Human occupation can be dated back 800 years.
Polynesians found their way to the plains and basins of the eastern and southern South Island, where the flightless moa were found.
Much of Otago was burnt in the moa hunts, and the forest was replaced by tussock.
Too cold to grow kumara (sweet potato), there was no horticulture.
Settlement was focused on the coast, where ocean fish, seabirds and seals were plentiful. People journeyed inland to harvest eels, forest birds such as weka and wood pigeons, and cabbage trees.
Maori also travelled to sources of highly-valued pounamu (greenstone) in the headwaters of rivers draining into Lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka, and on the South Island’s West Coast.
The discovery of gold brought a huge influx of Europeans and Chinese . The influx of Irish alongside Scots and English made the goldfields districts more Catholic and less Presbyterian than the rest of Otago.
Flora and Fauna
Flora: When humans first arrived in Otago, it was probably covered in forests of matai and totara.
Maori burnt much of the forest, which was unable to regenerate in the dry climate, and tussock took its place. Today tussock is most common on the heights. The lower-lying parts of Central Otago are planted in pasture with stands of orchard and shelter trees. These, particularly poplars, display dramatic colour changes in late autumn.
Beech forest grows on the Otago section of the Southern Alps, between 800 and 1,200 metres. Higher up this gives way to tussock, then subalpine plants, and then bare rock and snow.
Fauna: Otago today is known for its smaller animals, notably skinks. The rare Cromwell chafer beetle is found only in a small area near Cromwell.
There are also huge wetland areas where populations of water birds thrive.
Deer and pigs are present and are hunted recreationally.