Shielded from the cool waters of the Southern Ocean by the Otago Peninsula, lays Otago Harbour. It is 22 kilometres in length, and 9 kilometres in width, at its widest point. The peninsula runs parallel to the harbour and connects to the mainland at it’s Southern tip. It’s shape and north/south facing orientation funnels the nor’easterly and sou’westerly winds down the length of the harbour, increasing the wind intensity and living up to area’s nickname, the Roaring Forties.
Inside the harbour on the low tide, almost half is exposed as sand flats, giving wading birds an extensive and rich feeding habitat. The many leafy trees and rocky cliffs nearby allow themselves to be nested and perched on by a variety of native birds.
For as far as you can see are cone shaped hills and colourful rock formations, evidence of an active volcanic period between 9 and 13 million years ago. Dunedin’s now extinct volcano spanned 40 kilometres in diameter and almost 1 kilometre in height, leaving behind a rugged landscape of ridges and trenches, some hidden deep beneath the water.
Otago Harbour and the surrounding areas are of national significance. Early European and native Maori history here is strong. One of New Zealand’s main National Defence stations, dating back to the 1880’s, is located at the harbour entrance. Taiaroa Head once hosted a number of military armaments, some of which still remain. A short distance away was the site of one of the largest whaling stations in New Zealand. Also in this area was the gateway for Antarctic explorers and those seeking to find gold during the gold-rush period on the 1860s. It’s was from here that New Zealand’s first successful shipment of exported frozen meat left, in 1881. Otago Harbour is somewhat of a ship’s graveyard as it was the site of a number of shipwrecks and maritime disasters. A few ship’s remains can be seen at rest, on the shoreline.
The nature of the landscape, the combination of effects from the wind, tide and temperature variations of the sea, means that the Otago Harbour can successfully host a variety of marine animal life, including some very rare and endangered animals. The uniqueness of its natural scenery, the significant historical events and the past and present industrial milestones, make Otago Harbour a place of intrigue and endless discovery, no matter what your interests or experience.