Central Otago Tours & Wildflower Walks


John Douglas, Safari Excursions, 41 Glencarron Street  
Alexandra, Central Otago, New Zealand  
Phone 0064 3 (area code) 448 7474 Fax 0064 3(area code) 448 8118  
email: jdouglas.alx@xtra.co.nz 

Mysotis albosericeaPhoto: Myosotis albosericea - an extremely rare alpine plant which is endemic only to the Dunstan Mountains in Central Otago. 

Central Otago has a most unique collection of New Zealand flora and fauna of which the alpine flora and some of the valley survivors are found nowhere else in the world.

Wild flowers of New Zealand comprise native plants and introduced plants. Over 90% of our native plants are unique to New Zealand and have existed here and developed on their own for millions of years. The introduced plants have been brought to New Zealand from almost all parts of the world, generally from Europe and deliberately, during the 19th and 20th centuries. Native plants can be easily recognised from introduced plants, in that the majority of New Zealand plants are white flowering with a few of the remainder, yellow flowering with occasional pale blue.

Craspedia lanata
Craspedia lanata

In Central Otago, down in the valleys and on the lower slopes, native plants have been mainly replaced by the introduced species. As we climb the mountains, native flora become more obvious while the alpine zone is nearly all still native. It's these alpine plants - about 93 percent, if you include the sub-antarctic Islands that are endemic to New Zealand. A lot of these alpine plants are themselves endemic to these Central Otago Mountains while one or two species can only be found in single alpine areas.

wetlands Dunstan Range
looking towards Leaning Rock,
Dunstan Range
From late spring through to late autumn, and even in winter, most of the Central Otago mountains can be accessed to view the flowers, the lichen, the insects and the bird life. Close to Alexandra are the Old Man Range and Dunstan Mountains while further away, Rock and Pillar Range, Old Woman Range, Pisa Range, to the schist scree slopes of The Remarkables. Access to other mountains may also be arranged like to the Hawkdun Range, the greywacke scree slopes of St Bathans Range.

Most of the high country Otago mountain tops are now or will soon to become Crown Reserves, administered by the Department of Conservation so that the majority of the high altitude land is now no longer, or soon to be no longer grazed.

Celmisia viscosa
Celmisia viscosa, Old Man Range
Once the snow clears in late spring, the first flowers appear emerging from the snow-banks and along the mountain stream banks. In certain years, some slopes or cushion fields can be found fully covered in one of the many mountain daisy species. These are magic moments. Right through summer and into autumn, various genus / species will always be found flowering while some can always can be found flowering, depending on their particular location sites over the mountain itself.

The peak flowering time for the higher altitude plants is December / January / mid February. Also this is the most active time for the alpine moths, butterflies and insects to be out flying or crawling. Normally from February right through to May, the weather is at its best as well as most of the previous winter snow has now gone. (NB: Snow blizzards can happen any time over summer.)

Celmisia viscosa
Brachysome sinclairii 
Brachyglottis haastii
Brachyglottis haastii 

If and when the mountain weather is unsuitable, there are always our lowland walks to some of now protected or abundant wastelands around Alexandra - Earnscleugh Tailings or to Flat Top Hill - a Department of Conservation Reserve with its representation of Central Otago dryland ecology or to the Pisa Flat (Mahaka Katia) Reserve just out from Cromwell, or to a distance trip to Middlemarch - the Sutton Salt Lake Scenic Reserve.

SPRING SEASON. September - November.
While the snow still covers the mountain summits, the flowers down in the valleys and on the lower foothills start to emerge. The best areas for these walks are around the Drylands close to Alexandra, Flat Top Hill Conservation Reserve just out from Alexandra or to the last of the Upper Clutha Valley cushion fields - the Pisa Flat (Mahaka Katia) Scientific Reserve, on the terraces beside Lake Dunstan.

SUMMER SEASON. November - February.
By November all of the lowland is in flower although some of the spring annuals will now be in seed. Lowland walks can continue right through summer - plants still in flower or going into seed or berry.

The snow on the mountain tracks has now cleared and the first of the alpine plants will be appearing from the snow-banks. Mid December through to the end of January will see the majority of the alpine flora in flower - wetlands, cushion fields, herbfields and around the rock outcrops. Visits to all of the Central Otago mountains are possible - Old Man Range summit, Campbells Basin (Old Man Range), Dunstan Mountains, Rock & Pillar Range, St Bathans with its greywacke scree slopes, Pisa Range, The Remarkables with its schist scree slopes just to name a few. The early flowering alpines are now in seed by February but there are still areas on the mountains still in flower, while some species are still yet to peak.

Other walks that can take in the flowers are to some of Central Otago historical gold field sites - Mt Buster Diggings (Ida Range), Serpentine Diggings (South Rough Ridge), Macetown (Arrow River), Potters (Old Man Range), Fraser Basin (Old Man Range) and the Young Australian Reserve (Carrick Range).

All the walk options are still possible though now the majority of the flowers are seeding or in berry. The mountains are getting colder and by May the snow drifts across the mountain tracks can temporarily close the "roads". Most of the alpines that have flowered are in seed / berry although their can still the odd plant in flower. The autumn colours in April are now at their best time. Its a good time to see Central Otago, especially Macetown and Skippers, as most of the introduced trees are now loosing their leaves adding dramatically to the landscape scenery the colours /shads of yellows and reds.

WINTER SEASON. June - August.
The lowland visiting options are still available. The lowland scenery looks a little bleak - frost can lie in the shade all day while the odd snowfall can temporarily cover the ground. Seeds from the plants have now blown away and most of the berries have now all been eaten. The mountains are now covered in deep snow although it is possible to observe how they are surviving by a drive up some of the all weather roads eg. Nevis Road - Carrick range, Symes Road - Old Man Range.

Researched by John Douglas. For more information email: jdouglas.alx@xtra.co.nz

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