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The coolest little town in the Māniatoto


Ōtūrēhua , or Rough Ridge as it was once known,  lies in the Ida Valley on the western flank of the Māniatoto, a  high-altitude plain in Aotearoa New Zealand’s Central Otago. Flanked and dissected by mountain ranges and valleys, crossed by rivers and creeks, the Māniatoto is as far from the sea as one can get in New Zealand. Its vast landscape, big skies and ever-changing interplay of light and shade on mountains, hills and plains give the Māniatoto an expansive, elemental beauty. At night, lack of light pollution presents a skyscape brilliant with stars.


The region is one of extremes. New Zealand’s highest and lowest temperatures have been recorded here, winds can change from howling nor-wester to freezing southerly within an hour, and a mild, gentle rain turn to snowfall overnight, even in summer. These conditions combine to grind schist rocks along the tops of the ranges into myriad shapes.


The eroded material washed down onto the plains contributes to the soils that today support pasturage for sheep and cattle, and the wide swathes of tussocks, sedges, herbs, and low-lying shrubs that form the Māniatoto’s remnant indigenous vegetation bring a distinctive year-round tawny colour to the landscape. Introduced trees such as willow and poplar planted around waterways and farms dot and soften the landscape. They also mark out the area’s four distinct seasons, with the bright-green foliage of spring turning dark green in summer and then gold and red in autumn, after which  branches, bereft of leaves, sparkle with hoar frost or snow in the winter

Ōtūrēhua, as a place name, is made up of ō (place of), tū (to stand) and Rēhua (the star Antares). It has been translated into English as ‘Place where the summer star (Antares) stands still’ or ‘the sun god’. 

Situated in the Ida Valley of the Māniatoto, the small village (pop. around 34) is one of those 'blink and you miss it' towns that populate New Zealand's hinterland. Ōtūrēhua appears unremarkable, and locals are happy for it to stay that way. Some visitors regard it as the 'middle of nowhere'. If that's the case, 'nowhere' is not a bad sort of a place to be.

The town is bordered on one side by Blackstone Hill, and on the other by the craggy slopes of Rough Ridge. Toward the north is the curtain of the Hawkdun Range, shouldered by Mt St Bathans and Mt Ida. As with most Central Otago sites, the sky is massive, endless, and intriguingly changing.

The settlement has variously been a Māori food-gathering and quarrying area, a gold rush site, a sheep and cattle farming hub, and more lately a home for a wide variety of people who find Oturehua to be a wonderful community in which to live.

At one time the railway ran alongside the town, and was the lifeblood of it. When the railway closed and the tracks were pulled up, it looked dire for the survival of the place. But then the rail trail was developed, and provided a cycling highway for the summer months.

Nowadays Ōtūrēhua is a vibrant community with a diverse collection of interesting people. It's not a growth town, and has no ambition to become one. But it is a serene refuge set in a vast and compelling landscape. We do welcome and appreciate visitors to our home.

Brian Turner.jpg

"The glamour's in the land

and skies and what they nourish

within.  The real troubadours

are wind and water and sunshine

and the brilliance of starlight"

Brian Turner – former Poet Laureate, essayist, biographer, environmental activist, NZ icon.

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