The Waitaki day drive

On the doorstep of Oamaru in the north is the Waitaki valley. Stretching along a 75 km strip of land between the gorgeous Southern Alps and the gleaming Pacific Ocean, and bisected by the dramatically changing Waitaki River, it’s easy to get lost amongst the natural grandeur and hidden gems here.

Kick off the day bright and early and try your hand at some salmon fishing on the lower Waitaki River. In the South Island this river has the second greatest flow and, with it, a renowned annual salmon run and some great big water trout fishing. If you don’t have the gear don’t worry – the local guides can provide everything you need (including some handy tips on hidden locales).

For many a day fishing in the Waitaki will start and end at the river. After all, there are plenty of spots to visit and why rush through something so relaxing and inspiring? However if you’re looking to continue an hour up the road you’ll be greeted with a number of memorable sights and experiences.

At the far end of the valley you’ll find the sleepy south island town of Omarama and often see gliders floating gracefully on the thermals here.

The natural amphitheatre provided by the Omarama basin is seen by many as one of the best gliding locations in the world. Best of all, the local gliding experts can take you up for a memorable flight of your own.

If all that adrenalin surging flying is too much the other end of the experience is well catered for – the local hot pools provide luxurious rest and relaxation with some impressive scenery. The spectacular clay cliffs here look like something out of a 1950’s western and it’s no surprise the location has been used for major Hollywood film shoots.

If you’ve got a bike or two on the car and are travelling in a group we’d suggest going off road for a section of the trip back to Oamaru and Poshtel. The Alps to Ocean bike trail opened a few years back and since then has steadily grown in popularity as both locals and international visitors spread the word of the beauty and excitement to be found here.

Today you’re mostly on the road however and there’s always a need for a refreshment break or two. You’re in luck. The valley is home to lush vineyards and some friendly, welcoming wineries too.

For the wine and cheese lovers the Kurow Winery is a must-visit. The delectable wines and platters here are worth savouring. Grab a bottle or two to enjoy at a later time. The nearby Kurow township has more delights for the wine lover too, the old post office there converted to act as a tasting room for the nearby Ostler Vineyards. Now you’ve enjoyed the culinary delight, how about some historical inspiration?

Close by are two key sites of cultural significance, with Māori rock artworks that date back to before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand. These important charcoal-and-ochre paintings can be found on the walls of local limestone outcrops, and is well worth stopping in to see.

Close to the ancient art sites is another incredible landscape. Take the turnoff near Duntroon and travel a few minutes to step into the incredible Elephant Rocks landscape, an inspirational setting that served as a movie set for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

If you’re after a little more action and excitement there’s plenty to be had on Lake Benmore. Local jet-boating companies provide thrills aplenty. Stop by Otematata and load up on supplies before getting out on the water.

At the top of the valley you may want to travel a little further to take in Lake Ohau, perhaps stopping off at the lodge here for a quick drink before returning down the valley for a delicious meal and a restful sleep back in Oamaru.