Alps to Ocean, Day 4 – Omarama to Kurow – Waitaki Valley, South Island, New Zealand

Day four was a bit overcast and gloomy but still no rain.  The first part of today’s ride was on the off road trail to the top of the Chain Hills before descending beside State Highway 83 to follow the edge of Lake Benmore to Pumpkin Point.  We then got to Sailors Cutting which is a popular boating, camping and fishing spot.  It was then back onto the road to climb up the Otematata Saddle which is a slow, steady climb.  The downhill into Otematata was fantastic.  Apparently the NZ Cycleway Trust has secured the land for the off road trail here but it doesn’t have the funding to build the actual track.  

 We then turned left onto Loch Laird Rd to head up to the Benmore Dam which meanders along for about 5km before you get to a steep climb up to the dam at the end.



 We had lunch at the top of the dam before descending down and riding along the shores of lake Aviemore to the Aviemore Dam.  We were then back on State Highway 83 to Lake Waitaki and the Waitaki Dam. 

The Waitaki River is a large river in the South Island of New Zealand, some 110 km long. It is the major river of the Mackenzie Basin. It is a braided river which flows through Lake BenmoreLake Aviemore and Lake Waitaki. These are ultimately fed by three large glacial lakes, PukakiTekapo, and Ohau. Lake Benmore and Lake Aviemore are contained by hydroelectric dams, Benmore Dam and Aviemore Dam.

The Waitaki has several tributaries, notably the Ahuriri River and the Hakataramea River. It passes Kurow and Glenavy before entering the Pacific Ocean between Timaru and Oamaru on the east coast of the South Island.

Benmore Dam is the largest dam within the Waitaki power scheme, located in the Canterbury Region of New Zealand‘s South Island. There are eight other power stations in the Waitaki Power Scheme.  With a generating capacity of 540 megawatts (720,000 hp), Benmore Power Station is the second largest hydro station in New Zealand behind Manapouri, and the largest dam in the country.

The $62 million construction of the dam and hydroelectric station began in 1958. It was commissioned in 1965, and officially opened by Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake on 15 May that year.  It was built for the New Zealand Electricity Department; since 1999 it has been owned and operated by Meridian Energy.

The Aviemore Dam is a dam of the Waitaki River in New Zealand. Built from earth and concrete in the 1960s (and completed in 1968) to dam Lake Aviemore, it is one of the major dams of Meridian Energy, and is used to power a hydroelectric power plant.  It is a part of the Waitaki River Hydroelectric System, a scheme which supplies 30% of New Zealand’s considerable amount of hydropower.

Work began on the Waitaki Dam, the first large state hydroelectric scheme in the South Island since Lake Coleridge, in mid-1928 at a site 7 km from the Kurow railhead. It was the last major dam built by pick, shovel and wheelbarrow, tools anachronistically retained because politicians wanted to reduce the unemployment rate. At its peak 1,200 men laboured in often dangerous and freezing conditions; 350 houses and 700 huts sheltered them from the extremes of North Otago winters, but work conditions and high accident rates made Waitaki a bleak site.

The Waitaki Dam owes its true significance to its role as an incubator for Labour’s social security scheme. In 1928 a site-based Waitaki Hydro Medical Association contracted with the Waitaki Hospital Board to provide medical and ambulance services, paid for by a monthly deduction from wages. Dr David McMillan, ‘the little doctor’, and the Reverend Arnold Nordmeyer, both of whom entered Parliament at the 1935 election, based Labour’s social security scheme on their Waitaki experience. A commemorative plaque adorns McMillan’s old surgery at nearby Kurow.

The dam is 48 m high and 542 m long. Unusually, Waitaki does not have a spillway – the water flows over the top, making a spectacular sight in floods as the flow breaks up on the disrupters on the dam face. When Governor-General Lord Bledisloe opened Waitaki on 27 October 1934, its 30 megawatts provided about half the mainland’s electricity. Modifications have boosted that to the current 90 megawatts.

The old village, once home to 40 staff and their families, has struggled to survive. Covenanted by the Heritage New Zealand but empty since the late 1980s, it was put up for mortgagee sale in 2001, lock, stock, houses, lodge, garages and utilities.  These houses are in the process of being renovated to become part of a tourist accommodation complex but it has been a work in progress for a few years now.

We arrived into Kurow about 4pm.  Kurow has become famous for the fact that our beloved All Black’s captain Richie McCaw hails from here.  The team all headed to the pub for a well earned drink and some hot chips – it was Easter Sunday so they wouldn’t serve you alcohol unless you ordered food – that’s what they told me anyway.  


While we were all enjoying the refreshments, Ian and Leona were loading the bikes onto the trailer for the 15km trip to our accommodation for the night – Campbell Park Estate.  


In 1857 Mr William Dansey purchased and lived on the sheep and cattle station which later became Campbell Park Estate.  He had the first house built in 1861 and “Dansey’s Hut” still remains on the estate today.William sold the property in 1861 to the Honorable Robert Campbell, the son of a wealthy Scottish family with business interests in England and Australia.  Robert then bought a large workforce of Scottish craftsmen and material from Scotland and Italy and built “The Castle” and stables in 1876.  

In 1908 the estate was sold to the New Zealand Education Board, who used it as a school up until 1987.  The school was closed and in 1988 the estate passed into private ownership.  The estate helped shape the future of thousands of young men, during which time the property was extensively developed into the beautiful and expansive complex that it is today.

An Introduction to Campbell Park School

Campbell Park School looks after boys of below average ability.  It is the only state residential school for boys of its type in NZ.  Boys between the ages of 10 and 17 come to Campbell Park from all over the country, in general because they have not been able to make much progress at ordinary schools.  Established in 1908, the school is administered by the Child Welfare Division of the Department of Education.  It has a roll of about 120.  Campbell Park aims to help the slow learning boy to live happily with others, to earn a living, and to look after himself.  The curriculum combines formal education with practical training designed to enable him to take his place in society as a well adjusted, self supporting member.  Among the staff of more than 60 are several specialists, who can bring out the best in each boy.  The aim of the teaching staff is to encourage the boy to develop self reliance, initiative, and confidence in his ability as an individual.

The current owners who we beleive are American tried to establsh it as a school for American boys but it did not prove successful.  They are now doing up some of the old staff houses for tourist accommodation.  We stayed in three of these houses and they have been beautifully done up.  Leona had organised a tour of the estate for us with Baz & Agnes.  Baz was the Assistant Principal at the school between 1968 until it closed.  His wife Agnes was a teacher aid at the school.  Baz alluded to the fact that he had had his 85th birthday.  They took us past the stables that are awating renovation, past Dansey’s hut, into the castle and the accommodation block.  The buildings are in great condition and it seems such a waste of a resource.

After our tour we headed for the old dining hall to have dinner.  An outside caterer called Gumboots and Pearls had prepared the food and Leona put the finishing touches on it.  The food was wonderful and again we had a lot of laughs over the evening.  Kaye was awarded Duckhead tonight to give her some comfort after Tony had forgotten their 33rd wedding anniversary!  



This blog was originally set up to share our 9 month adventure around Europe and the USA with friends and family in 2014. On returning to NZ in January 2015 I decided to carry it on so I could continue to share any future travel adventures - it has become my electronic travel diary. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to visit some of the wonderful places we have visited.
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