Down by the riverside

By Mike Yardley

Coursing through the heart of Otago, the Clutha River system is the South Island's longest river, and New Zealand's highest-volume river.
As it flows southeast from its alpine source, shadow the path of the river for an enriching road trip delivering a fresh perspective on heartland New Zealand.
A good starting point for exploring Clutha Country is the mighty Clyde Dam. Like most Central Otago towns, it was the gold rush of the 1860s that brought about its settlement. But nowadays, the historic town is dwarfed by the 100m-high dam, built between 1977 and 1989 as a Think Big project.
On the day I visited Clyde, high rainfall had necessitated the spilling of dam water, which produced a thunderous sight to rival the Huka Falls.
At the base of the dam, chocolate-box pretty Clyde township oozes with colonial charm. The main street is lined with handsome wooden and stone buildings including a gold rush-era hotel, historic cottages and a delightfully dainty Bank of New Zealand building.
Heading south from Clyde (Clutha is the ancient Gaelic name for Scotland's Clyde River) stop by Alexandra to fuel up on essentials. Central Otago's biggest town plays host to the Blossom Festival in the first week of September, climaxing with the annual street parade of floats, adorned in 20,000 blossoms.
Just south of Alex, Flat Top Hill delivers panoramic views.
Further south, the winding riverside highway brings you to Roxburgh. This is the South Island's stone-fruit bowl and you'll spot plenty of roadside shops and stalls selling apricots, peaches, nectarines and cherries. Stock up heartily. The Roxburgh region boasts back-country scenery at its finest, spanning alpine ranges, sun-drenched hills, wide-open plains and the winding turquoise waters of the Clutha River.


If you're hankering for a hill climb, I recommend the Bullock Track Walk. This five-hour return tramp trundles you up to a tussock-covered summit delivering commanding views of the Clutha River and Lammerlaw Ranges.
Continuing south, the Clutha River's final feature of interest before it meets the ocean is Balclutha. An eye-catching concrete arched bridge spans the banks of the mighty river.
Nicknamed the Big River town, Balclutha is a popular base for trout and salmon fishermen.
The South Otago Museum provides an excellent insight into the colonial and industrial history of Balclutha, including the importance of the goldfields. The nearby town of Lawrence is well worth a potter for gold rush buffs.
Beyond Balclutha, take the Southern Scenic Route which is the main gateway into the wild splendour of the Catlins.
TOP TIPS

The Highway Lodge Motel is a highly recommended rest stop, in the heart of Balclutha. Boasting 16 self-contained units, features include cooking facilities, Sky TV, wireless internet, a coin-operated launderette, double glazing, electric blankets and ample off-street parking. Breakfasts, a spa and business services are available on request, plus they can cater for guests with disabilities. An excellent value-for-money, super-friendly motel. www.highwaylodge.co.nz
For comprehensive information on Lawrence's 150th celebrations and the wider Clutha Country, go to www.cluthacountry.co.nz

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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