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History , Horticulture , Forestry , Agriculture , Minerals and Resources Towns Statistics

The dry interior of New Zealandís southern South Island has a beauty of its own. Central Otago is a place of dramatic scenery - schist mountains studded with tors, vast landscapes where wide valleys were scoured by glaciers during the last Ice Age - and climatic extremes. The climate is a continental one, low rainfall, hot summers and cold winters.

Orchards proliferate around the river valleys, vineyards hug the north-facing slopes in warmer parts, and sheep and cattle graze the valleys and foothills. But the mountain ranges which disect the district support little more than native tussock grasses and are snow-covered for several months of the year.


Maori people came to Central Otago on expeditions in search of moa and other food. The first white people to settle were pastoralists, in the 1850's, but they were soon followed by the gold miners during the big gold rushes of the late 1800s.

The first major rush was in 1861 to Gabrielís Gully, south of Central Otago, but it was quickly followed by many other finds throughout the hinterlands, attracting diggers in their thousands to forge trails across the mountains to work in Central. Many remains of the goldmining era can still be seen throughout the district, in buildings, bridges, man-made lakes and piles of tailings.

But the districtís economy is now mainly based around servicing the agricultural and horticultural sectors, and a thriving tourism industry.Merino sheep which produce fine wool graze the high country sheep stations throughout the district. Located close to Queenstown, one of New Zealandís premier tourist resorts, and several skifields, Central Otagoís popularity is growing rapidly with outdoor enthusiasts because of the unlimited opportunities for mountain biking, walking, horse trekking, cross country skiing, fishing, boating and lake-based activities. It is also a popular retirement area.


Central Otago's pattern of settlement is very much a legacy from last century's goldmining era.

Alexandra is the main town servicing the Central Otago region. It has a population of about 4600 (1996 statistics), excellent community and sporting facilities, and is the business centre for the district. Formerly known as Lower Dunstan, it grew originally as an offshoot of Clyde (The Dunstan) but made its own name in the dredging boom of the 1890's.

Clyde, whose origins go back to the discovery of gold in the Cromwell Gorge (between Clyde and Cromwell) in 1862, is now a quiet town but a popular retirement and holiday centre. The main street has retained its historic character through the renovation of several historic buildings. It has a population of about 850 people.

Cromwell, 35km north of Alexandra or about 25km north of Clyde, through the spectacular Cromwell Gorge, has a population of about 2600, and is on the direct tourist route between Christchurch or Mount Cook and Queenstown. A new town mall was built in the 1980s to replace the old main street which was later flooded after commissioning of the Clyde Dam. An historic precinct at Old Cromwell is now a popular centre for arts and crafts.

Ranfurly, in the heart of the Maniototo, some 140km north-west of Dunedin and 100km east of Alexandra, lies on the Pig Root and is the farming service centre for the rural district in the eastern parts of Central Otago. It's population is 840. The nearby tiny townships of Naseby and St Bathans once supported 5000 and 2000 goldminers respectively. They are now popular summer destinations for holiday makers and visitors.

Roxburgh, some 50km south of Alexandra, is now a fruitgrowing and farming centre. During the gold rush era, some 20 gold dredges worked the Clutha River nearby. It has a population of 740


Population 15,000
Major Towns Alexandra 5,000
Clyde 800
Cromwell 3,500
Ranfurly 900
Roxburgh 750
Location 450km from Christchurch
190km from Dunedin
90km from Queenstown
85km from Wanaka
370km from Milford Sound
240km from Mt Cook

Mediterranean style climate with hot summers and cool crisp winters.

Summer Temperatures 15 - 35 C
Winter Temperatures -6 - 15 C

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