Anadarko, a Texan oil company, is to drill a test well for gas and oil off the coast of Otago in January.
The deep-water well will be drilled 60km offshore from Taiaroa Head, near Dunedin, at the bottom of the Canterbury Basin.
The $US100 million well has been delayed for the past two summers for lack of a rig.
New Zealand manager Alan Seay said Anadarko has chartered a ship to drill one well off the Otago Peninsula from mid-January after it completes drilling off Taranaki.
Mr Seay said the company is targeting large but unproven gas fields.
Andarko has lodged a full environmental impact assessment for the well with the Government and is waiting for approval.
Critics fear a well blowout like that following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico three years ago.
Mr Seay said that is very unlikely.