THE 'Mighty Clutha' forms the heart of one of the world’s most unique waterways. It traverses the dramatic semi-desert landscape of Central Otago, in the South Island of New Zealand, but the most spectacular river gorges, and much more, have been destroyed ... by dams. This is the unofficial story of the Clutha Mata-Au River and its stolen treasures. It is a story steeped in bitterness, shame, destruction, and sadness.

Lost Orchards and Farmland

Fruitgrower's Road, Ray Annan OrchardCromwell Gorge orchard, Fruitgrower's Road, before the Clyde dam

Before the Clyde dam, the Cromwell Gorge produced some of New Zealand's best fruit. The reservoir behind the Clyde dam flooded a total of 2,300 hectares of productive land, including 12 large orchards on the river terraces along both sides of the Cromwell Gorge, 5 orchards at Lowburn, and fertile farmlands on both sides of the Clutha River in the Lowburn area.

The orchards in the Cromwell Gorge and a few orchards at Lowburn had frost-free micro-climates producing fruit early, earning good prices over the Christmas and New Year period. The Government, however, maintained that profitable late maturing fruit could be grown in the Earnscleugh area with a new irrigation scheme from the Clyde dam. They claimed that late maturing nectarines and peaches could realise $50,000 to $60,000 per hectare per year. Growers were sceptical, and MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) publicly said that this was unlikely.

The Clyde dam proceeded in the face of numerous objections, and the much touted irrigation scheme eventually only delivered limited water from the top of the Clyde dam to Earnscleugh, to help maintain flows in the Fraser River. The late nectarines and peaches never realised the projected returns.

Meanwhile, some of the most fertile farmland in Central Otago, bordering the Clutha River at Lowburn, disappeared under the Dunstan reservoir.

Clutha River, Lowburn Valley, before the Clyde damClutha River, Lowburn, before the Clyde dam


About This Site

Cromwell before the Clyde dam was set to become a tourism icon. Blessed with a dramatic location, numerous historic buildings and a spectacular bridge overlooking the famous Cromwell Gap, its potential was obvious, until ... "think big."

The Roxburgh Gorge, too, with its many amazing rapids ~ the largest whitewater in New Zealand, had vast tourism potential, offering Alexandra and Roxburgh a booming industry focused on high volume whitewater kayaking, rafting and dory adventures unlike anything else in New Zealand.

The Clutha Mata-Au, before the Roxburgh and Clyde dams, possessed many natural treasures in the form of extraordinary river features and rapids.

This website tells the story of those stolen treasures, and records the bitter fight of ordinary New Zealanders pitted against arrogant government technocrats and politicians who considered the Clutha River ripe for exploitation at any cost.

Finally, the rising waters behind the Clyde dam submerged the historic main street of old Cromwell, the Cromwell Gorge including the famous Cromwell Junction, the Lower Kawarau Gorge including Sargood's Rapid (rated the best whitewater rapid in the world), the Cromwell Gap Rapid, the Lowburn area, and numerous orchards and homes. A total of 2300 hectares of productive land disappeared.

This website is a tribute to the Mighty Clutha, and to the many dedicated people who have fought, over decades, to protect its natural treasures.

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