Waitaki District

A visit to the Waitaki district is bound to be rewarding, no matter what time of year or what type of day. It is a place of wonder, with awesome valleys, majestic mountains, pristine lakes, raging rivers, unique wildlife and unbelievable scenery

The Waitaki district lies in the centre of the South Island of New Zealand, close to 45 degrees south – the parallel that is exactly halfway between the Equator and the South Pole.

The area is a popular spot for people who like fishing, and for boating enthusiasts, and a sports-person’s paradise, thanks to the fabulous lakes on the Waitaki River. People flock from throughout New Zealand and overseas to enjoy the outdoor pursuits and tranquility.

Enjoy the friendly service of local businesses, and visit the arts and crafts. Picnic among the majestic mountains, rivers and lakes.

View more photos in our Waitaki photo gallery.

The first Europeans in the Lower Waitaki were probably whalers, sealers and missionaries in the 1830’s. In 1851 the Crown issued licenses for pastoral run leases and 13 sheep runs were established.

In 1864 Edward Shortland became the first European to describe the Waitaki Plains. After trekking north to the river and crossing in a mokihi with Huru Huru, the rangitira, he described the soil as ‘stony and barren’, ideally suited to sheep grazing. From this time, settlers began to arrive crossing the river first by ferry and then, in 1876, by road and rail bridge.

In addition to sheep grazing, the soil and climate proved productive for crops, primarily wheat and barley. Drought was an ever-present threat, but the advent of widespread irrigation in the 1960’s trebled production; led to a diversity of new crops such as peas, rapeseed, sunflowers and fruit; and introduced dairying to the region.

Further inland, near Papakaio, was the only forested area left in the Lower Waitaki. It was first settled in the 1850’s when the Filluel brothers took up a sheep run, and today the area is all rich farmland.

Near Duntroon where the Maerewhenua River enters the Waitaki, is a road leading to Livingstone. In 1874 gold was found here but it was a poor man’s diggings and the town has all but vanished. There is a holiday camp nearby where you can spend a pleasant day swimming, fishing or panning for gold before heading back to Duntroon. Alternatively, you can return to Oamaru via Ngapara and the spectacular limestone downlands, or take the gravel road to Central Otago over Dansey’s Pass amid wonderful mountain scenery.