Clutha District > Introduction to Clutha District

Introduction to the Clutha District

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Travelling south from Dunedin, Lake Waihola is a picturesque stop at the southern end of the Taieri Plain, popular for boating, fishing and swimming, while nearby Sinclair Wetlands one of New Zealand’s most significant. Milton, near the road junction to central Otago, is an ideal base for exploring the coastal areas including Taieri Mouth, Toko Mouth and Bull Creek. Milton - formerly ‘Milltown’ on the Tokomairiro Plains - has a museum, golf course and other sporting attractions.

Further inland, you’ll reach the historic town of Lawrence, site of the first Otago gold rush at Gabriel’s Gully in the 1860’s. Try your hand at gold panning or soak up the history through the architecture from times past with many remarkable designs from the goldmining era. The Goldfields Museum in Lawrence brings alive the pioneering spirit.

Driving into Balclutha, one will cross the impressive concrete arched bridge spanning the Clutha River - a source of pride and identity for the district. A stop at the Clutha Information Centre is a must for those who wish to find out what makes this District so special. South Otago’s rich history can be traced by a visit to the Historical Society’s Balclutha Museum - where the pioneering spirit lives on. The nearby town of Kaitangata is noted for its coalmining history and the spectacular Wangaloa coastline offers unsurpassed coastal views. For those who wish to cross the mighty Clutha River by traditional means, the Tuapeka Punt - unique to New Zealand - traverses using the river current.


The Balclutha area and the rich farming and forestry areas of West Otago are favoured destinations for thousands of anglers who are attracted to the areas’ rivers by fine trout and salmon fishing. The Blue Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop to the township of Tapanui, at the heart of West Otago. There are many tramping and hunting opportunities. Tapanui also boasts one of the finest 18 hole country golf courses south of Dunedin. The Clinton and Waipahi areas on State Highway One are noted for their intensive pastoral farmlands and range of recreational pursuits.

Nugget Point Lighthouse Turning towards the coast, the visitor will come to the Nugget Point Lighthouse set atop a lonely windswept promontory. Marine mammals and birds as well as the rugged coastal geography make this a popular attraction.

Balclutha is the gateway on the Southern Scenic Route to the Catlins and Southern Coast, places of great natural beauty. This is one of the few parts of the country where original podocarp forest may be seen in a continually regenerating state through carefully co-ordinated replanting and environmental protection programmes. Further south, dense rain forest gives way to open scrub country as one passes through deep valleys and past rocky coastal bays, inlets and estuaries.

Purakaunui Falls Purakaunui Falls are amongst the most photographed in New Zealand, with Matai Falls also well worth a visit. In secluded spots like Pounawea, bellbirds and tuis echo through the bush clad setting.


Balclutha, or Big River Town, is 82kms south of Dunedin and is set next to the mighty Clutha River, the largest river in New Zealand by volume. Below Balclutha, lies Inchclutha, an island formed by the river as it divides in two, forming the Matau and Koau channels.

The Clutha River is an important part of Balclutha's history as it encouraged settlers to the area, brought prosperity with the discovery of gold, but also tragedy to the region with horrendous floods.

James McNeil became Balclutha's first resident in 1852 and he started a ferry service to ferry travellers across the mighty Clutha. Once gold was discovered in Otago, this site became a town with the inevitable onslaught of goldminers. Balclutha became a borough in 1870 and John McNeil, the son of James McNeil, became its first mayor. A bridge was built across the Clutha in 1868 but only lasted until 1878 when a devastating flood washed it away. The present bridge is now almost 70 years old being completed on April 6, 1935 and is a great source of pride for the region.

The Clutha River has not always been known by this name. It was originally called Molyneux by Captain Cook in 1770, after the skipper of his ship, Robert Moulineax. To the local Maori, the Clutha was known as Mata-au (which means surface current) but was finally named Clutha (which is Gaelic for Clyde) by the Scottish settlers, after a river in their native country, the Clyde.

The Clutha was also a rich source of gold and has become a major source of hydroelectric power with a flow rate of 530 cubic meters per second. The main industry in Balclutha today is farming and is the gateway to the Catlins via Kaka and Nugget Points.

Whether you explore the history of Balclutha and its connections with the Clutha River or take advantage of the river's many recreational activities, you will not forget the power, beauty and tranquility that the river provides. Try one of the scenic walks in the area, visit the historic South Otago Museum, or go for a picnic by the river and try your luck at a spot of trout or salmon fishing. Take a unique ride across the Clutha with your car on the Tuapeka Punt, the only one like it in the Southern Hemisphere.

The South Otago Museum has an extensive collection of artifacts displaying the heritage and history of the region. These include, early hand tools, gramophones and radios, an entire street of shops, farm machinery, fire engines, Benhar pottery and Kaitangata Coal Mine displays, an exquisite bottle collection, and many photographs, documents and military paraphernalia. Guided tours are available.

Take a walk and explore some of the natural areas around Balclutha. The Blair Athol Walkway starts at Naish Park and takes you alongside the Clutha River to the Blair Athol farm and back. Naish Park is an ideal place for a picnic, with a playground and an aviary. Alternatively, if you want to see some native bush, head up the Awakiki bush walkway, which takes you into podocarp forest containing some 300 year old totara trees. This bush is the most southerly example of relatively unmodified low-rainfall totara-dominated forest in New Zealand. Fishing in the Clutha river is open year round with opportunities to catch Salmon, Brown and Rainbow Trout. Bag limit is 6 per day. Guided fishing trips are available.

There are also plenty of historic buildings in the area, which are well worth a visit. The Waiwera South Hotel has operated since the 1860's but is now a private dwelling. Benhar is a small village established to provide workers for a brick and pipe manufacturing company, McSkimming's Industries, in the 1880's, later manufacturing sanitary ware. Among the houses at Benhar is Lesmahagow, built by Peter McSkimming, founder of McSkimming's Industries, in 1914.

The Chicory Mill is the largest solid concrete building in the southern hemisphere built by Gregg and Co. in 1881. The chicory kiln was used to process the roots of the chicory plant grown on Inchclutha.

Twine Mill at Romahapa is the site of the first flax and twine mill in South Otago and also the first flour mill.

A more modern addition is the Stirling Cheese factory. In its first full year of production this factory produced 3000 tonnes of cheese but now produces 10.5 tonnes of cheese every hour, ranking it as one of the top three producers in the country. Watch the cheese being made, then select your own to take away as a souvenir.

Other historic buildings include St. Mary's Anglican Church, the "Stone House", Carnegie library, Telford Rural Polytechnic, Somerville Park and Willowmeade Homestead. More information can be obtained from the Clutha Information Centre.

Another site of interest is Coal Point, a coal mine discovered by surveyor Frederick Tuckett north of the Clutha River. It is also the site of New Zealand's first railway line from the Coal mine to the Clutha River port. Nearby Kaitangata is renowned for its coal mining history. Only two mines still operate in the area but the original mine produced 8 million tonnes over 85 years. A memorial exists in the Kaitangata cemetery to remember those killed in an explosion in the Kaitangata mine in 1879. 34 men died. In March, trek through the forest near Kaitangata to get a glimpse of the wild horses during the Wild Horse Festival.

After this cultural and historic tour of Balclutha, there are still plenty of activities to help you relax and unwind including farm stays, river tours, golf, tennis and swimming. There is also a myriad of places in which to eat and plenty of accommodation available. Before you leave, don't forget to register your name at the museum and become an honorary citizen of Balclutha!

Drive Times to Balclutha
from Dunedin on SH1 - 1 hour
from Dunedin Airport on SH1 - 45 minutes
from Invercargill on SH1 - 1 hour 30 minutes
from Te Anau on State Highways 1 and 94 - 2 hours and 30 minutes
from Queenstown on State Highways 6 and 8 - 3 hours

For more information, visit the:
Clutha Information Centre

Address: 4 Clyde St., Balclutha.
Phone: (03) 418 0388
Fax: (03) 418 1877


Milton is a progressive and traditional town with a very old and rich past. Milton is located 55kms from Dunedin and its livelihood through forestry, farming, and wool is continuing to develop the area as they have done since the township of Milton emerged. Come and explore this past through the Milton Museum and the many historic buildings throughout the area. Or if you'd rather explore the Milton of today, there are various walks, golf, farm/home stays, and beaches to see and do.

Visit the Milton Museum, which proudly preserves the heritage of the Tokomairiro. See the collection from Milton potteries - an important industry in Milton's history, artifacts from the wreck of the 'Marguerite Miraband' and office, household and dairy equipment. Clothing and other fabric articles are also featured in ever-changing displays.

Well worth a look are Milton's historic buildings. From industrial buildings to private homes, they provide a unique insight into Milton's past. Among the historic buildings is the Old Sod Cottage. Built in the 1860s, it was a waypoint for miners on their way to the Tuapeka Goldfields. The Garvan Homestead, being built in 1915 is also a licensed restaurant and has accommodation available. On ten acres of gardens and woodland park, it is sure to provide a relaxing and unique stay. Other historic buildings include McGills Flour Mill and the Alliance Textile Mill. The Alliance Textile Mill is one of the largest in Australasia. It opened in November 1897 and is still going strong, today mainly producing specialist woollen yarns for machine knitting, woollen underlays, and wadding products. Tours can be arranged. A detailed map and list of the historic buildings in Milton can be obtained from the Milton Information Centre.

For a more extensive look around the Tokomairiro, there are a number of scenic walking tracks, ranging in time from 30 minutes to 3 hours return. The walks vary from coastal forest remnants, to clambering over rocks at Chrystalls beach, to climbing through the bush to a lookout of the superb countryside. A visit to the old Mount Stuart Railway Tunnel may provide a glimpse of the glow worms but best to bring a torch in order to make it through to the other side and back.

Other places to visit are Bull Creek (walk through bush to a sheltered bay) and Toko Mouth, both excellent places for fishing. There is also an excellent golf course in Milton, Toko Golf Course, and swimming complex, complete with three heated pools, and open through summer. Or if you feel like sitting down, take a relaxing drive through Milton's forests, providing some picturesque scenes.

Farm/Home Stays are a brilliant way to really get to know the locals. You can become part of a local family and experience the ways of life in a rural community.

For those wanting to find a place to wind down after a long day, Milton has a selection of accommodation and eating places, that will satisfy all tastes.

For more information, visit the:
Milton Information Centre

Address: 51-53 Union St, Milton
Phone: (03) 417 7480
Fax: (03) 417 7480


Owaka ('place of a canoe'), on the South East coast of the South Island is in the heart of the Catlins (named after the original owner of the land, Captain Edward Cattlin). 31.5 kilometres from Balclutha, it is an integral part of the Southern Scenic Route. Though longer than the main highway, (172km from Balclutha to Invercargill via the Catlins), it is well worth the detour. With it's beautifully sculpted coastline and breathtaking views, the Catlins and Owaka is a compulsory stopping place for every visitor.

While the main industry of the region today is farming, Owaka's diverse array of past enterprises, including whaling, shipping and timbermilling, make for an interesting past, one which can be encountered on many of the activities that entice you to this region. At one point, the port at Hayward Point was the most used port in the South Island. The Catlins also encompasses extensive native bush that is home to countless wildlife. From native forest birds to coastal marine animals, the Catlins is a refuge for many wonderful and endangered species.

The Owaka Museum incorporates interactive and innovative displays to provide a fascinating insight into the region's past. From whaling, to sawmilling, to coal-mining, to pioneer farming, these displays take you through the various ventures of the region. Relics from shipwrecks such as the Surat (1874), the Otago (1876) and the Manuka (1929) are also on display as well as exhibits and stories of the Maori and Moa in the region and an impressive photo collection. The museum is open in summer and on request at other times.

The Tunnel Hill Historic Reserve walk is an eerie ramble along a disused railway into a tunnel, 200m long. The railway was part of the Catlins River railway from Balclutha to Owaka that was excavated by hand between 1893-1895. A torch is a good idea to bring and you may see glow worms in the tunnel.

Cannibal Bay was so called due to the discovery of human bones on the beach. From this bay, you can climb up 70m to False Island, which is separated from the mainland by a low bank of dunes. At the top, are dramatic views of the coastline and you can also see remains of a windlass used by the whalers. From here you can continue down and off the island to Surat Bay (named after the ship that was wrecked here in 1874) and return through the sandhills. The remains of a forest and a moa hunters camp can be seen here. This walk takes 5 hours return. On the beach, watch out for Hooker's sea lions coming ashore.

The estuary at Pounawea is a great place for picnics, camping, yachting, boating and waterskiing and is a preferred swimming spot due to its relatively warmer water compared to the open sea. It is also an excellent fishing spot, especially night fishing for flounder. For nature lovers, there is a scenic nature walk through virgin podocarp forest starting from the Motor Camp (15mins return).

From Jack's Bay, you can walk to the spectacular Jack's Blowhole (45mins return). The Blowhole is an opening in farmland 200m from the sea formed when a section of roof of an underground cavern caved in. This left a hole approximately 55m deep and provides us with a fantastic view of the sea washing into this underground pit through an underground tunnel, 200m long. The track to the Blowhole is closed from September to October due to lambing. Jack's Blowhole is named after chief Tuhawaiki (or Bloody Jack).

For more information, visit the:
The Catlins Information Centre

Address: 10 Campbell Street
Owaka, The Catlins 9535
Phone: (03) 415 8371
Fax: (03) 415 8371


On State Highway 1, only 40 kilometres south of Dunedin and only 15 kilometres from Dunedin International Airport is the lakeside village of Waihola. Lake Waihola, which is tidal and freshwater, has the largest catchment of any lake in Otago. Renowned for its beautiful reflections and black swans, it is a favourite haunt of yachtsmen, waterskiers, power boaters and fishermen, with whitebaiting (in season). It affords safe swimming and sheltered picnic areas for all.

Come to Waihola
If you approach Waihola from the north, you may wish to detour left at the Henley Road and travel via the Old Main Road, crossing the Taieri Ferry Bridge, which was built in 1891, and the first of its kind in New Zealand. Numerous boats and steamers carried produce and passengers between Lake Waihola and the coastal township of Taieri Mouth through here. Enjoy the drive along the Taieri River, a favourite spot for fishing and boating.

Waihola itself offers many activities for the day tripper, the passing motorist, or perhaps some may like to stay for a few days and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the area. The Motel, next to the Black Swan Restaurant, is fully equipped for your convenience. The restaurant serves meals and takeaways. The Holiday Park is situated in a park-like setting on the shores of the lake with panoramic views of rolling farm land and forest-clad hills. The park is sheltered and spacious, offering a variety of caravan and tent sites, power points, four cabins and a camp store. Lakeside Cottage B&B with its magnificent views offers a friendly welcome to travellers. The local Tavern provides bistro and BBQ meals and has a beer garden and wholesale outlet. The Waihola Store and postal agency supplies dairy produce, groceries, sandwiches and ices while Waihola Motors can attend to all your motoring requirements.

State Highway 1 continues south to Milton (15kms from Waihola), Balclutha and Invercargill, or alternatively you may turn off at Clarksville Junction and head towards the tourist mecca of the Southern Lakes.

For those wishing to enjoy a day trip from Dunedin to Waihola, the surrounding district has much to offer. Two kilometres east, on the Taieri Mouth road is the McDonald Picnic Area, pleasantly situated between native bush and pine forest owned and operated by Wenita Forestry. Picnic tables, barbeques and toilets are included in this inviting picnic spot. Travel on up the Taieri Mouth road, where lookouts afford spectacular vistas of hills, lakes and sea, descending to the fishing village of Taieri Mouth (13kms from Waihola), and hence by coastal route to Dunedin. Taieri Mouth offers fantastic picnic spots, with views of the beaches and cliffs. Fishing and boat tours are avaikable, making Taieri Mouth an attractive holiday spot or day trip. Just south of Taieri Mouth , visit the Akatore faltline, a steep rocky escarpment in the hills.

Visit the 25 million year old whale and dolphin fossils near Milburn. Alternatively, you may wish to travel six kilometres south to Clarendon and turn inland on the Berwick Road for one kilometre, and to the left nestled under the hills is the Horseshoe Bush Stable. Built in 1884 for Mr Henry Driver, a Dunedin merchant and businessman, it was used first to stable carriage and thoroughbred horses, and later to farm draught-horses and hacks. The concrete floor was laid over 18 inches of blue metal hammered into the swampy ground. The stable has 12 stalls, two loose boxes, storage rooms and accommodation for two men. This property is now called Lime Spring Farm.

Continuing along the Berwick Road, on the hill to the right, you may catch a glimpse of the old Clarendon Cemetery. A further 8 kilometres brings you to the Sinclair Wetlands. These 700 acre wetlands extend east from the lake's north-west boundary and provide a safe haven for countless wildfowl, including some of our rarer birds. Visitors are welcome to observe them in their protected, natural habitat.

Just two kilometres past the Sinclair Wetlands is the turnoff to the Otago Youth Adventure Trust - Berwick Lodge, set in a tranquil valley amidst exotic forests and close to native bush. This camp is available for schools and other groups to provide outdoor education and adventure, including abseiling, archery, canoeing etc. The warden can supply you with an area map showing walks ranging from one hour to one day (for more specific information, refer to separate article).

Sinclair Wetlands - Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau

The Sinclair Wetlands is a 315 hectare wetland area comprising numerous shallow peaty lagoons, a maze of waterways and two islands fringed by harakeke (flax), raupô (bullrush), mânia (sedge grasses) and karamû (coprosma shrub species).

This rare combination provides an ideal feeding, breeding and escape habitat for many species of birds and native fish.

Just fifty kilometers south of Dunedin in Te Waipounamu (the South Island of New Zealand) lies the fertile Taieri plain, a once vast wetland area of abundant forests and wildlife. Today, due to the drainage and clearing of the land for farming, only a small but precious representation of the original wetland survives. Nestled between Lakes Waihola and Waipori this area known, as the Sinclair Wetlands or, by its Mâori name, Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau ("the settlement of Tukiauau"), contains habitat essential for the survival of many bird and fish species. Described as the most important privately owned wetland in New Zealand, it is also an area rich in the history and traditions of Ngâi Tahu, the tângata whenua (people) of this area.

Peace and tranquility reign supreme in these unique wetlands where the only sounds you're likely to hear are the songs and calls of the many birds who have made these wetlands their home. Several kilometres of well-maintained walking tracks make access easy and areas of interest are highlighted by clearly marked signs.

Visitors are free to stop by and wander around the grounds at any time during daylight hours. Guided tours are available by pre-arrangement for tour parties, clubs or school groups.

A modern Visitor Centre overlooking the wetlands provides the perfect starting place for those who want to explore what this area has to offer. There is a reception and lecture area available for tour groups or for those wanting to schedule a meeting or workshop in a relaxed environment. Take time to stop in and watch the introductory video which offers an insight into the history, the habitat and the wildlife of the wetlands. Staff are on hand most days during working hours to provide information or assistance to visitors.

Waterfowl dominate the bird population. Kuruwhengu (Shoveler), tçtç (grey teal), pûtakitaki (paradise shelduck), pârera (grey ducks), pâpako (New Zealand scaup), mallard, Canada geese and black swans are all permanent residents of the wetlands. The pukeko/pakura (swamp hen) is also conspicuous and the more secretive bittern and crake are attracted to the area by the abundance of tuna (native eels), galaxiids including inaka (whitebait), the taiwharu (giant kôkupu) and introduced perch on which they feed. A well-timed visit may also be rewarded by the sight of a pair of mâtâ (fernbirds) nesting in the grasses.

The Sinclair Wetlands and neighbouring lakes Waihola and Waipori are all that remains of the once vast Taieri Plain wetlands drained last century to make way for farming. This wetland area only survives today because of the vision of local Taieri resident, Horrie Sinclair, who purchased the wetlands in 1960. Aware of its value Horrie chose to let it revert to its natural state as a habitat for wildlife. In saving this precious remnant of our natural heritage he has shown us just what can be achieved.

The wetlands were returned to Ngâi Tahu in 1998 as part of their Treaty settlement with the Crown. Horrie passed away in 1998 but his vision lives on. The Sinclair Wetlands are protected in perpetuity under a Queen Elizabeth II National Trust Open Space Covenant and by the commitment of Te Runanga o Ngâi Tahu to the sustainable use and management of the wetlands and their resources. Ngâi Tahu and the community are working together on plans for the ongoing restoration of the wetlands including the reforestation of the wetlands two islands. Their dream is that in the future native trees, such as the mighty kahikatea, may once more grow here, bringing with it, forest birds and animals. With this new partnership, the long-term security of this rare wetland habitat is now guaranteed.

It is the hope of Ngâi Tahu that the wetlands will be a living memorial not only to Horrie Sinclair, but also to the Ngâi Tahu ancestors who once walked these lands.

The Sinclair Wetlands is normally open seven days a week during daylight hours.

All visitors must report to the visitors complex and take notice of any warning signs or instructions that are posted there or around the wetlands.

Children must be under adult supervision at all times.

The wetlands and their walkways are open to the public free of charge.

The facilities at the wetlands are available to visitors by arrangement.

Binoculars and cameras are highly recommended.

Some of the tracks are easily wheelchair accessible, with most being accessible with some assistance.

Visitors are requested to stay on the marked tracks.

Motorised boats are strictly prohibited within the wetlands, however, kayaking on the waterways is normally permitted providing permission has been obtained and lifejackets are worn.

Do not approach, disturb or touch the birds.

Dogs are strictly prohibited.

Donations will be gladly accepted to help with the continued development of the wetlands.

Toitû te whenua mâtâtâ leave the wetlands undisturbed.

Sinclair Wetlands (Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau)

Address: On the Berwick to Clarendon Road,
  South Taieri, Otago, New Zealand
Phone: 03 486 2654
Fax: 03 486 2674

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