The name "Otago" is an old southern Maori word whose North Island dialect equivalent is "Otakou" and it was introduced to the south by Europeans. "Otago" is also the old name of the European settlement on the Otago Harbour, established by the Weller Brothers in 1831. Otago is a region in the south of the South Island. It has an area of approximately 32,000 square kilometres (12,000 sq miles) making it New Zealand’s second largest region. It has a population of 205,400 from the June 2009 estimate.
Soon after settlement first began, Otago became the focus of the Otago Association, an offshoot of the Free Church of Scotland, notable for its high-minded adoption of the principle that ordinary people, not the landowner, should choose the ministers. Major centres of what is now the Otago Region include Dunedin (the principal city of the region), Oamaru (made famous by author Janet Frame), Balclutha, Alexandra, and the major tourist centres Queenstown and Wanaka. Kaitangata in South Otago is a prominent source of coal. The Waitaki and Clutha rivers also provide much of the country's hydro-electric power. Some parts of the area originally covered by Otago Province are now administered as part of Southland Region.
There are plenty of opportunities for employment in hospitality in pockets of this region. Queenstown is a huge tourist mecca with an international reputation as the adrenaline capital of New Zealand and has basically two seasons - winter for skiing and summer for outdoor pursuits. Just down the road is Arrowtown and this little town is a historic gem with several great restaurants and cafes. There are also many winemakers in the region with cellar doors and cafes on site. The Central Otago area produces award-winning wines made from varieties such as the pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, merlot, and riesling grapes. Central Otago has a growing reputation as New Zealand’s leading pinot noir region. Dunedin is a great city with a diverse population that includes university students, business people and a large retired population, so again there are many different hospitality businesses. Fruit picking is also available in Central Otago due its cold frosty winters then hot dry summers. Central Otago's climate is the closest approximation to a continental climate anywhere in New Zealand. This climate is part of the reason why Otago is such a successful wine-growing region.
Population: 205,400 (June 2009 estimate)
The population of Otago is 205,400, which is approximately 4.8 percent of New Zealand’s total population of 4.3 million. About 56.3 percent of the population resides in the Dunedin urban area, the region’s main city and the country’s sixth largest urban area. Unlike other southern centres, Dunedin’s population has not declined since the 1970s, due mainly to the presence of the University of Otago, especially its medical school which attracts students from all over New Zealand and overseas. Other significant urban centres in Otago with populations over 1,000 include: Queenstown, Oamaru, Wanaka, Alexandra , Balclutha and Mosgiel.
Between 1996 and 2006, the population of the Queenstown Lakes District grew by 60 percent due to the region’s booming tourism industry. Approximately 80 percent of the region’s population is of European lineage with the majority being of Scottish stock—the descendants of early Scottish settlers from the early 19th century. Maori comprise approximately 7 percent of the population with a large proportion being from the Ngāi Tahu iwi or tribe. Other significant ethnic minorities include Asians, Pacific Islanders, Africans, Latin Americans and Middle Easterners.
Land area: 31,241 km²
Main Centres: Dunedin, Queenstown, Wanaka, Oamaru, Alexandra, Balclutha, Cromwell, Frankton, Moeraki, Mosgiel,
The Otago settlement, an outgrowth of the Free Church of Scotland, started in March 1848 with the arrival of the first two immigrant ships from Greenock on the Firth of Clyde, the John Wickliffe and the Philip Laing. Captain William Cargill, a veteran of the Peninsular War, was the secular leader: Otago citizens subsequently elected him to the office of provincial Superintendent after the provinces were created in 1852. The Otago Province comprised the whole of New Zealand from the Waitaki River south, including Stewart Island and the sub-Antarctic islands. It included the territory of the later Southland province and also the much more extensive lands of the modern Southland Region. Initial settlement was concentrated on the port and city but it then expanded, notably to the south-west, where the fertile Taieri Plains offered good farmland. The 1860s saw rapid commercial expansion after Gabriel Read discovered gold at Gabriel's Gully, near Lawrence, and the Central Otago gold rush was under way. Many fortune-seekers from around the world, poured into the then Province of Otago, eroding its Scottish Presbyterian character. Further gold discoveries at Clyde and on the Arrow River round Arrowtown led to a boom and for a while Otago became the cultural and economic centre of New Zealand. New Zealand's first daily newspaper, the Otago Daily Times, originally edited by Julius Vogel, dates from this period.
Activities: What to do there?
Otago is a multi-faceted area that abounds in recreational opportunities, from skiing or snowboarding on some of the world’s best mountains to its beautiful ever-changing landscapes. There are adrenaline rushes galore – from jet boating through the Shotover River to the world famous AJ Hackett bungee. Or try your hand at gold panning - you never know your luck.
Fantastic food is available in this region as the local produce is wonderful and fresh, from many varieties of fruit and vegetables to local meats and fish. Wine has become one of Central Otago's latest claims to fame and many of the well-respected wineries of this region offer tastings throughout the summer. Central Otago has many river basins and deep river gorges which are great for whitewater rafting. The towns of Alexandra, Clyde, Cromwell, Roxburgh and Ranfurly are steeped in history and there are many reminders of the gold rush days. Alexandra, the main town on the Clutha River, is the centre for stone fruit, particularly golden apricots. Hydro-electric dams have been constructed along the Clutha River and these have formed Lake Roxburgh and Lake Dunstan, which now offer a range of recreational opportunities, from power boating and fishing to windsurfing and sailing. Starting in the west, the geography of Otago consists of high alpine mountains. The highest peak in Otago is Mount Aspiring/Tititea, which is on the Main Divide.
From the high mountains the rivers discharge into large glacial lakes. Lakes Wakatipu, Wanaka and Hawea form the sources of the Clutha, the largest river (by discharge) in New Zealand. The Clutha flows through Otago and discharges near Balclutha. Water sports activities are at their best here.
Otago has a thriving art and music scene so check out Dunedin, Queenstown or Oamaru galleries and museums, which are filled with artistic treasures, many influenced by the strong independent cultural influence that pervades the district. Oamaru is a particularly interesting town, famous for the white limestone that figures prominently in its architecture and is a source of enviable material for local artists.
The historic quarter of Oamaru is well worth a look, featuring an old print book bindery and a historic hotel among its old buildings. And if you are keen on wildlife, Oamaru is home to a colony of blue penguins, easily viewed when they waddle home after a day’s fishing out in the Pacific. The whole region is home to an excellence arts profile. From an expansive collection of community arts organisations to internationally recognised artists, the choice is extensive and varied. There are artists over the entire region who host a remarkable array of art activities. Festivals, events and performances endorsing the arts take place throughout the year, offering an opportunity to enjoy the best of the region’s actors, dancers, musicians and visual artists.
Otago is a destination for the interactive traveller and boasts a pool of talent as diverse as the area itself. The depth and breadth of authentic arts and culture on offer enhances the region’s outdoor activities and extraordinary landscape. Many bars and pubs here have a wonderful selection of live music, ranging from rock, country to traditional.
Airport: There are several regional airports in the Otago region at Alexandra, Dunedin, Frankton, Oamaru, Queenstown and Wanaka. Dunedin and Queenstown are also international airports with flights to and from Australia.
Roads: Most roads around the Otago region are excellent. This is a very beautiful corner of New Zealand so we suggest you allow more time than other websites suggest as there is a lot to see and do. Buses: The bus timetable is available to search online. If you can't get the information you want from these pages, call the operator during office hours(8am-5.30pm). Bus timetable enquiries: (03) 474 0287
Boating: There are a few boat companies available for charters etc available in Dunedin and Oamaru. Check out the link for fishing and information on rivers etc.
Train: Dunedin’s prestigious tourist train, the Taieri Gorge Railway, operates from the city’s impressive Victorian railway station. The train winds through the spectacular Taieri Gorge, taking you on a journey into Otago’s past, over wrought iron bridges and through tunnels carved more than a century ago.
Cycling: Otago Central Rail Trail takes cyclists and hikers through 150km of memorable scenery and gold mining history. The route, along an old railway line, has no steep hills and many welcoming stop-offs where cyclists can soak in southern hospitality and scenery. Local tour operators organise accommodation, bike hire and bag transfers. www.otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz/tour-planning/cycling
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