Poolburn Dam, Central Otago
Summer 12/13 roadie, day 4, part 2
Coming here had been on the Central Otago to-do list for a while. It’s a bit out of the way and not accessible during winter, when most of our trips down here tend to be. Part of the appeal was the journey (the Old Dunstan Road); but we’d also heard the dam was a great feature in its own right.
After very much enjoying the drive up the Rough Ridge, the dam came into sight. From this first impression our reactions were the same: amazement at both size and setting.
Poolburn dam was built in 1931 as an irrigation supply for Ida Valley farmers. The location was chosen to exploit a natural basin on top of the ridge. When water filled the dam, it swallowed up five hotels still standing decades after gold miners travelled the old Mountain Road.
Today the dam is a popular fishing spot after brown and rainbow trout were released there. We could see a number of small weathered huts, many decades old, built here and there around the edge. One looked like it had been ‘done up’ recently, which doesn’t seem to be a permitted practice if the signs are to be believed.
A couple of events in recent years have elevated the profile of the dam. It was a film set in LOTR The Two Towers (the Rohan Village)*. And, somewhere at the other end of the scale, a local man accidentally drowned about a year ago when he drove into the dam (at 1am; read into that what you will).
*Bizarrely, a few days later in the trip, I turned the TV on in the motel unit and what should be on, but that movie, and those very scenes.
Over lunch we watched a small boat putter slowly across the dam. I later read that there is a large number of submerged rocks (hardly surprising given the landscape) which makes boating a very tricky and slow endeavour.
Mike had thought he might have a swim but it was a bit chilly for that. Instead we had a wee explore before seeing how much further we could drive.
Near this spot the Old Dunstan Road continued through a closed gate. Beyond here the road gets much rougher and would probably have destroyed Mike’s car. So with that, and a final few photos, we returned the way we came.