Water has been called the “white gold” of Central Otago. The Clyde Dam is a valuable resource in the region – but by harnessing the power of the mighty Clutha River it has changed the landscape forever.
The last task of the Otago Central Railway was to cart supplies for the construction of New Zealand’s largest concrete gravity dam at Clyde, which was completed in 1989. A new highway to Cromwell had to be built higher up the mountain slope. Lake Dunstan was then gradually filled, swamping several homes and orchards in the scenic, rocky Cromwell Gorge, as well as flooding the lower levels of the old, historic Cromwell town. The wild white-water rapids in the Clutha were gone for good. The dam also became New Zealand’s most expensive dam, as geological problems arose. A local earthquake fault line meant that the proposed energy capacity of the dam had to be lowered (now 432 MW). A slip joint had to be built into the dam to allow for 1-2 metres of movement in a quake, and 18 kms of stabilisation tunnels had to be built into the hillsides upstream, to discourage land slips. Lake Dunstan is now a playground for boaties and fishermen and an important rowing venue.
Check out the new Information Kiosk at the Clyde Dam Lookout, 2 kms up the hill from Clyde.