Four Wheel Driving in Central Otago (4WD)

Venture into Central Otago’s heartland to experience splendid clear blue skies, rugged golden tussock landscapes and spectacular wide-screen mountain vistas on a high-country four-wheel drive safari.

Four-wheel driving in Central Otago is an original experience that provides opportunities for you to access and enjoy some of New Zealand’s most striking and majestic scenery. The unique vast, open terrain tells its own tales of hardship and prosperity as settlers seeking fortunes in gold and farming have often struggled to survive. It’s a landscape of unsurpassed stark beauty that’s captured the imagination of film-maker Peter Jackson and artist Grahame Sydney alike.

Choose a tour that’s custom-made to meet your interests: trace the footsteps of Central Otago gold miners, visiting old gold-mining sites and historic dwellings. See the spectacular rocky tors featured in the Lord of the Rings’ movies and marvel at the panoramic views that form the movies’ backdrop. Enjoy the beauty of a trip through the high country, taking in a spot of brown trout fishing at a clear stream or mountain lake, or yarn with locals about high-country farm life and the history of the earliest European settlers.

Local companies run four-wheel drive trips usually from August to May. Most trips are around four to six hours with smoko (Billy Tea) and light refreshments along the way.

When opting to self explore the Central Otago back country remember the majority of trails in Central Otago will take you well into the high country. So even if you begin your journey on a hot sunny day you must be prepared for all weathers, as snow can be expected on the ranges at any time of the year. All road conditions can change rapidly and become impassible in wet and/or snowy conditions. 

The self-drive tracks described are only suitable for high ground clearance, low ratio 4wd vehicles.

We encourage everybody to observe the following guidelines:

Safety is your responsibility. Make sure you always have warm and waterproof clothing and are prepared for all weather and conditions. Take plenty of water, food, fuel, break-down tools, spare parts and emergency communication equipment on trips. Carry maps and a compass or GPS and know how to use them. In remote areas travel with another vehicle, 4WD club or go with a licensed tour operator.
  • Avoid driving in sensitive areas
  • Respect all road closures and locked gates
  • Stay on roads and avoid widening them
  • Take all your rubbish with you
  • Leave gates as you find them. Obtain permission for access if required.
  • Always thoroughly clean your vehicle before and after trips to minimise spreading weeds and diseases.
  • Respect the right of others for quiet enjoyment. Give way to walkers, cyclists, horse riders and others.
  • Cross waterways with care and at designated crossings.
  • Never move or remove historic artifacts from public or private land
  • Visit the local Information Centre for up to date track information and brochures detailing your route
The Dunstan Trail, Nevis Road and Onslow Road are all closed during Winter - June to 30 September. Please observe all locked gates and road closure signs.

Nevis Valley

The road to the Nevis Valley ascends to 1300m on the Carrick Range behind Bannockburn where there are wonderful views back over Cromwell, Lake Dunstan and the Upper Clutha Valley and then descends into the hidden Nevis valley. To visualize the activity that went on over 100 years ago, astonishes and stretches the imagination.

Thomson's gorge

The Thomson’s Gorge route bisects the Dunstan Mountains and follows the track that led from the Manuherikia Valley to the gold mines of Bendigo. Thomson’s Creek and the Rise and Shine valley en-route see you travelling through gold fields that were once home to many and bustling with activity.

Dunstan Trail

Known as the ‘Mountain Track’ the Dunstan Trail was a way to the riches of the interior. Used by gold miners seeking the riches of the Dunstan gold diggings in the 1860’s, it was the shortest viable route from Dunedin to Dunstan (Clyde) crossing Rough Ridge and the Rock and Pillar ranges.

The Onslow Road

The Onslow Road is a route from Paerau (Styx) to Roxburgh via Lake Onslow. The track wends its way through lonely hills and affords spectacular views over the fruit bowl that is the Teviot Valley. The whole route is scenic with a rugged, desolate landscape typical of Central Otago.

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