Central Otago Scenic Highlights
Central Otago | Regional Information | Activity Highlights | Scenic Highlights | History
The wild colours of autumn in Central Otago contrast vividly with bright blue skies. Willows and poplars turn gold and amber along the riverbanks and roadsides.
Central Otago Scenic Highlights Overview
Central Otago is a place of dramatic scenery. Discover schist mountains studded with tors and vast valleys that were scoured by glaciers during the ice age. The climatic extremes repaint the landscape with every season.
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A Haunting Look at the Gold-mining Past - St Bathans
St Bathans also owes its origins to the mining era. Today it is a small town with only two surviving operating facilities—the post office and the (haunted) pub. The local hotel in St Bathans, 'The Vulcan', dates back to 1882 and the post-office back to 1909.
Little has changed around the town and it is easy to imagine the place in its hey-day. Other older buildings include the Anglican Church (1882) and the stone schoolhouse. The Blue Lake in St Bathans (named for its distinctive blue colour caused by the minerals in the water) was man-made by miners digging away at a 120 metre hill until all that was left was a 68 metre deep pit. When the mining stopped, the hole filled with water forming the lake. Today the lake is a popular and unique setting for swimming and jet skiing.
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The Man-Made Fascination of Clyde Dam and Lake Dunstan
Clyde Dam is the largest concrete gravity dam in New Zealand, consisting of one million cubic metres of concrete. It's height is 100 metres, width at base is 70 metres, width at crest is 10 metres and length at crest is 490 metres.
Controversy surrounded the building of the dam, which saw a number of orchards and houses removed from the Cromwell Gorge to allow the flooding of the river valley.
The lake formed by the dam, Lake Dunstan, is 26.4 square kilometres in size. Its recreational uses include waterskiing, boating, canoeing, jet boating, boat cruises and eco-tours of the abundant fish and bird life. The lake extends from the historical township of Clyde through the Cromwell Gorge to Cromwell township, with one arm travelling up the Kawarau River to Bannockburn and the other widening out over the Lowburn Flats.
Read more about the Clyde Dam.
The Glory of the Grape
Jean Desire Ferraud first planted grapes on his land near Clyde in 1864, but it took more than another century for others to catch on. This is now the fastest growing wine region in New Zealand. Viticulture already surpasses summer fruit in value for the Central Otago economy. Pinot Noir does especially well here.
The land and climate present particular challenges, but also unique opportunities for producing high quality wines. The heat of summer, cold of winter and dry of both create intensely pleasurable flavours. Local vineyards are open daily for tastings over the summer periods, while some of the larger vineyards are open year round. A wide range of Central Otago wines can also be enjoyed with your meal while dining out.
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Shaky Bridge, Manuherikia River
Do you dare to walk over Shaky Bridge?
Wagons and horses once used this suspension bridge; today the Shaky Bridge is strictly for pedestrians.
Before it was built, the only way across the Manuherikia River was by punt—a risky operation when the river was high. The bridge was opened in 1879 at a cost of £974 (NZ$1,949) and was later sold for £1 (NZ$2.00) to two settlers living across the river. The bridge fell into a state of neglect and was eventually repaired by a specially formed committee at a cost of NZ$1,800. It was at this time the bridge was narrowed to foot traffic only.
Old Cromwell Town
When the Clyde Dam was completed in 1992, the valley behind it was flooded to create Lake Dunstan. As a result, the original site of Cromwell's historic business district at the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers now lies at the bottom of the lake.
Before the lake was created, many of the town centre's historic buildings were painstakingly removed to higher ground by dedicated volunteers. Others that could not be moved were faithfully reconstructed. Stone-by-stone and plank-by-plank, local craftsmen made sure that Old Cromwell would live on.
Visitors can wander through the historic precinct to inspect buildings from 1860 to 1900 that reflect the town's gold mining and pioneering past. These include the London House Stables, Captain Barry's cottage, the Cobb and Co Store, Belfast Store and Jolly's Seed & Grain Store. In front of the restored town centre, a wharf provides a convenient departure point for tours of Lake Dunstan aboard a beautifully restored 1929 wooden motor launch.
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Hiking in Central Otago is a rewarding experience in itself, but at the Bendigo Goldfields a hike is made even more satisfying by the opportunity to discover gold mining relics.
Mining in the area began with gold panning in the creeks and moved on to hard-rock mining down deep mineshafts. Large batteries were constructed to crush the rock and release the gold from within.
Bendigo is one of twenty sites managed by the Department of Conservation as part of the Otago Goldfields Park. From the town of Bendigo, a narrow unsealed road winds up into the hills to the deserted gold towns of Logantown and Welshtown. Here dozens of crumbling stone cottages and huts can be seen around the hillsides. Informative signage helps you to imagine life in the days of the gold rush.
At nearby Aurora Creek the mines are high on the steep faces of a small gorge and narrow rock-walled cart roads linking the mines are still easily identified.
As you walk these hills, enjoying sweeping views of scenic Central Otago, you will also appreciate the determination and ingenuity of the miners who struggled to extract gold from this rugged terrain.
Read more about the Bendigo Goldfields.
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