off the main road and drive along a river on a winding dirt road until you see the peach faux painted building. learn about the process of growing grapes and making wine, and best of all get several FREE samples.

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    Tarras - the Home of Shrek the Sheep

    by Kakapo2 Updated Jun 6, 2011

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    Updated on 6 June 2011 when Shrek the sheep died. He had to be put down due to age-related ailments. The merino wither was 16 years old - this is about 90 human years. Usually merinos do not get older than seven years because at this age they produce less wool and end up at the meatworks...

    Shrek was a very special animal that - assisted by his owner John Perriam - made the world a better place. He raised huge amounts of money for "Cure Kids". You can support this worthy organisation by buying the books that have been written about Shrek, one about his life and fame, and two children's books. All proceeds go to "Cure Kids".

    I was lucky enough to visit Shrek in late 2008 and interview him. Yes, really! His owner was out and told me where to go, then put a red rope around Shrek's neck, and walk around with him and chat with him. And so I did, and Shrek did, as if he had known me forever. He has a place in my heart and I will not forget him.



    Don't be disappointed: This is probably more a café tip than information about how to track down Shrek the Sheep whose story touched the world in April 2004 when he was captured having grown 27 kgs of fleece after having escaped shearing for six years.

    As you surely know, Shrek has become a star. He visited Parliament in Wellington, and at the end of 2006, to celebrate his 10th birthday, he was flewn to the icebergs that were floating along the coast of NZ's South Island, and he even got a "shave" on one of the icebergs.

    As I write these words (April 2007) Shrek is fine and well. He lives at Bendigo Station which is located between Tarras and Cromwell in Central Otago. As you will not recognize Shrek and not every traveller can call in at the farm, just think of him when you pass the region - and you will most certainly do this if you travel from Christchurch/Geraldine to Queenstown via Lindis Pass.

    At The Merino Shop and Country Coffee Shop in Tarras you will surely find a hint of Shrek's proximity. The last time we were there they had noted on the chalk board in front of the café: "Tarras - Home of Shrek the Sheep". This café BTW is a great stop in the middle of nowhere, serving nice coffees, cakes and small meals. I do not know if it ever rains there, I am sure it does, but every time we pass there and make our compulsory stop, the sun shines at its best, it is hot, there is no wind, and we sit outside in the sun. I always get the perfect holiday feeling there. In the shop they sell toy sheep made of real fleece.

    In the meantime I have learnt that Shrek is not the only sheep on the run in this area. A year ago another farmer discovered two unshorn rams that rivalled Shrek in fleece size. He named them Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Those two had obviously lived as hermits on an island to which they could have escaped in low water, until the arrival of 600 ewes. They did not like to be mustered and tried to butt the farmer's dogs. Unless Shrek the farmer said they would not get special treatment. Poor devils!

    Photo 2 shows the café and country store in Tarras.

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    Historic mining village

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Everyone come to Arrowtown - or so it can seem on a busy weekend. It's not surprising, it is such a pretty little place with streets of quaint old cottages; a main street that looks like something straight out of the Wild West with enough shops, galleries and restaurants to keep even the most avid spenders happy and an excellent small museum to tell the town's story of its golden past - all in a picture-perfect setting of river and mountainside that, in autumn is a blaze of reds and golds. It's even a place of pilgrimage - The Blessed Mary McKillop - Australia's first candidate for sainthood- spent some time here setting up a school and doing humanitarian work with the families of the miners. The little cottage she lived in can be seen at 7 Hertford Street , a short walk from the main street.

    If you can, spend a night here - that way you can enjoy the spirit of the place once the day trippers have left and the town settles back into its own quiet pace - and enjoy dinner at Saffron - regarded by many as one of New Zealand's best restaurants. Accommodation to suit all pockets is available though booking is advisable at busy periods.

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    A people apart

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Just a short walk from the shops and the pretty painted cottages and buildings of Arowtown's romantic past, you'll find another face of the history of gold. The Chinese prospectors who came to the diggings arrived well after the first rush and created their own small settlement at the junction of the Arrow River and Bush Creek outside the town that had grown up by the time they arrived. They were invited to come to increase the falling population - the rush having moved west after just a few years. As well as working over the old diggings left by the Europeans, where there was still a lot of gold to be found (as there is still - it is estimated that only about a third of the gold to be found here has actually been removed)., they were also employed as building labourers and much of Arrowtown was built with the help of Chinese labour.
    Most who came returned to China once they had made enough money - 100 pounds made on the goldfields was the equivalent of 20 years earnings back in China but as the gold grew harder to find, some were unable to save enough for the journey home and so they stayed, often to become market gardeners.
    Several of the little houses the Chinese built have been restored in recent years and sign boards erected to tell the story of these men. It really is worth the walk down to the village to see the remnants of this settlement and to read their story - it's one that would have been repeated in many of Otago's goldfields towns but is best told here in Arrowtown.

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    A hairy ride

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The journey up through Skippers Canyon is not for the faint-hearted - there's just one very narrow, twisting road with no safety barriers other than the few remaining stretches of the original stone walls that once provided travellers along the road with a modicum of safety, and the ever-present chance of rockfalls along the way - the canyon walls are mostly very fragile schist - that is used by all the traffic in the canyon, including the raft-carrying bus that you really don't want to meet along the way! They'll be heading down to the river for a thrill-packed rafting trip down the rapids and white-water of the Shotover River far below. The road continues ever upwards though until it finally reaches the head of the canyon where the little stone schoolhouse (built in 1879) is the only building that remains of what was once a thriving community of miners and their families. Close by is the once-abandoned Mt Aurum homestead (1867) that was restored and moved here. Both buildings have interesting displays of photos of the gold rush era. Further up the canyon there's a lonely little graveyard with some worn headstones and a modern plaque listing those known to be buried here but whose graves cannot be identified.

    The road was hacked out of the canyon by hand, largely by Chinese labourers, between 1883 and 1890 and is still one of the most significant gold mining access roads remaining in Otago. It is an amazing testament to the will and tenacity of the men who built it. The increased popularity of tourism in the area is placing the road under considerable threat and there is serious concern about the balance that needs to be reached here between the demands of tourism and maintaining the historical integrity of the road.

    We made lots of stops along the way to look down on the river far below - the views are spectacular - and at various points of interest such as the "Gorilla's Head'' and "Lighthouse" rock formations, diggings, the Pipeline Bungy ( now that does look seriously scary!) and the suspension bridge. .

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    The highest road

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The road over the Crown Range Pass between Wanaka and Queenstown is the highest road in the country and was only fully sealed in 2000 - before that, it was barred to hire car drivers. Now its steep gradients and hairpin bends mean that ,although it is half the length of the main highway route, it will take you every bit as long to make the journey. Your reward will be stunning views over the mountains, lakes and valleys that lie on either side of the pass - Lake Wanaka and the Clutha Valley on one side of the range, Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables on the other.

    You could also reward yourself with a stop at the old Cardrona pub for a drink or a meal. Its faded exterior belies a warm interior and a delightful garden in the back. Old style pub accommodation (ie comfortable but fairly basic and shared facilities) is available should you want to spend a night.

    Easter each year sees Cardrona hosting the Silverstone Race to the Sky - a mad scramble of a hill climb from 1500 to 15,000 feet over 15kms of gravel at a gradient of 1:11 with 137 bends along the way - first to the top wins. The event attracts biog numbers, so paln ahead for your accommodation if you want to go - especially in even years when Warbirds Over Wanaka sees all the surrounding towns filling very early - at least a year ahead.

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    Top town

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Apr 16, 2010

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    With its spectacular setting on the shore of Lake Wakapitu, the spectacularly rugged Remarkables in the background, Queenstown is undoubtedly the most popular holiday spot in all New Zealand. Like so many of the towns in Otago, it was gold that first brought people here - now it is the promise of adventure of a different kind that lures the visitors, bringing wealth to the region rather than removing it.

    Whether you are simply passing through, staying for enough time to sample as many of the thrills and spills as you can possibly fit in or opting for a more leisurely visit, there is something for everyone on offer here. There are restaurants, cafes and bars galore; accommodation options to suit every pocket from backpacker hostels to the incredibly luxurious (and expensive) Eichardt's Hotel and shoppers will think they've died and gone to heaven.
    Every sort of adventure tourism is available -rafting, hiking, jet boats, hot air ballooning, hang gliding, skiing, snowboarding, skydiving, the list goes on and on, changing with the seasons but the activity never stops.

    If white-knuckle adventure isn't your thing you can always take a gondola ride up to Bob's Peak for wonderful scenic views over the surrounding countryside or visit the kiwi house where, once your eyes have accustomed themselves to the deep nocturnal darkness inside, you will find this unique little bird.

    No matter how long you stay, the chances are you won't have time (or the budget) to fit in all that you might want to do. You'll just have to come again some time.

    Before you leave, give a nod to William Gilbert Rees - the Victorian gentleman whose bronze statue stands on the wharf near Eichardt's Hotel. He was the first European to settle here - I wonder what he's make of the town that has grown up where he first ran his sheep and later plied the boats that carried both men and essential supplies to the rich goldfields of the region. Even his homestead was declared an official goldfield, and his boats were the first to carry the rich findings of gold down the length of the lake to the frontier town.

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    Rob Roy Valley Track and other walks near Wanaka

    by Kakapo2 Updated Dec 25, 2008

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    The West Matukituki Valley offers wonderful day walks. It is also the access to several more demanding tramping and climbing routes in the Mount Aspiring National Park, like the 3-4 day round trip to Gillespie and Rabbit Passes.

    I already like those walks because the scenic drive on a mainly unsealed road to the starting points is so wonderful.

    The Rob Roy Valley Track (3-4 hrs return) is a highlight. The valley offers an easy and just in some parts relatively steep route into a landscape of dramatic alpine scenery.

    Starting point is the Raspberry Creek carpark. About 15 minutes from there you cross a swingbridge over the West Matukituki River. Then the track climbs through a small gorge into beech forest. From the head of the valley you can see the Rob Roy Glacier.

    The walk to the Aspiring Hut starts at the same carpark and and takes 2-3 hrs return. Instead of crossing the swingbridge you follow the path on the west side of the Matukituki River.

    A walk which starts closer to Wanaka township is the Mt. Roy Track (5-6 hrs return). Mt. Roy sits right above Lake Wanaka and offers spectacular views over the lake, Mt. Aspiring and surrounding mountains and glaciers. The track is closed from 1 Oct until 10 Nov for lambing.

    20 mins from Wanaka, near the turn-off to the Treble Cone Skifield, is the start of the Diamond Lake/Rocky Hill Walking Track (3 hrs return). It is on private land (Glendhu Station). As it is no track of the Department of Conservation (DOC) it must be maintained by the owners, sponsors and volunteers, therefore they ask for a $2 donation. You walk to the summit of Rocky Hill. If you do not want to make the full track, try the walk to the Lake Wanaka Viewpoint which is only 90mins return.

    Right on Roys Bay which is the main beach of Wanaka is the start of the Waterfall Creek Walk which - BTW - you can also access on mountainbike. If you only walk to Waterfall Creek the walk takes 1 to 1.15 hrs return, if you walk to the end of the track it takes about 2 hrs return.

    You get brochures of those and a lot of other walks and multi-day tramps at the Visitor Centre right on the lakeside and at the DOC office, corner Ardmore St/Ballantyne Rd, on SH 84 next to the town centre.

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    Lake Wanaka and Mt. Aspiring National Park

    by Kakapo2 Updated Oct 8, 2008

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    There is only one time of the year I do not like Wanaka - around New Year's Eve. Teens have discovered this lovely town as a party ground, and now they flood the place and leave it littered. The police are on high alert, campground owners highly nervous, and you find empty and broken beer bottles everywhere.

    On such days just do out-of-town acitivities, drive into the magnificent Mt. Aspiring National Park, towards the skifields, and go on one of the great walks. Drunken teens are rarely strong enough for that ;-)

    At any other time of the year Wanaka is fantastic, the mountain ranges throning impressively at the western end of the 45km long and 311m deep lake. It is still a rather quiet little town and not comparable to busy Queenstown but property prices have already skyrocketed and are no more affordable for people on average income. Perhaps already in the not too far future it could become a second Queenstown as a prime summer and winter travel destination. The skifields of Treble Cone are world-famous, and every year many stars of the alpine ski circuit have their training camps there.

    Around Easter Wanaka is flooded with visitors. It is the traditional date for the Warriors Over Wanaka three-day event, the southern hemisphere's greatest warbird airshow. Some of the world's most famous warbirds join forces with classic aircrafts of yesteryear and modern jets of today. Be prepared to pay more than NZ$100 for a three-day admission:

    http://www.warbirdsoverwanaka.com

    There is also a Warbirds Museum at Wanaka Airport:

    http://www.wanakawarbirds.com or http://www.nzfpm.co.nz]

    Next to this place is the Transport & Toy Museum:

    http://www.wanakatransportandtoymuseum.com/

    Apart from tramping activities are similar to those of other lake-side towns. All kinds of water sports - you can swim right from the town-side lake-front or hire a boat or kayak, go on a cruise on an Aqua Patio Boat or jetboating, charter a yacht, and, of course, go fishing. Further skydiving, rock climbing, golf, etc.

    Wanaka's main attraction is Puzzling World. Already the outside of the eccentric building looks intriguing. There are several Illusion Rooms in which you can have great fun. Adjoining is a Great Maze where you could get lost:

    Website: http://www.puzzlingworld.co.nz

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    It's official

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated May 3, 2008

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    Would you go out of your way to visit 'The World's Steepest Street"?

    We found ourselves at the base of Dunedin's Baldwin Street more by accident than design so, seeing the sign and the souvenir shop around the corner, and as we were there, we felt we should take a look. The Guiness Book of Records recognizes this suburban street, with a maximum gradient of 1:2.86 as the world's steepest. I wouldn't want to argue with the experts but I wouldn't mind betting the road leading up to the convent in Sednaya in Syria is steeper - driving up there is truly scary! but until someone proves differently, this one in Dunedin is officially it.

    I wouldn't go so far as to call it a tourist trap - no one's trying to con anything out of you - but I wouldn't say it warrants a 5km trek out of town just to find it. The view from the top's nice - once you've managed to stand up straight and regain your breath.

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    Warbirds Over Wanaka

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Apr 19, 2008

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    Whether you're an airshow tragic (like MrL) or not (like me), the biennial Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow is a great day (or 3, for the said airshow tragics). The planes are always interesting - the focus is on WWII, with classic aircraft such the Hurricane, Spitfire, Messerschmit, Kittyhawk, Catalina and Mustang showing their stuff, but here are lots of other interesting aircraft - historic and modern - on display both on the ground and in the air. Yaks flying in formation, the New Zealand Air Force aerobatic team, tiny Polikarpovs (my favourites) from Russia's WWII airforce, Harvards, WWI Sopwith Camels, Tiger Moths, this year a vintage Bleriot - built in 1918 and still flying - and an F1-11 as well as world champion aerobatc aces, Jurgis Kairys and Svetlana Kapanina, were all part of the show.
    The planes are all parked on the field in very close proximity to the vistors when they're not flying, so it's really easy to get a good look at them - particularly on the Friday practice day when the number of attendees is relatively small.

    The atmosphere is great at this show - it's more like a big country show with planes instead of animals - and the setting, above the ravine of the Clutha River, with snowy mountains as a backdrop, is stunning.

    The show is held over the Easter Weekend - Friday (practice day), Saturday and Sunday. Crowds tend to be biggest on Saturday - there were 60,000 people there this year.

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Otago Things to Do

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