local attractions

Things to see and do in Tapanui & West Otago

The West Otago area is rich with farming, forestry, and creative talent. The town's people have a reputation for being warm and welcoming, so don't be surprised if people wave to you as you drive through town or pass in the street - that's part of the charm.


There are many attractions and activities to do from hiking the Blue Mountains, gentle walks through rainforest at Whisky Gully and Black Gully, swimming at The Leithen water hole, dining at Top Nosh Cafe, playing a game of pool at Forest Lodge Hotel, or meandering the Blue Mountain Nursery, hire a bike from Whitechapel Gifts or browse a variety of gift and homeware stores. Tapanui was one of the main settings used in Disney's remake of Pete's Dragon. 

Hiking The Blue Mountains

Walk the Blue Mountains trail from Whisky Gully to Black Gully. It's a challenging and, in parts, steep hike which can take between 5-9hours to cover the 14 kilometer journey, depending on your fitness level.

West Otago Vintage Machinery Museum

We have a large collection of vintage tractors and implements in the Museum, some trucks and other vehicles, a display of many household goods and collection of historical information from the district. The historical information includes the trading records of many old West Otago businesses, family history, photographs and more.

Open on Saturdays and Sundays from 2pm to 4pm or by arrangement. Phone Phone Wilma Brock on (03) 207 6821.

Whisky Gully Waterfall Track

Hike to the Whisky Gully waterfall. It's a challenging 2 hour return walk to a small natural stream and waterfall, where you can drink from the spring or capture beautiful photographs. Challenging because the track is not well maintained. Wear sturdy footwear and always walk with someone. Mobile phone reception is limited in the gully. Access the track at the end of Bushyhill Street, Tapanui at the foot of the mountains. There is a sign marking the beginning of the walk.

The Leithen

The Leithen Glen is a popular place on the Pomahaka River for picnics, swimming and rock fishing. There are sweeping lawns, stone barbecue settings, toilets and changing shed all nestled among a pine forest. The river is fresh with light rapids and a deep, still section safe for swimming. Little ones will enjoy wading in the water from the pebbled banks. To get there, head along Paradise Flat Road, Kelso. It will turn into a gravel road which you follow all the way to the picnic area. Stay to the designated areas because hunters have permits and frequent the forest. Remember to drive carefully because it's a narrow two way road in and out.

Whisky Gully

Is at the southern end of The Blue Mountain Tramping Route and is within a short driving distance from Tapanui. At the beginning of the track is an easy 15 minute loop walk suitable for all ages – the native mistletoe flowers is in abundance right on Christmas. This is a lovely bush walk through ferns and beech trees, the bird life includes bellbirds and fantails. An hours walk will bring you to a beautiful waterfall.  The stream in front of the waterfall must be crossed in order to continue up a steep climb to the Blue Mountain Tops.  A tramp from Whisky Gully to the summit of the the Blue Mountains and back down to the car park takes about five hours. 


The country roads of West Otago are ideal for biking - check the maps and you will discover many ‘loops’ of varying distances from half hour duration to a full day trip. Two mountain bikes are available for hire from Whitechapel Gifts or contact Tapanui West Otago Promotions.


If golfing is your sport then Tapanui’s picturesque 18 hole course will surely entice you - or you may prefer the 9 hole course at Heriot, in each case, visitors are welcome.

Fishing the Pomahaka

The Pomahaka River has a well deserved reputation as one of the finest fishing rivers in New Zealand for either fly or thread-line.

Conical Hill Railway Tunnel

Walk through an abandoned railway tunnel at Conical Hill, only 12minutes drive from Tapanui. Look for glow worms as you wander through the dark damp space, and mind for spiders. Take a camera, tripod and maybe a sparkler for some creative photography opportunities. 


Wild deer and pigs inhabit the slopes and forests of the Blue Mountains. This area is renowned for hunting. Many of the forests in West Otago are owned by Ernslaw One and hunting is by permit only.

Kelso Flood Monument & Historic Homesteads

Take a drive to Kelso and see the Flood Monument. Beyond The Glen there is a picturesque riverside walk. Carry on north to Heriot and on the way you will see two historic homesteads and Todd Cottage, the birthplace of Todd Motors.

Black Gully

Black Gully is at the northern end of the Blue Mountain Tramping Route. Situated 13 kilometres fromTapanui, turn off SH90 near Crookston onto Black Gully Road East. An ideal picnic spot. Children love the historic play equipment. Huts and campsites are available. Mistletoe flowers freely at Christmas.  The Blue Mountain Tramping Route can be started at Black Gully. There is also a five hour loop which takes an alternative track up the left of Black Gully, coming out on the top of the Blue Mountains. Trampers then walk south for an hour along the tops before descending back down into the Black Gully Domain.

Look for the Mohua

Yellowhead Bush Canary - the locals call it ‘our bird’. The southern end of the Blue Mountains holds one of the largest remaining populations of the Mohua.


The unique and ever changing natural light of the West Otago landscape is a draw card for photographers. The varied flora and colourful fungi in the native bush also provides many photo opportunities. (Photo courtesy of A Ritchie)

For portraiture and wedding photography in and around West Otago there are a number of local photographers available: Kirsten McIntyre, Natwick, Michael Venz and F-Stop Photography.

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