Otago Central Rail Trail

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Time Required : 2-3 hours

Otago Peninsula, Dunedin Overview

The Otago Peninsula is a wildlife wonderland reflective of the rich heritage and natural beauty of New Zealand. The sheltered bays, high hills, expansive vistas, lovely beaches at the peninsula make an excellent habitat for the wildlife thriving in the peninsula. Say hello to these wild creatures with wildlife tours that explain and exhibit the abundant life forms on the peninsula. The Otago Peninsula is the only mainland breeding site of a variety of albatross species in the world. Apart from the albatross, the lush peninsula is home to penguins, fur seals and sea lions thereby encouraging ecotourism in the region.

Owing to its beautiful surroundings and picturesque view, Otago Peninsula is revered as one of the most popular romantic destinations in the world with trails that will surely blow your mind. The Otago Peninsula has plenty of historical sites too that throw light on its background and evolution. Portobello is the only town on the peninsula. It is more of a rural area that attracts tourists for its pristine environment. The varied topography makes it possible for the tourists to undertake adrenalin-pumping thrills like climbing the hills, walking through the risky trails and water sports like diving. With so much to offer, the Otago Peninsula is a must visit.

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Otago Peninsula
Otago Peninsula

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Places to Visit

Larnach Castle: Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle and is located at the Otago Peninsula. The castle is luxurious, grandeur personified and was restored by the Barker family. Enjoy the beauty of the manicured lawns, towers, royal stables and the historic outbuildings.

Larnach Castle
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Taiaroa Head: Taiaroa Head is an extended coastal platform that opens to the mouth of the Otago Harbour and inhabits Northern Royal Albatrosses. Seals and sea lions can be found in plenty along with dusky dolphins and blue whales. This headland is an amazing vantage point on the coast of Otago.

Taiaroa Head
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Otago Peninsula Museum: For all the wildlife enthusiasts and stargazers, the Otago Peninsula Museum is the place to be. The planetarium show takes you back in time and highlights the evolution of species. The museum also holds a wildlife photography exhibition. The Perpetual Guardian Planetarium gives a sneak peek into the galaxy through its state of the art dome. The science gallery is a hotspot amongst the students. The Tuhura Tropical forest is the crowning glory of the museum where exotic butterflies, insects, terrapins co-exist in complete harmony.

Hereweka Garden Retreat: Located on the slopes of the Harbour Cone at the Otago Peninsula, the Hereweka Garden is blessed in abundance with Rhododendrons, rare trees and shrubs, large herbaceous plants, roses and bulbs. The garden is lined with swaying palms, cordylines and tree ferns that are absolutely spellbinding. The garden retreat supports the Rimu trees that are native to the Otago Peninsula.

Red Rhododendron
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Otago Golf Club: The Otago Golf Club is a perfect way to rejuvenate over a golf game after long wildlife tours. Founded in the year 1871, it takes you to a different world with its vintage style architecture, dining experience and club layout. You can also check out the collection of ancient golf balls and clubs that were used back then.

Penguin Zoo: The Otago Peninsula is a habitat for three species of penguin. It supports the rare yellow-eyed penguin or the Hoiho which is on the verge of extinction and is only found here.

Yellow eyed penguin
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Glenfalloch Gardens and Restaurant: Glenfalloch Gardens is another rejuvenation and recreation retreat with serene surroundings and a stunning view of the Otago Harbour. Bask in the beauty of rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, fuchsias and native ferns that form a part of the botanical heritage of the Peninsula.

Allans Beach: Wild and rugged, the sandy Allans Beach is home to amazing flora and fauna in a stunning backdrop. To get the best view of this beach move to the Sandymount Track which is one of the most popular coastal hikes. Here too, you will find seals and sea lions. If you are lucky enough, you might come across the yellow-eyed penguin too.
Pyramids at Victory Beach - Situated at the Pacific Ocean, the Victory Beach is the longest beach on the Otago Peninsula. This beach is characterised by high sand dunes. There are two types of outcrops here - the basalt outcrops known as Pyramids and smaller ones known as Little Pyramids. The Victory Beach witnesses good birdlife - the Hoiho, the Royal Albatross and Spoonbills to name a few. Seals and Hooker’s Sea lions are found here too.

Fur seal
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Royal Albatross Centre: The Royal Albatross Centre is maintained by experts in bird breeding. Pre-book a tour to get insights about the bird and its breeding.

What to Do

Walking and Mountain Biking: The walks take you through the areas with the most breathtaking view. For the more adventurous ones, mountain biking is a great idea. There are six different levels for mountain biking ranging from biking on a smooth easy surface for beginners to biking on tricky surfaces for advanced bikers. Difficulty levels vary on the basis of the nature of the terrain and obstacle on the tracks.

Wildlife: Otago Peninsula is the wildlife capital of New Zealand. The peninsula has a strategic advantage of diverse topography that fosters not only New Zealand’s native species but also the endangered and the rarest species in the world. Otago Peninsula is the only mainland breeding site for albatross. The yellow-eyed penguin or Hoiho is also found here which is one of the world’s second rarest species (due to the loss in coastal habitat). Seals an Sea lions are also found here. Be careful and don’t block their path. Also, dogs are not allowed as they pose a serious threat to the penguins. Flash photography is strictly prohibited.

Camping: The best place for camping in this region is the Portobello Village Tourist Park. It is located right in the centre of all the wildlife reserves. This location is quite near to the Albatross colonies and areas where the yellow-eyed penguins dwell.

Diving: There are plenty of options for diving in the Otago Peninsula. The summer months are great to explore the treasures that the underwater of New Zealand hides. Divers can choose as per their level of expertise. Hydra rock offers both boat dive and wall dive (which is great for photography). This is for advanced divers. Puddingstone Rock offers boat dive only and is suitable for beginners. The caves and marine life here are mesmerising (Consider the Gull Rock too but it is of advanced level). Harakeke Point and Tow Rock both have amazing sea life. They are again for boat diving but at an advanced level. The Lighthouse or the Matakitaki Point has good aquatic life but not as great as others. This is for advanced level boat diving. You can go in for Lover’s Leap too. Whatever you choose, take adequate caution regarding the water current and remember to carry a water sausage with you as a safety measure.

To have better insights about the Otago Peninsula, you can opt for tours and pre-book them for groups. These are
 
Argo Wildlife Tour: Venture into the yellow-eyed penguin and seal colonies with this adventurous tour. This is the Natures Wonders Argo Tour.

Sheep Shed and Argo Wildlife Combo: Get a first-hand experience of a sheep shed of New Zealand by working there as a part of the tour. This is followed by the Natures Wonders Argo Tour.

The Royal Albatross Colony: This colony is the only mainland breeding site for albatrosses.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Otago Peninsula is from the month of December to March. Not only the weather is nice and pleasant but also this is the best time to see the albatross who are seen more active in these months protecting their young ones.

How To Reach Otago Peninsula

The best way to reach the Otago Peninsula is by taking your own car. This will not only make your travel easier but will also help you in getting around the area easily.
  • Plan your journey from Christchurch to Dunedin.
  • When you start from Christchurch, you will drive for four and a half hours along the coast to the Main South Road.
  • From here, you reach Route One. Before crossing the hills you will drive through Rakaia, Ashburton, Timaru, Oamaru and then you reach Dunedin.
  • You can stop here for the night and then continue your journey the next day.
  • The next day, spiral down to the Portobello Road and Harington Point Road to head towards Taiaroa Head. (Caution - The roads are steep and mostly under construction.) 

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