Dun­stan

& we drop in to Clyde

NZ Today - - FRONT PAGE - STORY AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY TIM HANNA

There was a time not so very long ago, when it was pos­si­ble to pick up a lit­tle cot­tage in Clyde for peanuts and a few peo­ple did. Some were bought by ec­centrics look­ing for a place to be ec­cen­tric, some were bought as hol­i­day homes and some were bought by peo­ple who knew that Clyde of­fered great sum­mers and a tight lit­tle com­mu­nity in which to but­ton up for win­ter. Those days are gone. To­day Clyde is a thriv­ing hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion with a great deal of restora­tion go­ing on and a num­ber of new con­struc­tions, com­plete or un­der­way, cater­ing to the tourist, and par­tic­u­larly the rail trail mar­ket. To­day Clyde is the last word in bou­tique fash­ion and it's look­ing good.

Of course it is a far cry from the days when Clyde was not just the cen­tre of the re­gion but could lay se­ri­ous claim to be­ing the most pop­u­lous cen­tre in the coun­try.

Like all set­tle­ments in Cen­tral Otago it all started with the dis­cov­ery of gold, on this oc­ca­sion in 1861 by two wan­der­ing min­ers, one an Amer­i­can by the name of Ho­ra­tio Hartley and the other an Ir­ish­man called Christo­pher O'Reilly.

Af­ter claim­ing their £2000 re­ward for the dis­cov­ery in Dunedin, the two prospec­tors re­turned to the site along with an armed es­cort and a train of ea­ger prospec­tors.

When they ar­rived at the spot how­ever, the Clutha River, then known as the Molyneux, had risen and it was only the es­cort that saved the two from be­ing lynched by an an­gry mob that now be­lieved the pair had duped them.

How­ever af­ter Hartley marched into the river up to his neck with a shovel and came out with colour show­ing on the blade, all was for­given and within a year, 40,000 min­ers were liv­ing un­der can­vas and in crude shel­ters built un­der over­hang­ing rocks, the most nu­mer­ous gather­ing of hu­man­ity in the coun­try.

By the end of the first year, the field had yielded close to 2,000 kilo­grams (70,000 ounces) of gold and it was still highly pro­duc­tive when a few years later gold was dis­cov­ered on the West Coast and many of the min­ers rushed off yet again be­liev­ing as al­ways that the next big thing was al­ways the best thing go­ing.

To keep gold flow­ing from the Cen­tral Otago fields, lo­cal busi­ness­men with the sup­port of the Otago Provin­cial Coun­cil, in­vited Chi­nese in from the Aus­tralia gold fields that were by then run­ning down. Their num­bers peaked at just over 5,000 in 1881 when they con­sti­tuted about 40 per cent of Otago's min­ers.

By then, some Chi­nese had moved onto the gold­fields of the West Coast while oth­ers had aban­doned min­ing to take up oc­cu­pa­tions in ar­eas like re­tail­ing and mar­ket gar­den­ing.

By about 1870, tra­di­tional min­ing meth­ods at the Dun­stan field came to an end and gold was ex­tracted by sluic­ing and dredg­ing com­pa­nies (at one stage about 30 dredges op­er­ated on the Clutha River be­tween Clyde and Alexan­dra).

By then the Gov­ern­ment passed a num­ber of re­stric­tive laws af­fect­ing the Chi­nese, in­clud­ing a £10 en­try poll tax that jumped to £100 in 1896.

How­ever this did not stop a num­ber of Chi­nese from be­com­ing highly suc­cess­ful in busi­ness.

Choie Sew Hoy, a Dunedin-based mer­chant, de­vel­oped a new type of bucket dredge to work his Big Beach claim on the Sho­tover River. It was the pro­to­type for what be­came known as the ‘New Zealand gold dredge' which was recog­nised in­ter­na­tion­ally and many dredges of the same de­sign ended up oper­at­ing on the river around Clyde.

Sew Hoy and his son Choie Kum Poy then went on to de­velop large-scale hy­draulic el­e­vat­ing and sluic­ing on their claim at Noko­mai, south of Queen­stown.

IT IS POS­SI­BLE TO TAKE A BOAT tour from Clyde down the Clutha to view the rem­nants of the gold rush. The com­men­tary from Lau­rence, the skip­per and guide, con­firmed he was ob­vi­ously pas­sion­ate about the his­tory of the area.

Lau­rence is English and he bought the busi­ness last year af­ter work­ing sea­son­ally for the com­pany for six years. He was brought up on Ibiza where he still keeps a sec­ond home and a busi­ness that he man­ages dur­ing the New Zealand win­ter, a sen­si­ble ar­range­ment if you can swing it.

His com­men­tary dur­ing the tour pro­vided fas­ci­nat­ing in­sights into the way the two com­pletely seg­re­gated com­mu­ni­ties lived. Sadly there were many ex­am­ples of Chi­nese be­ing treated very badly at the hands of their white neigh­bours, par­tic­u­larly as gold be­came harder to win.

Although look­ing at the tiny, cold shel­ters that both made do with, and this in a re­gion al­most en­tirely lack­ing trees for fire­wood, it is dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that ei­ther com­mu­nity could have had much more on their minds than the dream of gold and the im­me­di­ate need to sur­vive.

Not that life on the gold field was with­out at least some re­lief from the end­less back­break­ing monotony of shov­el­ling ton af­ter ton of gravel and dirt. It is a mat­ter of record that there were any num­ber of grog shops sell­ing liquor to the min­ers as well as nu­mer­ous Chi­nese opium deal­ers sell­ing their prod­uct to their com­pa­tri­ots.

It must have been a wild place, Lau­rence told us, with half the pop­u­la­tion drunk and the other half stoned. (In 2002 the Prime Min­is­ter He­len Clark for­mally apol­o­gised to the Chi­nese com­mu­nity in New Zealand for the poll tax and gave five mil­lion dol­lars to the newly formed Chi­nese Her­itage Poll Tax Trust.)

Although Clyde be­gan life as a “can­vas” town, per­ma­nent struc­tures started to ap­pear within a few years when the oc­cu­pants of tent sites were given the op­por­tu­nity to buy the ti­tle to their land. Many built cot­tages and Lau­rence now lives in one of them.

It is dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that com­mu­ni­ties could have had much more on their minds than the dream of gold and the im­me­di­ate need to sur­vive.

Af­ter re­turn­ing from the cruise, we re­laxed in an in­te­rior that had ob­vi­ously been con­verted to a more open plan ar­range­ment by a pre­vi­ous owner. Lau­rence was grate­ful for the changes as he said he could never have per­suaded him­self to in­ter­fere with the lay­out of the old build­ing which would have con­signed him to live in var­i­ous tiny rooms.

Among his eclec­tic col­lec­tion of his­toric bits and pieces, there was a pair of an­cient oars fas­tened to a wall which he told me were from one of the many lighters that sup­plied coal to the steam dredges that came along af­ter 1870.

Man­ning the lighters in the fast flow­ing wa­ters, the fastest in fact of any river in the South­ern hemi­sphere, was he told me one of the most dan­ger­ous oc­cu­pa­tions on the gold field.

A lighter still ex­isted at the lo­cal mu­seum and the fol­low­ing day I made a point of vis­it­ing it.

In fact the two lo­cal mu­se­ums pro­vided a won­der­fully com­pre­hen­sive por­trait of the de­vel­op­ment of the town.

The one with the lighter is lo­cated in an old herb fac­tory that dried and pack­aged the wild thyme that still grows wild over the hills and along the river banks. When dried and cleaned, it was found to be as good a prod­uct as any in the world and from the early 1930s it found a ready mar­ket in Auck­land.

The green thyme was cut and brought to the fac­tory by res­i­dents of the district. Fam­i­lies would of­ten make a day of it, en­joy­ing a pic­nic in the hills while cut­ting bun­dles of the herb. Wild bri­ars also grow through­out the re­gion and briar hips were col­lected for pro­cess­ing in Dunedin into rose hip syrup.

Forty thou­sand pounds of green thyme was han­dled an­nu­ally as well as quan­ti­ties of sage, mint and other herbs. Ex­ports were con­tem­plated but the work was dusty and un­pleas­ant and it be­came in­creas­ingly hard to find staff.

Even­tu­ally the busi­ness folded and af­ter be­ing empty for many years, the build­ings be­came the present mu­seum. Among the col­lec­tions housed there is the orig­i­nal herb pro­cess­ing machin­ery along­side a va­ri­ety of ex­hibits il­lus­trat­ing early life in the district.

The sec­ond mu­seum, the Vin­cent County and Dun­stan Gold­fields His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum is lo­cated in the old Mag­is­trates and War­dens Court House and I was for­tu­nate to have the cu­ra­tor John Han­ning show me through.

The col­lec­tion in­cluded the old dock from the orig­i­nal court­house where in 1870 a shoe maker by the name of Ge­orge Ren­nie was found guilty of the only sig­nif­i­cant gold theft to oc­cur in the area.

By the time of the great gold rob­bery, Clyde was a thriv­ing town. The var­i­ous names, in­clud­ing Up­per Town and Dun­stan, had been re­placed in 1865 by the name Clyde, when the Post Of­fice adopted the name.

Work­ing in con­cert with the lo­cal po­lice­man, who had ac­cess to the gaol where cash gold and cash were kept, overnight on their way to Dunedin un­der armed guard he re­moved £13,000 in gold and ban­knotes and lit out on his horse, promptly los­ing his way.

The weight of gold tired his horse and he stopped to bury some of it for later re­trieval, also burn­ing his false beard and other items. Nearby min­ers in­ves­ti­gated the blaze and he was soon in cus­tody.

Af­ter be­ing shown a poster promis­ing £1,500 re­ward and ‘a free par­don in the event of the per­son giv­ing such in­for­ma­tion be­ing an ac­com­plice in the rob­bery' he con­fessed, nam­ing the po­lice­man as the mas­ter­mind. Sadly for him the jur y de­cided he had breached the rules of ‘mate ship' by in­form­ing on his friend and he re­ceived a six-year gaol term while the po­lice­man went free.

By the time of the great gold rob­bery, Clyde was a thriv­ing town. The var­i­ous names, in­clud­ing Up­per Town (with Alexan­dra be­ing Lower Town) and Dun­stan, had been re­placed in 1865 by the name Clyde, when the Post Of­fice adopted the name.

Lord Clyde, the Com­man­der of the British forces dur­ing the In­dian Mutiny was then much ad­mired. A year later it be­came a mu­nic­i­pal­ity af­ter a pe­ti­tion was signed by sixty-one res­i­dents re­quest­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

CLYDE RE­MAINED the ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tre for the district un­til 1889 when it was re­lo­cated to nearby ri­val Alexan­dra who man­aged to wrest the seat of power away by build­ing a bridge across the river and mak­ing their town a vi­able place from which to ad­min­is­ter the re­gion.

Clyde be­came some­thing of a for­got­ten back wa­ter which at least pre­served many of its his­toric build­ings from the threat of de­vel­op­ment.

How­ever it never com­pletely faded away partly due to the mi­cro-cli­mate it en­joys of­fer­ing hot, dry sum­mers, with mild springs and au­tumns rich with colour.

The build­ing of the mas­sive Clyde Dam above the town re­vived it to a de­gree and although the com­ple­tion of the dam sig­nalled the clo­sure of the Otago Cen­tral Branch Rail­way, it made pos­si­ble the de­vel­op­ment of the scenic Taieri Gorge Line from Dunedin to Mid­dle­march and the cy­cle trail that now runs along the old line from that point to Clyde.

The Otago Cen­tral Rail Trail is now a 150-kilo­me­tre walk­ing, cycling and horse rid­ing track en­joyed by at least 10,000-12,000 peo­ple ev­ery year with num­bers in­creas­ing by about seven per cent an­nu­ally.

It is also ac­knowl­edged to be, by a con­sid­er­able mar­gin, the most sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic con­trib­u­tor to the Man­iototo-Alexan­dra area af­ter farm­ing.

Be­cause Clyde is lo­cated at the west­ern end of the trail, it has ben­e­fited a great deal from the in­flux of vis­i­tors and to­day the town of­fers a unique op­por­tu­nity to en­joy a so­phis­ti­cated cafe life­style in a rich his­toric set­ting.

Like nearby Cromwell, the area pro­duces won­der­ful fruit and wine and in fact one of the very first wine mak­ers in New Zealand, a French­man named Jean De­sire Fer­aud, lived here, mak­ing wine and mar­ket­ing it suc­cess­fully through­out the coun­try in lovely blue bot­tles from the mid-1860s.

THERE ARE VAR­I­OUS ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions, sev­eral of them right in the mid­dle of the old town. Dun­stan House of­fers a bou­tique ho­tel ex­pe­ri­ence in a grace­ful stone build­ing dat­ing from the turn of the last cen­tury.

The build­ing went through a pe­riod of ne­glect un­til 1968 when it was pur­chased by Fleur Sul­li­van, the well­known chef and hos­pi­tal­ity en­tre­pre­neur, who partly re­stored it to op­er­ate as a back pack­ers and an­tique store.

It en­joyed fur­ther ren­o­va­tions un­der sub­se­quent own­ers and to­day it of­fers com­fort­able her­itage ac­com­mo­da­tion with cen­tral heat­ing and all the mod­ern com­forts.

John and Ma­ree David­son pur­chased the build­ing in 2005 and they love noth­ing bet­ter than shar­ing the his­tory of the place with their guests. Born and bred lo­cally, they have a pas­sion for the build­ing that is ob­vi­ous from the mo­ment you walk in.

The ho­tel had its ori­gins back in 1863 when the orig­i­nal wooden Dun­stan Ho­tel was erected on the site with a the­atre for Satur­day night en­ter­tain­ment that fea­tured a brass band and danc­ing girls who made a dra­matic en­trance by emerg­ing from the ex­ten­sive cel­lar.

John and Ma­ree re­vived the high jinks when they had the can­can dance troupe, The Buck­ing­ham Belles from Ar­row­town per­form, emerg­ing from the cel­lar which still ex­ists.

The Ho­tel was also the book­ing of­fice for Cobb & Co's horse drawn coaches and pro­vided ac­com­mo­da­tion for both pas­sen­gers and horses.

The present build­ing was built in 1899 us­ing lo­cal schist stone and fea­tures a mag­nif­i­cent cen­tral wooden stair­case. Hang­ing be­side it is a pho­to­graph of a dap­per gen­tle­man called Al­bert Otago Foun­tain, the man who built it.

The im­pos­ing Ge­or­gian style two story build­ing was the first of its kind in Cen­tral Otago and it thrived for decades, fi­nally clos­ing in 1937.

A leg­end that sev­eral horses were rid­den up the stairs on the fi­nal night was ver­i­fied when John and Ma­ree found hoof marks in the wooden treads.

To­day the large colo­nial ve­randa over­look­ing the main street is a pop­u­lar sunny place for guests to re­lax and en­joy the var­i­ous en­ter­tain­ments that Clyde pro­vides.

Di­rectly across the road is a sprawl­ing com­plex of old, mostly stone build­ings called Oliv­ers and it also of­fers a range of ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Es­tab­lished in 1869 by a lo­cal mer­chant Ben­jamin Nay­lor, the com­plex is re­garded as one of Otago's most sig­nif­i­cant her­itage build­ings and it en­joys a New Zealand His­toric Places Trust cat­e­gory one clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

The prop­erty has passed through many hands over the years but it was again Fleur Sul­li­van who made it fa­mous when she opened a highly suc­cess­ful restau­rant in 1977 in the old store, nam­ing it Oliv­ers.

She also cre­ated Oliv­ers Lodge ac­com­mo­da­tion in the ex­ist­ing out­build­ings and homestead, kick start­ing bou­tique tourism in the area.

The gen­eral store is the largest of the build­ings in the com­plex of eight stone build­ings and struc­tures which are Rail largely trail built cy­clists in the at Oliv­ers, ver­nac­u­lar Main. style St. and oc­cupy over half a hectare of land on the cor­ner of Sun­der­land and Nay­lor Streets.

Called The Vic­to­ria Store, it orig­i­nally sold pro­vi­sions to the min­ers and now houses a large bi­cy­cle hire busi­ness.

How­ever the cur­rent own­ers An­drea and David Ritchie have re­stored and ren­o­vated it to re-open as a restau­rant, bou­tique brew­ery and bak­ery by the end of the year. The cou­ple have worked closely with the New Zealand His­toric Places Trust to faith­fully re­store all the tra­di­tional schist build­ings in­clud­ing the homestead, built by Nay­lor for his fam­ily of seven chil­dren, and the sta­bles, coach and smoke houses, all of which now of­fer bou­tique guest ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Their vi­sion to once again achieve the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional pro­file en­joyed by Oliv­ers dur­ing the Sul­li­van years has been largely re­alised and even sur­passed. Oliv­ers now of­fers lux­u­ri­ous ac­com­mo­da­tion in funky, once humbly util­i­tar­ian struc­tures that have his­tory en­grained in their very fab­ric.

Whether you elect to stay in one of the town's his­toric build­ings or stay at a B&B or pitch a tent in the camp­ing ground, there al­ways seems to be some­thing go­ing on to en­hance ev­ery visit.

In late Septem­ber when all the fruit trees through­out the re­gion bust into bloom, Clyde and Alexan­dra co­host a Blos­som Fes­ti­val to cel­e­brate the be­gin­ning of spring. Through­out the week, the fes­ti­val presents a se­ries of pa­rades and con­certs and divers other en­ter­tain­ments, although the best dis­play is un­doubt­edly the ex­plo­sion of colour in the or­chards them­selves.

Another event that has achieved na­tional promi­nence is the an­nual Clyde Wine and Food Har­vest Fes­ti­val which is held on Easter Sun­day each year in the main street of Clyde in Cen­tral Otago. The fes­ti­val cel­e­brates wines from the world's most southerly vine­yards and it has be­come Otago's big­gest wine event and one of the most pop­u­lar through­out the coun­try. There are also reg­u­lar farm­ers mar­kets and a new bou­tique cin­ema run­ning the most re­cent and the most crit­i­cally ac­claimed films.

The cin­ema and as­so­ci­ated bistro are run as a fam­ily af­fair with David and Karen Smythe man­ag­ing the bistro, while their son Sam op­er­ates the cin­ema.

David was a suc­cess­ful fur­ni­ture de­signer in Dunedin with the cel­e­brated Otago Fur­ni­ture Com­pany (which was es­tab­lished in 1868) for forty years be­fore he and Karen got into the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try by re­open­ing the cel­e­brated Dunedin restau­rant 95 Filleul Street.

They next opened the Shaky Bridge Café in Alexan­dra and then bought the iconic Cen­tral Otago prop­erty Laud­erdale Es­tate which they fur­ther de­vel­oped as a wed­ding and events venue.

When the op­por­tu­nity came up to buy a vine­yard near Clyde, they sold the es­tate and re­lo­cated to the town, tak­ing over the bistro soon af­ter.

David ex­plains that he was largely mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to stay in the area and of course the bistro also of­fers an excellent op­por­tu­nity to sell and pro­mote their la­bel, Bar­ring­ton Wine. The fare on of­fer in­cludes wood fired pizza, in a large airy space fea­tur­ing sig­na­ture rail­way themes and an ex­ten­sive out­door din­ing area when weather per­mits.

The next step was to com­plete the semi at­tached bou­tique cin­ema which opened in March 2013 with lux­ury red leather arm­chairs for its au­di­ence of forty. Equipped with its own charm­ing candy bar, it has four daily show­ings of a range of re­cently re­leased movies selected by Sam. As he se­lects only the kind of films that real film buffs will en­joy, he has suc­ceeded in at­tract­ing a loyal lo­cal clien­tele and they and the large num­ber of rail trail rid­ers vis­it­ing the town, have en­sured the cin­ema is well pa­tro­n­ised.

I have been to Clyde many times, but in spite of the tiny area it oc­cu­pies, I al­ways find some­thing new to en­joy and to mar­vel at. It is an ob­vi­ous cliché to de­scribe any des­ti­na­tion as a jewel but Clyde de­serves the ep­i­thet. It is a beau­ti­ful win­dow into another age and a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve peo­ple liv­ing hap­pily with the past rather than pre­ciously liv­ing in it.

Is­tarted my most re­cent so­journ to Lake Dun­stan with a visit to the Vic­to­ria Arms Ho­tel. Built in 1887, the his­toric ho­tel sits on the Lake Dun­stan shore in Cromwell at the place where the Clutha and Kawa­rau rivers used to meet. Built of schist rock, it be­came the last re­main­ing ho­tel of its era af­ter the oth­ers were ‘drowned' by the ris­ing wa­ters be­hind the Clyde dam.

It has since en­joyed ma­jor restora­tion and ren­o­va­tion work at the hands of the owner Mark ‘Paddy' Su­grue and it is a com­fort­able place to spin a few yarns and en­joy the view of the lake.

Paddy tells me that the town of Cromwell got its name af­ter an Ul­ster­man was ap­pointed as the sur­veyor for the district. His staunchly pro-British views were un­pop­u­lar with the Ir­ish min­ers who also drank at the ho­tel that oc­cu­pied the site prior to a fire which ne­ces­si­tated the erec­tion of the present build­ing.

One night they threw the sur­veyor out through a closed win­dow and as an act of re­venge he re­named the town, which had pre­vi­ously been known as ‘The Junc­tion' in hon­our of Oliver Cromwell.

It was a sav­age choice. Af­ter over­throw­ing the King in Eng­land, Cromwell's con­quer­ing army had put down a re­bel­lion in Ire­land, mur­der­ing and starv­ing to death by burn­ing crops, about 600,000 peo­ple out of a to­tal Ir­ish pop­u­la­tion of less than one and a half mil­lion.

De­fen­es­tra­tion, I learn, seemed to then be­come some­thing of a tra­di­tion in Cromwell with the first mayor some­times throw­ing po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents out through the Coun­cil Cham­ber's win­dows.

The set­tle­ment had its be­gin­nings in 1862 af­ter two prospec­tors ar­rived in Dunedin with eighty-seven pounds of gold that they had re­cov­ered from a spot about a mile down the river from the ho­tel. The re­sul­tant rush into what was then a wild and in­hos­pitable area of freez­ing cold win­ters and bak­ing sum­mers, saw thou­sands of min­ers take the rugged track through the Cromwell Gorge.

They were re­warded with a rich field and soon a can­vas town sprang up on the bar­ren ground on both sides of the con­flu­ence of the two rivers with up to three thou­sand men liv­ing un­der can­vas and in prim­i­tive huts made of stacked stone.

Large scale dredg­ing had largely re­placed in­di­vid­ual ef­fort as the turn of the cen­tury ap­proached and by 1899, one hun­dred and thirty nine dredg­ing com­pa­nies had been reg­is­tered with some dredges re­cov­er­ing up to one thou­sand ounces a week.

When the gold fi­nally be­gan to give out, Cromwell be­came the ser­vice cen­tre for a farm­ing and stone fruit grow­ing area with many of the ex­ten­sive wa­ter races that had pre­vi­ously served the min­ers, be­ing adapted for the needs of hor­ti­cul­ture.

Its strate­gic lo­ca­tion be­tween the Lindis and the Haast passes, and its prox­im­ity to Wanaka, Queen­stown and Alexan­dra, com­bined to also make it a log­i­cal trans­port hub for the re­gion. HOW­EVER BY THE 1950S, en­gi­neers were look­ing at the huge vol­ume of wa­ter flow­ing down the Clutha with a view to power gen­er­a­tion. In fact the river is the largest by vol­ume in the coun­try, sec­ond in length only to the Waikato, and it is also one of the fastest flow­ing in the world.

The idea was adopted as one of a raft of ‘Think Big' projects by the third Robert Mul­doon Na­tional gov­ern­ment. It vig­or­ously pro­moted the var­i­ous schemes as a way to re­vive an econ­omy hit hard by the 1973 en­ergy cri­sis and the sub­se­quent chain of oil price shocks, along with the loss of the coun­try's big­gest ex­port mar­ket fol­low­ing Bri­tain's en­try into the com­mon mar­ket.

How­ever, the elec­torate was bit­terly di­vided about the plan with the Clyde Dam be­ing per­haps the most con­tentious of the mas­sive un­der­tak­ings that would col­lec­tively con­sume more bil­lions of dol­lars than was ever ac­cu­rately ac­counted. (In­cluded in those costs were var­i­ous loans amount­ing to about seven bil­lion dol­lars.)

To­day there seems to be a gen­eral con­sen­sus that Think Big sank New Zealand into a pit of enor­mous debt with­out a re­turn of any sig­nif­i­cance.

The Clyde dam alone would end up cost­ing in 2005 dol­lar val­ues some­where be­tween 1.4 bil­lion and 2 bil­lion, which was about a bil­lion more than the ini­tial bud­geted cost.

The rea­son for the blowout was the be­lated dis­cov­ery that the ‘River Chan­nel Fault', part of the great Alpine Fault, ran di­rectly be­neath the dam.

Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tions then re­vealed the dis­turb­ing fact that the Cromwell Gorge, which would be flooded by the dam, suf­fered ma­jor geo-tech­ni­cal haz­ards through­out its length.

Harold W. Well­man, the pre-em­i­nent New Zealand ge­ol­o­gist of the 20th cen­tury, was greatly con­cerned by the planned dam, point­ing out that the Alpine Fault was one of the big­gest and most ac­tive tran­scur­rent faults in the world. An in­ter­na­tional re­view team of ge­ol­o­gists then re­leased a re­port that was highly crit­i­cal of the lack of proper pre-dam con­struc­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion work.

A num­ber of ex­perts ex­pressed the view that there was no way the dam de­sign could be made safe or the land­slide zones sta­bilised to re­duce the risks to an ac­cept­able level posed by a ma­jor earth­quake that they cal­cu­lated was sta­tis­ti­cally likely to hit be­fore the year 2030.

They were largely ig­nored how­ever and $936 mil­lion was then spent sta­bil­is­ing four­teen ma­jor land­slide zones in the gorge, even though it was recog­nised that most of it was po­ten­tially un­sta­ble.

Over 18 km of tun­nels were drilled through­out the gorge to drain off sub­ter­ranean wa­ter that might desta­bilise the rock.

In spite of such ef­forts, at least one land­slide oc­curred at Cairn­muir, a se­ries of bluffs tow­er­ing over the gorge above the dam, while the dam was un­der con­struc­tion.

A dan­ger re­mains that a mas­sive land­slide into the lake could still re­sult in a wave that would flow over the top of the dam and travel down the lower val­ley at tremen­dous speeds while other cat­a­strophic waves could race back to Cromwell. In that event the de­struc­tion would not end there.

There is a sec­ond, older dam down river at Roxburgh. It had been opened in 1963 with no earth­quake mit­i­ga­tion in­cor­po­rated into its de­sign and with no land­slide sta­bil­i­sa­tion work above it, although large land­slide zones were known to ex­ist in the Roxburgh Gorge.

The dam had a leak­age prob­lem al­most from the mo­ment it held wa­ter and it has since sus­tained a num­ber of seis­mic cracks. An ac­tive fault runs close to the dam at Coal Creek. Sci­en­tists feared that if the Clyde dam was com­pro­mised, the Roxburgh dam would also be at ex­treme risk.

When the alarm­ing po­ten­tial for an earth­quake was recog­nised, it was pro­posed that the Clyde dam in­cor­po­rate a slip joint in each side ca­pa­ble of with­stand­ing ver­ti­cal move­ment up to one me­ter and a lat­eral shift of twice that.

How­ever Ger­ald Lensen, a lead­ing sci­en­tist on ac­tive fault re­search whose work with the New Zealand Ge­o­graph­i­cal Sur­vey, Depart­ment of Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search (DSIR) had won him in­ter­na­tional ac­claim, cal­cu­lated that an earth­quake of mag­ni­tude eight would re­sult in an earth shift of eight me­ters hor­i­zon­tally and four me­ters ver­ti­cally.

He also be­lieved that the fault move­ment would most likely be ten­sional and pointed out that in that event, a slip joint would not work as a ten­sional move­ment would sim­ply pull the joint away from the sides of the dam.

When his con­cerns were dis­missed, he re­signed in protest and the slip joint was duly in­cor­po­rated at fur­ther mas­sive cost. NOT ALL PROTEST against the dam was trig­gered by fear of a cat­a­strophic fail­ure fol­low­ing a land­slide or a se­vere earth­quake or a worst case night­mare sce­nario com­bi­na­tion of the two.

Cromwell was tipped to be­come a ma­jor tourism at­trac­tion with a main street of his­toric build­ings and a spec­tac­u­lar bridge over­look­ing the fa­mous Cromwell Gap.

Down­river the Roxburgh Gorge boasted spec­tac­u­lar rapids of­fer­ing Alexan­dra and Roxburgh un­ri­valled po­ten­tial for high vol­ume white-wa­ter kayak­ing and raft­ing.

When the lo­cal com­mu­nity learned that the his­toric main street of old Cromwell, the Cromwell Gorge in­clud­ing the fa­mous Cromwell Junc­tion, the Lower Kawa­rau Gorge (in­clud­ing Sar­good's Rapid which was then rated the best white-wa­ter rapid in the world), the Cromwell Gap Rapid, the Low­burn area, and nu­mer­ous or­chards and homes would be sub­merged, along with 2300 hectares of pro­duc­tive land and the Otago Cen­tral Rail­way line be­yond Clyde, there was wide­spread protest.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, sci­en­tists, lawyers, recre­ational river users, fam­i­lies that had lived here for gen­er­a­tions, and oth­ers that had re­cently moved to the area, protested along with a pow­er­ful col­lec­tion of prom­i­nent artists. Among their num­ber, Ralph Hotere, An­drew Drum­mond, Chris Cree-Brown and Chris Booth pro­duced work in protest and mounted a num­ber of highly ac­claimed ex­hi­bi­tions.

The need for a high dam at Clyde was dis­puted by many ex­perts who pointed out that the mod­est stor­age ca­pac­ity of the dam would mean that in any event, the tur­bines would be pow­ered by the nor­mal flow of the river and there was a low dam op­tion that would have also op­er­ated on the ‘run of the river' and in­curred a loss of only 2% of the high dam's out­put.

Had this been cho­sen, old Cromwell and Low­burn would have re­mained high and dry while a low dam would have min­imised the dangers posed by land­slides and earth­quakes. 16kms of the orig­i­nal 21 km high­way through the Cromwell Gorge would have re­mained and the long-term reser­voir sed­i­men­ta­tion is­sues and costs – in­clud­ing even­tual de­com­mis­sion­ing of the dam – would have been sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced.

Per­haps the strangest thing about the ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion to go with a high dam was the fact that it was built to last just eighty years. It is there­fore now one quar­ter of the way through its planned life­cy­cle and a fu­ture gen­er­a­tion will face the daunt­ing task of re­mov­ing the dam and restor­ing the river, a task that will take many years at a cost that could be up to one and a half times the cost of build­ing the dam in the first place.

The Kirk Labour gov­ern­ment was suf­fi­ciently con­cerned by such con­sid­er­a­tions that it de­cided a low dam was the right op­tion but the fol­low­ing Na­tional gov­ern­ment over­turned the de­ci­sion in favour of build­ing a high dam.

They only just made it. An ini­tial grant of wa­ter rights for the dam was over­turned by the High Court fol­low­ing an ap­peal by landown­ers. Na­tional were only able to over­turn this de­ci­sion with the sup­port of So­cial Credit who had pre­vi­ously op­posed a high dam and fi­nally in 1979, the gi­gan­tic task be­gan.

A peak of one thou­sand work­ers on site poured a to­tal of one mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of con­crete to cre­ate the dam and another 200,000 cu­bic me­tres to con­struct the power sta­tion. Mas­sive but­tresses of com­pacted rock and gravel were built to sta­bilise the hill­sides and 6,500 mea­sur­ing and mon­i­tor­ing in­stru­ments were in­stalled around the lakeshore.

By 1993 con­struc­tion was fi­nally com­pleted with the new lake be­ing filled by the end of that same year with pris­tine wa­ter from Lake Wakatipu and Lake Wanaka. These lakes pro­vided un­con­trolled flows into Lake Dun­stan while a new earth dam on Lake Hawea was com­pleted to pro­vide wa­ter stor­age man­aged by con­trol gates.

Four mas­sive tur­bines pump­ing out 432 Me­gawatts of power hummed into life, fed by a twenty six square kilo­me­tre lake reach­ing from Clyde through the Cromwell Gorge to Cromwell where it broad­ened to a body of wa­ter ex­tend­ing back to the Kawa­rau River at Ban­nock­burn and up to the delta where the Clutha emp­ties into it.

Cromwell is lo­cated at the junc­tion of the roads to Wanaka, Queen­stown and Mt Cook and the new lake was im­me­di­ately pop­u­lar with fam­i­lies who have ever since en­joyed hol­i­days camp­ing, swim­ming, fish­ing, boat­ing, cycling and tramp­ing around it.

Work form­ing beaches around Cromwell had be­gun in the 1982 and to­day the place buzzes with ac­tiv­ity in the warm sum­mer sea­son, as do places like the Ban­nock­burn In­let. It is easy to imag­ine that the lake has al­ways been here as the land­scap­ing around its shores looks so set­tled and nat­u­ral.

Cromwell Town­ship had by then been re­built on higher ground while the res­i­den­tial area soon dou­bled in size. The town cen­tre had been re­lo­cated to be­come the cur­rent mall and many ser­vices were up­graded. A num­ber of new ed­u­ca­tional and sports fa­cil­i­ties were es­tab­lished and a new bridge was built. The old bridge was now un­der wa­ter of course and divers were later amused to find a car parked on it.

In early 1985, a group of con­cerned ci­ti­zens had formed ‘Save Old Cromwell' and cho­sen eight build­ings from the old com­mer­cial area for re­lo­ca­tion to higher ground along the new lake fore­shore.

Oper­at­ing through a Board, the group even­tu­ally re­con­structed an his­toric com­mer­cial, res­i­den­tial and ru­ral zone that to­day looks as if it has al­ways been there.

Nu­mer­ous busi­nesses have oc­cu­pied the old build­ings in­clud­ing cafés and art gal­leries and it draws a steady crowd of lo­cals and tourists.

ONE SUCH BUSI­NESS is the gold­smith's shop oc­cu­pied by Les Rid­dell, the only build­ing in the precinct still used for its orig­i­nal pur­pose.

Les grew up on Baf­fin Is­land, a harsh and iso­lated moun­tain range that rears out of the sea near Green­land that is big­ger than New Zealand and boasts a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of just eleven thou­sand souls. Nat­u­rally, Les finds the cli­mate of cen­tral Otago pleas­antly mild and en­joys the fact that there are no Po­lar Bears look­ing to eat him when he goes hunt­ing.

Les was de­lighted to learn that the space that is now his shop and stu­dio was orig­i­nally oc­cu­pied by a for­mer ma­jor who was a watch maker and the lo­cal den­tist. To­day he spends his days pa­tiently craft­ing jew­ellery and talk­ing to his many vis­i­tors.

The new lake pro­vided ir­ri­ga­tion for nearby stone fruit or­chards and vine­yards, the lat­ter be­ing es­tab­lished at around this time when the first Pinot Noir in Cen­tral Otago was planted in the Kawa­rau Gorge.

Although the vine­yards were sig­nif­i­cantly fur­ther south than all other wine re­gions in New Zealand, the ben­e­fits of be­ing sur­rounded by moun­tain ranges which in­creased tem­per­a­ture vari­a­tions both be­tween sea­sons and be­tween night and day, were quickly ap­pre­ci­ated.

The Kawa­rau val­ley has thin top soil over a bed rock of schist and early vine­yards blasted holes into the bare rock of north fac­ing slopes with min­ers' blast­ing caps in which they planted their vines.

Ir­ri­ga­tion was es­sen­tial and for­tu­nately the lake was ready for just that pur­pose. The low crop­ping tech­niques and the ther­mal ef­fect of the rock com­bined to pro­duce grapes of great in­ten­sity.

These grapes made wines that dis­played the dis­tinc­tive acid­ity and abun­dant fruit of bet­ter New Zealand of­fer­ings but also pos­sessed un­char­ac­ter­is­tic com­plex­ity, with aro­mas and flavours nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with Bur­gun­dian wine.

To­day wine lovers vis­it­ing the re­gion can sam­ple a wide range of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Ries­ling, Sau­vi­gnon Blanc, Chardon­nay and Rose at nu­mer­ous cel­lar doors, many of which of­fer din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences to com­ple­ment their wines.

Those wish­ing to see how wine is made, can visit cel­lar doors like Rock­burn

Wines which of­fers a tast­ing room set within the fully-op­er­a­tional win­ery. Here vis­i­tors have the op­por­tu­nity to taste their full prod­uct range which is hand­ily sit­u­ated in Cromwell's in­dus­trial es­tate.

Cel­lar door man­ager Nic Tay­lor loves in­tro­duc­ing peo­ple to the range with free tast­ings of their award win­ning prod­ucts and the win­ery is now the sec­ond most pop­u­lar at­trac­tion in Cromwell on Trip Ad­vi­sor.

Many of the vine­yards are lo­cated on the wa­ter, one such be­ing Terra Sancta whose land in Ban­nock­burn lies on the bank of the Kawa­rau River at the point where it runs into the head­wa­ters of the lake.

Mark Wel­don and Sarah Eliott swapped high pow­ered city jobs to take on the small vine­yard, lo­cated on the fa­mous Fel­ton Road in Ban­nock­burn.

They re­named it Terra Sancta, mean­ing ‘sa­cred earth' or more col­lo­qui­ally ‘spe­cial dirt'. It was cer­tainly spe­cial for the min­ers who sluiced huge quan­ti­ties of gold from the soft schist hills that over­look the vine­yard and it is spe­cial to­day.

The vine­yard con­tains the first vines planted in Ban­nock­burn, and in­deed in the en­tire Wanaka-Cromwell-Bendigo re­gion and with the sweet per­fume of wild thyme in the air and with bees and but­ter­flies flit­ting among the six thou­sand trees grow­ing through­out the vine­yard, it is in­deed a very spe­cial place.

On the day I vis­ited, the cou­ple were host­ing a lun­cheon for a group of out­stand­ing New Zealan­ders selected for lead­er­ship awards by the Sir Peter Blake Trust. Mark and Sarah were pre­dictably busy but it was also ob­vi­ous that they thor­oughly en­joyed hav­ing guests.

Mark was an Olympic swim­mer and the CEO of the New Zealand Stock Ex­change while Sarah was a lawyer who had also worked as a rugby tour man­ager (British Lions 2005), a strat­egy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ist, and brand man­ager.

She re­calls the mo­ment she first ap­pre­ci­ated that wine was a great deal more than some­thing you drank to be so­cial was when she shared a bot­tle of French Ries­ling from Al­sace with Mark in Ori­en­tal Bay in Welling­ton. At that mo­ment, she says, she sud­denly ap­pre­ci­ated that wine could be some­thing mag­i­cal and mys­te­ri­ous.

To­day wine is ob­vi­ously big busi­ness through­out the re­gion and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of vine­yards around the lake has es­tab­lished an at­mos­phere that has at­tracted many new set­tlers to the area.

It has also helped to at­tract a num­ber of new busi­nesses with the most dra­matic be­ing the new motorsport com­plex at High­lands Mo­tor­sports Park.

The 4.5 km in­ter­na­tional-stan­dard cir­cuit is lo­cated just out­side Cromwell and is op­er­ated pri­mar­ily as an ex­clu­sive mem­bers-only fa­cil­ity. There are three com­plete dif­fer­ent tracks that can be used at the same time in ad­di­tion to a 650 me­tre go kart track.

Vis­i­tors can also take a high speed ex­cur­sion in a Porsche GT3 Cup Car or spend time in the Na­tional Motorsport Mu­seum that boasts a Café and Gift Shop. Those wish­ing for more sub­stan­tial fare will find it at The Nose, a restau­rant, café and wine tast­ing fa­cil­ity lo­cated next to the en­trance.

New com­mu­ni­ties are grow­ing be­side the lake like the one at Pisa Moor­ings and more are planned. The dream for many, how­ever, is to find that spe­cial block of land and start some­thing of their own.

Mur­ray and Shirley Ge­orge found their spot across the river from the moon­scape of the Ban­nock­burn Sluic­ings and although Mur­ray was still fully oc­cu­pied as an elec­tri­cal con­trac­tor in Dunedin, the pair spent as much time on their block as they could man­age.

They first built a garage and work­shop for Mur­ray's col­lec­tion of clas­sic Fords and then built their dream re­tire­ment home. They also bought a job-lot of wal­nut and hazel­nut trees, the lat­ter be­ing ‘in­fected' with truf­fle spore and planted out the block. They have yet to cut their ties with Dunedin but look for­ward to the day when they move in for good.

It is not hard to un­der­stand the at­trac­tion. Af­ter you have en­joyed a long, hot cen­tral Otago sum­mer be­side the lake or sim­ply re­laxed with an out­stand­ing lo­cal wine on a crisp win­ter af­ter­noon watch­ing the fad­ing light play­ing beau­ti­ful tricks on the lake sur­face and on the folded, golden hills, the area around Lake Dun­stan re­ally needs to be ex­pe­ri­enced to be ap­pre­ci­ated.

It may have been born in con­tro­versy and it may live on in a cer­tain at­mos­phere of un­cer­tainty but Lake Dun­stan is un­de­ni­ably beau­ti­ful.

View of Lake Dun­stan from Vic­to­ria Arms Ho­tel, Old Cromwell Town.

Clyde Dam from Clyde Bridge.

Lau­rence, owner Clutha River Cruises.

Coal lighter, Clyde Mu­seum.

Min­ers ruin on Clutha Rriver.

Coal lighter at work in 1870s.

Old Clyde Post Of­fice now restau­rant.

John Han­ning, cu­ra­tor, Clyde Mu­seum.

Old house, Clyde.

View from Clyde Bridge to Clyde Dam.

Guests on Dun­stan House bal­cony.

David and An­drea Ritchie, Oliv­ers own­ers.

Ma­ree David­son, owner Dun­stan House.

Clyde Cin­ema and Bistro.

Clyde Bridge.

Un­der Clyde Bridge.

Paddy Su­grue, owner of Vic­to­ria Arms Ho­tel, Cromwell.

Old Cromwell Town.

Orig­i­nal gold­smith build­ing, Old Cromwell Town.

Ni­cola Tay­lor, cel­lar door man­ager and Mal­colm Fran­cis, wine­maker, Rock­burn Wines, Cromwell.

Les Rid­dell, gold­smith, Old Cromwell Town.

Mark Wel­don and Sarah El­liott, own­ers Terra Sancta wines, Ban­nock­burn.

Mur­ray and Shirley Ge­orge on their prop­erty, Ban­nock­burn.

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