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The Old Man Range, Central Otago: Driving to the Obelisk

The Old Man Range, Central Otago: Driving to the Obelisk

High above Central Otago, where only 4WDs dare to tread, sits a big rock next to what looks like a desolate moon base. Welcome to the Old Man Range, where you’ll drive to over 1600 metres above sea level and explore a barren, lifeless, and beautiful landscape the likes of which are rare in New Zealand.

Driving to the Old Man Range

The turnoff to the Old Man Range (the place we accessed it from at least) is located between Alexandra and Roxburgh (Symes Road, Fruitlands). This road leads to Mitchell’s Cottage, which is worth a quick stop, and from there it climbs above the valleys, vineyards, and settlements of Central Otago. This is a 4WD road, and while it wasn’t the roughest we’ve seen it’d be a struggle to get up there in anything but a 4WD. Definitely don’t take your little town car up there!

You’ll have to stop several times to open and shut gates, but you’ll also want to take plenty of photos. The landscape changes as you gain in elevation and there’s always something to see around the next corner.

The Top of the Bottom of the World

While researching The Old Man Range I stumbled upon an interesting fact (or it may not be true) – apparently there’s no higher point between the Old Man Range and the South Pole. So, you could say this is the top of the bottom of the world. That explains why it looks so lifeless and barren – I know it’s a bit of a cliché but it really does look how you might expect the Moon or Mars to look.

Once at the top you’ll see a transmission tower – head that way and you’ll soon reach the Obelisk. On the way you’ll see rocks of various shapes and sizes by the roadside. I’ve never seen anywhere else like this in New Zealand – if you’re into unique landscapes you should consider this trip.

The Obelisk / Kopuwai

The Obelisk, also known as Kopuwai, is a good spot to aim for when exploring the Old Man Range. There doesn’t seem to be many other landmarks or attractions to seek out, so the Obelisk is the obvious destination. At 26 metres high, it stands out above the cold earth and is a great spot for photos.

Other Things to Do at the Old Man Range

Apparently people go mountain biking at the Old Man Range – some people even bike there from the bottom of the hill! I’m not sure I’d be up for that, as you can see the same things from the comfort of a 4WD, but each to their own. There are also some walking tracks, but again, you can see so much from the road that I’m not sure there’s much point in doing a hike up there.

The Return Journey

We just drove back the way we came, but I read that you can continue past the Obelisk and drive down towards Fraser Dam. I have no idea what that road is like, but I have driven to Fraser Dam from Clyde and it’s a nice spot.

The Details

  • Weather: Weather at the Old Man Range can change quickly – some 4WDs got stuck in snow there recently. Make sure to check the weather report before you leave. It’s also advised to only do this trip in the warmer months – it snows a lot up there in winter and you’d likely get stuck if you attempted it. We did it in mid-April.
  • Time Taken: It took us around 90 minutes to drive up to the Obelisk and back.
  • Can you go in a normal car? No – this is a 4WD road only. We went with my dad, who has more of a “town” 4WD than a proper off-road vehicle, and it was fine. There were a couple of rough bits though and a normal car wouldn’t be able to handle them. There are also  tours which go up to the Old Man Range.

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.

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