New Otago heritage trail signposts history and culture landmarks

Discover some of New Zealand’s history at these landmark sites.

New Zealand’s history may be short, but it’s rich with culture. The new Landmarks initiative recognises the most iconic historic and culture spots across the country to tell the story of New Zealand’s heritage.

First launched in the Northland region in 2016, the Landmarks network has now moved into New Zealand’s South Island recognising 12 of the Otago region’s most important locations. Landmarks is expected to expand to other New Zealand regions over the coming year.

The trail of Otago sites travels from Lake Wakatipu and the old goldfields of Central Otago to the Pacific Coast and the rugged Otago Peninsula. These can be easily accessed by car and local transport options. 

Here’s a quick snapshot of the 12 sites. For more information, visit 

Arrowtown - One golden village, two tales

A visit to this thriving picture-postcard tourist town, near Queenstown, enables visitors to view both sides of the gold-rush coin: the preserved avenue where wealthy banks and merchants traded in the mid-1800s, and the restored huts on the edge of town that reveal the spartan lifestyles of the Chinese miners.

Bannockburn Sluicings - Man-made Badlands

Visit the remains of the dams, tunnels, walls and water races that were built to flush out the hard-earned golden reward. The result is a spectacular man-made landscape that can be explored on foot or bike via various tracks. The last vestiges of rammed-earth houses where the miners lived can still be seen.

Dunedin Railway Station - A first-class destination

Ornate and flamboyant … but some Dunedin residents back in 1906 thought the lavatories "too luxurious". Dunedin’s railway station is today considered one of the world’s best. Built when 100 trains would come and go in a day, this ‘giant gingerbread house’ is now the departure point for the historic Taieri Gorge Railway service. The interior houses a restaurant, a gallery and the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

Hayes Engineering Works - A home of Kiwi invention

A vast collection of artefacts remain in the workshop and home of Ernest Hayes, inventor and manufacturer of agricultural labour-saving devices. Most notable was his design of the fence-fixing wire strainer, which sold internationally and is still used today. His wife, Hannah, cycled all over the country taking orders for his wares – no mean feat in a land of mountains, lakes and rivers.

Historic Oamaru - A Victorian time capsule

This atmospheric old town centre of ornately carved stone buildings tells of Victorian hopes and dreams during the late 19th century. Visitors can walk in and around well-preserved buildings that housed merchant and engineering enterprises, grain stores and banks, or visit the fantastical Steampunk HQ museum. Victorian wardrobe hire and regular heritage events – including the annual Steampunk festival – enable visitors to relive this era.

Kawarau Suspension Bridge - A leap of faith

This is the world birthplace of commercial bungy, where people leap from the equivalent of a 10-storey building held safe by a giant elastic band. It is also where an innovative suspension bridge enabled safe crossing of the notoriously windy canyon. Engineer Harry Higginson won a world’s top engineering award for his work in 1882.

Larnach Castle - New Zealand’s tragic castle

Larnach Castle tells a colourful story, but this is no fairy tale. The majestic mansion was built in the 1870s sparing no expense. However, William Larnach’s personal fortunes later crumbled to the extent that he took his own life. His grand vision fell into disrepair but has since been lavishly restored and improved on.

Olveston - A slice of grand Edwardian life preserved

Much more than a museum, Olveston is loved by all because of the authentic ‘lived in’ presentation of its rich art and artefacts. Visitors enter into the real home occupied by the wealthy Theomin family for 60 years (1906 to 1966). The last member of this generous family, Dorothy Theomin, gifted Olveston to the City of Dunedin in 1966.

Otago Central Rail Trail - Pedalling Otago’s rural heart 

This popular cycle journey through beautiful pastoral landscapes offers a taste of the genuine hospitality of the local sheep-farming community. Gold and pastoral farming was the heart of Central Otago's economy and the railway provided the life blood for these isolated communities. Visitors today can stay with farming families and enjoy country town hospitality.

Taieri Gorge Railway - Bridging the gap 

Departing from Dunedin’s first-class railway station the journey on the Taieri Gorge Railway was once the only realistic and reliable transport for both freight and passengers between Central Otago and Dunedin. The scenic rail journey to Central Otago negotiates the spectacular Taieri Gorge, travelling  through 10 tunnels, countless bridges and viaducts.

Totara Estate - Putting New Zealand sheep on the world table 

It was from this once-grand estate that the first shipment of frozen mutton was sent to England, marking the start of an export industry that has underpinned New Zealand’s economic prosperity. Wonderfully restored Oamaru stone buildings provide a view of rural life in Victorian times, with family-friendly activities on offer. 

TSS Earnslaw - Lady of the Lake

TSS Earnslaw is one of the world’s oldest and largest remaining steamships and has graced Lake Wakatipu since 1912. In the days before any roads existed, she ferried people, sheep and goods to lake destinations, including one called Paradise. Now she’s a pleasure cruiser, delivering people to attractions across the lake.