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I have to produce some lower spatial resolution rasters from a large number of very big geotiffs (c.800GB).

It occured to me that since I've produced the pyramid overviews using GDAL already I could do this by using the data in the *.ovr files without incurring much additional processing.

Does anyone know of an elegant way of doing this using GDAL or Python?

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For GDAL > 2.0 you can use the open option OVERVIEW_LEVEL.

-oo NAME=VALUE:
(starting with GDAL 2.0) Dataset open option (format specific)

gdal_translate -oo OVERVIEW_LEVEL=2 fullres.tif reducedres.tif

0=original (no overview)
1=first overview level
2=second overview level
...

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