Central Otago, or just Central to locals, is New Zealand’s frontier land. Famous for wide open spaces with rolling hills of golden tussock grass, its gold mining and rural history, and for extremes of temperature. The topography is a lot less defined than the Southern Alps to the west, but Central Otago has a stark and barren aesthetic of its own. And being away from the popular centres of Queenstown and Wānaka, we seldom see other walkers on our tramps.
Perhaps a downside to tramps in Central is that they usually start in private farmland, and sometimes only much later enter conservation land. The farmland is often less scenic, and can be smelly with ‘deposits’ from stock or rabbits.
Nevertheless, for a unique NZ experience it’s definitely worth exploring the area. I’ve only done day-walks from Queenstown, so my selection covers just the western side of the district. But since many people stay in Queenstown or Wānaka these walks would be a good introduction if this is you. If you like what you see then there’s plenty more to explore. My list of walks that follows is ordered from north to south (except for one at the end, which is to the east).
Best Central Otago Walks
A short but steep climb to Double Peak (1323m) for spectacular views over the Lindis Pass Scenic Reserve, on the Otago/Canterbury border.
This walk is easily accessed by those driving north or south on SH8, and starts at the popular lookout near Lindis Pass. We did it after heavy snow, but the colour of the landscape at other times will typically be a deep gold.
Chain Hills Circuit
A circuit through the Chain Hills for front and centre views of one of Central Otago’s most attractive mountain ranges, the St Bathans Range.
Climbing Lindis Peak (1226m) in Central Otago is a lesser known up and down walk with 360 degree views of the area, including the distinctive St Bathans Range, and distant snowy peaks of the Main Divide.
A great sample of Central Otago’s unique scenery on this long and relatively unknown walk to the summit of Cloudy Peak (1526m), north-east of Cromwell.
Mt Pisa via Tinwald Burn Ridge Track
A long hard walk up 1600m of elevation to reach the barren plateau on top of the Pisa Range, finishing at the summit of Mt Pisa (1963m).
This loop walk passes through the Bendigo area, an old mining district in Central Otago near Cromwell. The track undulates through native Kanuka forest and amongst rocky outcrops, and there are wide open views of the Pisa Range and Clutha Valley.
Devils Creek Track to Mt Kinaki
Central Otago at its finest on the Devils Creek Track to Mt Kinaki (1309m). Arid, rocky landscapes including the deeply cut Devils Creek as a highlight.
Leaning Rock via Lilico Spur
This long walk climbs through farmland to the Waikerikeri Conservation Area, and then through rugged tussock grass country to the barren summit of Leaning Rock (1647m), where there are many large tors.
Cairnmuir Hill Track
This walk starts in New Zealand’s driest area, and climbs onto Cairnmuir Hill at 1114m of elevation. There are extensive views of the moody Dunstan Mountains, and over the flatlands further south.
Duffers Saddle to the Old Woman Range
Easy access to an arid alpine plateau on the Old Woman Range in Central Otago, with many tors & views of nearby mountains. This walk was the first we did in the region, and is a quick way to see a desserty alpine landscape.
And one walk from further east…
Hawkdun Range (point 1857m)
An excellent walk through tussock grass to the barren summit plateau of the Hawkdun Range (point 1857m), in the remote Maniototo region of Central Otago. This walk wasn’t all that photogenic, or perhaps my photography was just mediocre back then, but I did enjoy the walk.
For more information on walks around Alexandra and Cromwell have a look at this DOC brochure. For walks in the Lindis Valley to the north check out this DOC page. And there’s more tourist info on Central Otago here.