Oamaru to Wanaka via the Maniototo

Oamaru to Wanaka via the Maniototo

Oamaru to Wanaka via the Maniototo

Driving: 230km. Straightforward driving on uncrowded roads.

The Good South gem: Dansey’s Pass, Naseby and St Bathans loop option


Oamaru to Wanaka

From the East coast to the dry interior of Central Otago, this uncrowded route to Wanaka and Queenstown has huge vistas and intriguing backroad options.

With the Southern Alps to the west and the Old Man Range to the north forming the horizon’s edge, the big sky country of the Maniototo is only an hour from the foothills of the Southern Alps and the entry to Mt Aspiring/Tititea national park.

Heading south from Oamaru, a scenic option is the coast road to Herbert, which comes out onto SH 1 just before the Moeraki boulders and township.  Please be aware of extensive tourist traffic on this stretch of road especially the turnoffs to the viewing areas.

The turn-off inland to the dry Maniototo Plain is at Palmerston.  After negotiating coastal hill country the road straightens and the landscape opens up to the arid, broad interior of Central Otago.

Maniototo roughly translates to “Blood Plain” in Maori and has several variations on its origins. One of the more reliable versions is that when the plain was discovered by Maori travellers it was late afternoon and the sun’s angle on the red tussock created the illusion of blood covered landscape.

Fortunately for visitors, the local populace are usually a friendly bunch, with the art deco themed buildings of  Ranfurly providing some points of interest. The iconic Rail Trail cycle track passes through here, with some travellers taking turns to do different sections. 

From Ranfurly you then pass by Wedderburn,  continuing on to Becks, Lauder and the service town of Omakau. The town’s Commercial Hotel recently was awarded New Zeland’s country pub of the year, so is well worth a stop. The nearby township of Ophir across the Manuherikia River is another option.  Pitches, a restored stone building from the 1860’s has luxury accommodation and a a highly regarded kitchen.


Dansey’s Pass, Naseby and St Bathan’s loop option

Turning off at Kyeburn for a diversion through the Dansey’s Pass settlement and the old townships of Naseby and St Bathans with its resident ghost in the pub is an excellent option for spending more time in the area. The Dansey’s pass hotel has been extensively renovated and could be a good choice for a quality lunch. Naseby has it’s own indoor curling area reflecting the strong tradition of the sport in the frozen lakes in the winter. The township also has extensive mountain biking tracks with good support from local businesses. Returning to Highway 85, you will soon pass by the much photographed Wedderburn shed then continue on to the signposted turnoff to St Bathans. After a stop here, it’s onward to Omakau via Clyde, Cromwell and Wanaka.

Omakau to Wanaka

chatto Creek is the next small community after Omakau, then the turnoff toward Wanaka and Queenstown unless you want to go to Alexandra. Clyde at teh base of the dam is worth a visit before climbing the hill to the shoreline road along Lake Dunstan. One alternative route on the approach to Cromwell after travelling past Lake Dunstan through the gorge is to stay on the East side of the lake to the historical Bendigo area then on to the tearoom at Tarras on Highway 8, before heading to Wanaka on 8A.