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.

Destruction of the Cromwell Junction

Cromwell Junction before the Clyde damCromwell Junction before the Clyde dam

Cromwell Junction 1989Cromwell Junction 1989

Cromwell Junction 1993 Cromwell Junction 1993

Cromwell Junction after the Clyde damCromwell Junction after the Clyde dam

The confluence of the Clutha and Kawarau Rivers at the entrance of the Cromwell Gorge has always been at the heart of Cromwell's identity. In fact, the settlement was originally called 'The Junction.' Even when the name 'Cromwell' was adopted in 1866, the town was often referred to as the 'Cromwell Junction' or sometimes 'the meeting of the waters.' Here, the clear turquoise waters of the Upper Clutha, mixed reluctantly with the silt-laden waters of the Kawarau.

This remarkable sight, viewed from high above, was often painted and photographed, and appeared on a New Zealand stamp. The once famous Cromwell Junction was perhaps the most spectacular river confluence in the world.

Perched high above the ‘Junction’ on a rock promontory, the historic gold-rush town of Cromwell boasted one of the most picturesques locations imaginable. Cromwell's historic main street was mostly intact with numerous gold-rush era buildings, and at the end of the street, the massive 1866 bridge crossed high above the famous Cromwell 'Gap' Rapid. A Chinese gold-mining settlement was virtually untouched on the encarpement of the Kawarau 'arm,' and further up the Kawarau was the most highly rated whitewater rapid in the world - Sargood's. Cromwell was poised to become a tourism icon, a historic town unlike any other, and a watersports Mecca.

However, 'think big' obliterated the 'Junction.' The dam builders were ruthless, not only flooding, but systematically destroying the 'Junction' as if to physically remove it from the hearts of those who loved it. When the Clyde dam is eventually decommissioned (it has a design life of about 80 years), the waters will gradually be lowered in stages and the 'Junction' will be revealed, but it will never be quite the same after restoration, which will be a long and difficult process. Large dam decommissioning and river restoration projects take about 10-15 years to complete. Worldwide, although only a few large dams have been decommissioned to date, such projects will become more common as an increasing number of ageing dams face removal. Typically, no provision is made for the cost of 'undoing the damage.'  Decommissioning costs for large dams range from 35-150% in proportion to the cost of a new dam. The obvious question is, who will pay?


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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