The province of Otago occupies much of the southeast quadrant of the South Island. During the first three decades of the 1800s, European whaling ships cruised its coast and ventured ashore, yielding a mixed response from the Māori, who had been living here for hundreds of years.
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 endures in such institutions as the University of Otago, the oldest in the country.
Invercargill, to the south, was born out of different economic imperatives. After the Dunedin settlers 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 economic focus remained that of raising sheep and other livestock and crops; it is now becoming a more diverse metropolis.
Hanging off the bottom of South Island, Stewart Island is a study in remoteness. Commercial-fishing settlements give way to bushland that the kiwi bird still haunts. At night, the birds can be seen wandering the beaches. On some nights the aurora australis, the Southern Hemisphere equivalent of the northern lights, light up the sky.