Otago Province takes up much of the southeast quadrant of the South Island and has two distinct regions, each a drawcard in its own right. Offering spectacular opportunities for wildlife and marine mammal watching, coastal Otago stretches across moist and verdant hills, its intricate coastline of headlands, inlets, and misty beaches strung with historic settlements. By comparison, inland Otago is stark yet jaw-droppingly beautiful, a drier landscape of spectacular schist outcrops and tussock grasslands, punctuated occasionally by small towns that still exude pioneering character. Draining much of Otago is the mighty Clutha River, the largest-volume waterway in the country.
In 1848 Dunedin was settled, and all the land from the top of the Otago Peninsula south to the Clutha River and sections farther inland were purchased from the Māori. By the mid-1860s Dunedin was the economic hub of the Otago gold rush. Dunedin's historical wealth and Scottish influence endures in monuments and institutions such as the University of Otago, the oldest in the country.
Invercargill, to the south, was born out of different economic imperatives. After wealthy graziers bought swaths of Southland for their sheep, they needed a local port to bring in more stock from Australia. The town of Bluff, already familiar to sealers, was selected as an ideal location. Invercargill became the administrative center to the port and then to the whole region. Until recent years, the town's economy focused on raising sheep and other livestock and crops; it is now becoming a more diverse metropolis.
Hanging off the bottom of the South Island and separated by 30-km-wide (19-mile-wide) Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island is a world all of its own. Commercial fishing and tourism accounts for most of the commercial activity in the island's only settlement, which soon gives way to bushland that the kiwi bird still haunts. At night, the nocturnal birds can be seen wandering remote beaches. Another late night show is the aurora australis, the southern hemisphere equivalent of the northern lights, which can light up the sky.