The area known as Central Otago in Otago, New Zealand, includes the middle of the region but generally also most of the north-western portion (the Queenstown-Lakes District). This area is dominated by mountain ranges and the upper reaches of the Clutha River and tributaries. The wide flat plateau of the Maniototo which lies between the upper reaches of the Taieri River and the Clutha's northern tributary the Manuherikia is also usually considered part of Central Otago.
Characterised by cold winters and hot, dry summers, the area is only lightly populated, although there has recently been considerable development around the tourist towns of Queenstown and Wanaka. First significant European occupation came with the discovery of gold at Gabriel's Gully near Lawrence in 1861, which led to the Central Otago goldrush. Other towns and villages include Albert Town, Alexandra, Arrowtown, Bannockburn, Clyde, Cromwell, Hawea, Millers Flat, Naseby, Oturehua, Ranfurly, Roxburgh, St. Bathans, and Wedderburn.
Since the 19th century, most of the area's economic activity has centred on sheep, stone fruit, and tourism. In recent years, deer farms and vineyards have increased the region's economic diversification. Recently the cool climate varieties Riesling and Pinot Noir have been recognised as being especially suitable, and as the vines age Central Otago wines can be expected to improve even further, as the plantings are new and increasing rapidly. Central Otago is the world's southernmost commercial wine production region.
The Central Otago District Council, based in Alexandra, controls territorial authority matters, while the Otago Regional Council has overview of environmental matters such as clean air and water resources.
Shibboleth The colloquial name for Central Otago is simply "Central". Residents from the surrounding regions may not talk about being in Central Otago or going to Central Otago – instead referring to being or going "up Central" (this usage is mainly limited to residents of Canterbury, Otago and Southland).