Otago is a region of New Zealand in the south-east of the South Island. It has an area of approximately 32,000 km² (12,350 square miles), making it the country's second-largest region. In the 2006 census, it had a population of 193,800.
The name "Otago" anglicises the Kai Tahu Māori dialect name "Ōtākou". The village of Otakou on the Otago Peninsula served as a whaling base during early years of European economic interest in the east coast of Murihiku around 1840.
Major centres include Dunedin (the Central City of the Region), Oamaru (made famous by Janet Frame), Balclutha, Alexandra, and the major tourist centres Queenstown and Wanaka. Kaitangata in South Otago provides a prominent coal source. The Waitaki and Clutha rivers also provide for much of the country's hydroelectricity-generated electricity.
New Zealand's first university, The University of Otago, was founded in 1869 as the provincial university in Dunedin.
The Central Otago area produces award winning wines made from varieties such as the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Riesling grapes. Central Otago has an increasing reputation as New Zealand’s leading pinot noir region.
Beginning in the west, the geography of Otago consists of high alpine mountains. The highest peak in Otago is Mount Aspiring, which is on the Main Divide. From the high mountains the rivers discharge into large glacial lakes. In this part of Otago glacial activity - both recent and very old - dominates landscapes, with large 'U' shaped valleys and rivers which have high sediment loads. River flows also vary dramatically, with large flood flows occurring after heavy rain. Lakes Wakatipu, Wanaka and Hawea form the sources of the Clutha, the largest river (by discharge) in New Zealand. The Clutha flows through Otago and discharges near Balclutha.
As you travel east from the mountains, the Central Otago drylands predominate. These are dominated by the block mountains; upthrust schist mountains. Compared to Canterbury, where the Northwest winds blow across the plains without interruption, in Otago the block mountains impede and dilute the effects of the Nor'wester.
The main Central Otago Centres, such as Alexandra and Cromwell, are found in the intermontane basins between the block mountains. The schist bedrock influence extends to the eastern part of Otago where remnant volcanics mark its edge. The remains of the most spectacular of these are the Miocene volcanics centred on Otago Harbour. Elsewhere, basalt outcrops can be found along the coast and at other sites.
In Central Otago cold frosty winters are succeeded by hot dry summers. Central Otago's climate is the closest approximation to a continental climate anywhere in New Zealand. This climate is part of the reason why Otago is a successful wine-growing region.
Wording courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org/
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