A land of four seasons
Central Otago is blessed with four distinct seasons. It is the hottest, driest and coldest place in New Zealand attracting swarms of holidaymakers in summer who can swelter in temperatures over 30 degrees celsius. In contrast, winters can see temperatures plummet to minus 8 degrees and below. Ice and hoar frosts are a stunning phenomenon in these parts, smothering trees and buildings in an icy grip that can last weeks. Autumns are cool and calm, full of vibrant orange and golden hues while spring is warmer, lush and full of fruit trees bursting with blossom that transform the valleys into a pink and white cloud of colour. The surrounding hills become scented and cloaked in a purple haze of flowering thyme.
UnrivaLled, rugged landscape
Clyde is at the heart of Central Otago’s rugged landscape of large basins, snowcapped mountain ranges, deep river gorges and glacial lakes. Central Otago is made up of a massive block of schist where large rivers like the Clutha/Matau-Au and the Kawarau have carved impressive gorges. The Clyde township is at the foot of the Dunstan Mountains, one of the lineup of rocky ranges whose crests are covered in rock tors – natural schist sculptures that can tower up to 20m. Names of other ranges such as Old Man, Knobby, Raggedy and Rock and Pillar reflect the region’s cragginess. This impressive landscape, often described as austere, wild, and desert-like continues to attract those who like a point of difference.
The Clyde Dam
The Clyde Dam, owned and operated by Contact Energy Limited, is 490m in length and 102m high, with a base width of 70m, making it New Zealand’s largest concrete gravity dam. It produces 432 megawatts of power (enough to power Christchurch and Dunedin cities). The huge scale of the Clyde dam can be witnessed at a lookout just north of the township where in times of larger flow the spillway can create a spectacular wall of water.
Farming the high hills and valleys
Merino wool is synonymous with the hill country of Central Otago. The fashion industry’s demand for the soft and durable merino fibre has seen a number of farmers and businesses selling to local and overseas markets. More recently, improved irrigation has seen diversification into beef, dairy and deer farming.
In the late1850s, mobs of fine-woolled merino sheep were driven overland to Central Otago onto large runs like Moutere and Earnscleugh, near Clyde. These stations supplied mutton to thousands of gold diggers during the gold rush. The first tent town (just south of Clyde) was called Mutton Town.
A fruitful harvest
It was the influx of hungry gold miners in the1860s that created the demand for the first market gardens and orchards in the area.
Today sensational summer fruit is produced in Central Otago by generations of experienced orchardists. You can sample delicious apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries as well as apples and pears at orchards near Clyde. Visit road side stalls, pick your own fruit at orchards along the way or delight in a berry dessert or fruit sorbet on a hot summer day.
Sipping award winning wines under big sunny skies and stony schist-ridden hills is a popular pastime in these parts. Central Otago is home to the southernmost vineyards in the world, where Pinot Noir has won the most accolades.
Central Otago’s wine industry began back in 1864 when Jean Desiré Feraud started growing grapevines at his Monte Christo vineyard along Springvale Road near Clyde. Feraud was first to produce wines, winning a number of awards in Australia and New Zealand in the early 1880s, however it wasn’t until 1988 that the first commercial wine was actually bottled.