Otago offers a distinct South Island lifestyle and an alternative to more heavily populated northern areas.
Featuring stunning scenery, Otago offers mountains, vast plains, dramatic rivers and remote beaches. Dunedin, the ‘Edinburgh of the South’ has an internationally recognised university which hosts New Zealand’s principal medical school.
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Dunedin’s Scottish history has resulted in the city having the largest concentration of Victorian and Edwardian architecture in New Zealand. From the iconic Larnach Castle to the various churches in the city, there are fine examples of heritage architecture around every corner.
Known for its creativity and vibrant atmosphere, Dunedin offers a host of remarkable performances, exhibitions and festivals throughout the winter. You can also feed your mind and your soul in the city's distinctive galleries, museums and theatres.
Dunedin’s character is influenced enormously by its students. They make up 20% of the population and help support entertainment and cultural options well beyond the city’s size. For example, a succession of popular bands has created a distinctive ‘Dunedin sound’ that is recognised internationally. Dunedin also has excellent beaches for swimming and surfing and is known for its eco-tourism.
Inland Otago features some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery. Outdoor activities are hugely popular here, particularly skiing, ice skating and curling in winter, and kayaking, sailing and windsurfing on the lakes in summer. There are many great walks, and the Otago Central Rail Trail is one of the country’s top cycle trails.
Central Otago’s stunning scenery has inspired many of New Zealand’s leading artists (Ralph Hotere and Graham Sydney) and writers (Hone Tuwhare, Janet Frame).
Lying near the south of the South Island, Otago includes Dunedin on the coast, and a quite distinct inland area.
The largest city is Dunedin (population 120,000), sited at the head of a long harbour. Many of the early European settlers came from Scotland, giving the city its ‘Edinburgh of the South’ nickname. Dunedin is about five hours drive from Christchurch and just under two hours by air from Auckland.
Otago’s varied landscape includes the inland ranges and basins of Central Otago, the southern peaks of the Southern Alps, coastal lowlands, and hill country.
In New Zealand history, Otago is famous for the gold rushes which began in 1861 with the first discovery at Gabriel’s Creek. By 1880, Otago gold and wool had helped make Dunedin New Zealand’s largest and wealthiest town.
Education is a driving force for Dunedin’s economy. Otago University’s reputation draws students - ‘scarfies’ - from around the country and overseas. The university also includes New Zealand’s principal medical school and the only school of dentistry. Forestry and farming are important in the wider Dunedin region.
Inland, agriculture, horticulture, viticulture (central Otago produces some of the country’s best pinot noir) and tourism are among the big employers. The tourist towns of Queenstown (which has an international airport) and Wanaka are among New Zealand’s fastest growing centres.
The climate of Otago, in particular Central Otago, has some of New Zealand’s highest and lowest temperatures, and lowest rainfall. As an elevated region, relatively distant from the ocean, Central Otago has a more continental climate than any other area of the country: winters are quite cold and dry, summers hot and dry. Central Otago frequently tops New Zealand’s summer temperature charts.
Dunedin has a temperate coastal climate and four distinct seasons. There’s some frost in winter and very occasional snowfalls which usually clear during the day. Temperatures reach 20° – 25°C in the summer months, 13° – 17°C in autumn, 9° – 12°C in the winter months and 12° – 17°C in spring.
Dunedin’s rainfall is relatively low.
Many migrants have already made Otago home. The table below shows where these migrants are moving from and demonstrates the diverse population you can expect to find in Otago.
It can be comforting to know there are others, similar to you, who have experienced the move.
Country of origin
No. of migrant
UK and Ireland
|Europe (excl. UK and Ireland)||3,420|
|Middle East and Africa||2,301|
Now that you know about what Otago has to offer, have a read about everyday life in the region, and services and support you can access.
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