New Zealand pays homage to one of its provinces – Otago – each year on Otago Anniversary Day, officially on March 23. The celebrations themselves – of which there are multiple local events, parties, and more – take place on a public holiday that falls on the Monday immediately after March 23. People explore the region, learn about its history, and most will come together in one of Otago’s main cities, such as Dunedin.
History of Otago Anniversary Day
The New Zealand city of Otago has had human settlers for a long time, probably since the Māori moved there in the 1300s. By many accounts, they lived in relative isolation from the world, at least until the first European explorers came their way in the late 18th century.
While the first of these explorers — most famously, Captain James Cook — did not approach Otago, they did report to have seen a fire burning in this peninsula in 1770, which is recorded as the first human contact between the Māori and the Europeans in Otago.
Over time, more and more European settlers came to New Zealand, building homes and lives on these lands. Otago, so far untouched by most European settlers, was still owned by the Māori. This changed in the 1830s and 1840s, however, when the Māori agreed to sell off portions of their traditional land to the European settlers. A sale of land on July 31, 1844, for £2,400, to a U.K.-based company paved the way for a major European settlement in Otago. The initial name of this settlement was to be New Edinburgh, but they finally went with Otago instead.
And then, in 1848, the first wave of settlers came via two ships — the ‘John Wickliffe,’ which arrived first, and the ‘Philip Laing,’ which docked three weeks later, carrying twice the number of passengers than the first ship. These settlers founded the town of Otago in1853, creating a region called the Otago Province.
By 1875, all such regions (called provinces) were abolished, including the Otago Province. Only their names and geographical boundaries are still around today and are now called provincial districts. Many of them celebrate their own special anniversaries as a public holidays, although the dates and celebrations for each region vary.
The absence of provinces caused many New Zealanders to ask for the abolishment of these Provincial Anniversary holidays too, a movement that gained popularity in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. However, these holidays live on, as many regions have long-standing traditions and events for these weekends.
Otago Anniversary Day timeline
European settlers use an old Māori southern dialect word 'Otago' for the land they have newly settled in.
The John Wickliffe brings the first Scottish settlers to Otago, and this day is later commemorated as Otago Anniversary Day.
People discover gold in Central Otago, leading to massive expansion, commercialization, and development of this region, particularly in the colonial settlement of Dunedin.
New Zealand passes a law stating that each region hosting a Provincial Anniversary Day should commemorate the landing or founding of said province by the colonists.
Otago Anniversary Day FAQs
What does ‘Otago’ mean in Māori?
The name is thought to be a derivative of the Māori word ‘Ōtākou,’ which means “single village” or “place of red Earth.”
Is Otago a good place to live?
Otago has been described as a hospitable place to live and work in, with the locals welcoming skilled migrants with open arms. The region ranks well in terms of education, availability of essential services, quality of life, etc.
What is the Otago region known for?
Previously, Otago was famous for the 1860s gold rush, which helped establish Dunedin as New Zealand’s largest and most prosperous town. Today, Otago (and Dunedin) possesses a world-famous education system, and many of its academic institutions are the driving force behind this region’s economy.
Otago Anniversary Day Activities
Learn all you can about Otago
Check out various online sources or books to know more about Otago, its main attractions, what makes this place so special, and more. You can even explore the cuisine in restaurants and places near you offering an authentic New Zealand dining experience.
Plan a trip to Otago with your loved ones, maybe even around Otago Anniversary Day. If a trip isn't possible, explore the region virtually using online sources, videos, and documentary films.
Celebrate Otago, your way
Locals spend this public holiday on activities they enjoy. You can take the day off too, go on a little trip, try some authentic New Zealand cuisine, and plan any other fun activity you like.
5 Fun Facts About Otago And New Zealand
Almost 80% of Otago residents are of European descent and a majority of them are descendants of the Scottish colonists who came to these shores on the John Wickliff'.
Every province in the old days was governed by a separate government, and each had its own power.
Home to exotic wildlife
The world's rarest penguin, the world’s rarest sea lion, the New Zealand fur seal, and the little blue penguin are all found in Otago and surrounding areas of New Zealand.
World's steepest street
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Baldwin Street, in Dunedin, New Zealand, is the steepest of all streets in the world.
The Dunedin ship
There was once a ship called 'Dunedin' that successfully transported refrigerated meat and thus gave New Zealand a reputation as a major agricultural provider despite its remote location from other markets.
Why We Love Otago Anniversary Day
The region has a very storied history
Otago's story began in the 1300s and was cemented by the 19th-century settlers. This is what we are honoring every year that we celebrate Otago Anniversary Day.
A glimpse into another culture
Every special day that celebrates a different country is a sneak peek into that region's culture, traditions, and milieu. We, for one, are glad to get this glimpse into another nation's celebrations.
We're expanding our worldview too
With every new facet we learn, we add another dimension to the knowledge we carry around about the people from various countries. We believe every such celebration makes us more open and understanding of diverse customs and people.
Otago Anniversary Day dates