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Otago is one of the southernmost regions of New Zealand, and the second-largest, but contains only about 200,000 people because its topography is fairly mountainous. Its north-eastern boundary is the Waitaki River.

The name derives from the Kai Tahu settlement on the Otago Peninsula, currently known (in standard Maori) as "Otakou".

The first European transitory visitors such as explorers and whalers arrived soon after Captain Cook's "discovery" of the coast in 1770. The first organised European settlement was in 1848, when two ships sailing from Greenock (near Glasgow) in Scotland brought a variety of immigrants under the guidance of the Free Church of Scotland. Their main settlement, Dunedin, soon gained the nickname "The Edinburgh of the South".

The original province (1852-1876) extended to cover all the mainland and islands south of present-day Otago, but from 1861 to 1870 there was a separate Southland province, smaller than the current Southland region.

In the 1860s the discovery of gold in Central Otago made Dunedin the country's financial capital, a status that lasted for some decades. The predominance was boosted by the invention of refrigeration; the first frozen meat from New Zealand to Britain sailed from Otago.

"Provincial" government returned in 1989 with the creation of a little over a dozen regions covering the entire country, the Otago Regional Council being the local elected overseer of regional matters.

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