Tuesday 6 September 2016

Upper Manorburn Dam- Central Otago

Catch-up, Mid March 2016

I bet the title fooled you. Thought we were back in the South Island didn't you? No. we're still parked up in sunny Napier where finally, I've been able to begin sorting through some of the photos from earlier in the year when we were on the move so much that I couldn't keep up with the blog posts. I still have a few too many folders to sort but I'll try and get a few posts done with the interesting stuff; some are too good to miss. So here's the first one...

You may recall we were staying beside the Manuherikia River in Omakau and it was from there that we did a number of day trips exploring the wider area. One was to the Serpentine Church, way past Poolburn Dam on Rough Ridge, followed by another long day to Upper Manorburn Dam a few days later. The dam and it's sister, the Greenland Reservoir, are located on the same ridge 700metres above sea level and just a little closer to Alexandra. In photos on the church link above, you can see them both far below us from a high point where we stopped on the Serpentine track.

The upper Manorburn Dam is not to be confused with the Lower Manorburn Dam- both are sometimes referred to as the Manorburn Dam but there's quite a few rugged kilometers separating them (see the map at the bottom of the blog)- the more well known lower dam is just outside Alex and is often used for ice skating in the winter. We visited it on another tiki-tour.....

Lower Manorburn Dam
To access the Upper Manorburn we left the river at Omakau and headed over into the Ida Valley...

...following the same road to the bottom of the valley, as we did to get to Poolburn Dam and the Serpentine, but turning off just before we reached Moa Creek. I managed to get a photo of an old stone cottage that we must have passed a dozen times before, this time I made sure I shouted 'Stop!!' before we'd roared past. It's such a shame to see so many around the area in such a state of disrepair.

We left the gravel 'highway' behind and hit the dirt track, weaving up to the top of the plateau...

...where we stopped for a look around. I't's dry and barren for as far as the eye can see, with little in the way of plant life except for a splash of yellow through a gully where a flowing stream is keeping the willows alive. Can you see David in the top photo? He was off searching for lizards when I shouted out 'Car coming!'- you can see it just coming through the rocks at the back in the middle. David had left the ute parked on the road, so he was racing to shift it (the fastest I've seen him move for a long time). I don't know why though, they could have skirted around the ute, given the terrain.

The car passed and disappeared out of sight...

...down the long and winding road. They obviously got fed up with the drive because we came across them heading back up the road a few kilometres later. I suspect the driver of the flash white car wasn't enjoying playing dodgems with the cow-pats that littered the road- those little black dots are cattle.

Twenty kilometres later we spied a small grove of greenery ahead of us...

...a few fishing huts and a sign indicating that we'd finally reached our destination, although we couldn't see the dam and didn't know whether to take the left or right turn.

We went left and made our way over a rather rough patch of track and then rounded a bend to find the dam wall right ahead, in front of us. 

We parked up by the wall (see the ute above?) and I wandered back down the track to shoot the huts. 

I never pass up an opportunity to capture the shots when I'm right there. You soon learn if you leave it for later, the light or the weather will have changed. And if the conditions have changed for the better by the time I pass back by, I then get a second chance to get some decent shoots.

We carried on down the track and around the edge of the dam...

...until we came across a few more huts and a couple of cars with empty boat trailers at a place called Gravel Beach. 

I love the fishing huts we're finding on our travels, they have so much character...

...and the best possible views.

At the far end of the dam (which has approx 14kms of shoreline), a gorge called The Narrows joins the Upper Manorburn to the Greenland Reservoir. 

We found a sheltered spot to have some lunch; in front of a tiny hut and in the lee of a large rock out of the cold wind. 

As we sat in the peace, quite and solitude we heard a faint buzz way off in the distance which quickly grew louder and louder as a small speed boat came into view. Fisherman on their way home.

They were still loading the boat on the trailer as we passed back by Gravel Beach. The dam level looked to be very low.

Dark cloud was rolling in as we neared the dam, lucky I took those hut photos earlier.

We stopped beside the outlet stream... 

...so David could check for trout.

None were spotted......can you see David's head in the photo below?

Then we stopped beside the spiny (and lethal looking) Spaniard plants at a high point further along the road. Spaniards, also know as Speargrass are an alpine plant; this whole plateau would be covered in snow numerous times over winter. 

And then it was one last stop before leaving the track behind to look for lizards in amongst the rocks again. We're actually looking for the very rare Otago Skink which is only found in Central Otago and then in very limited numbers and select areas and habitats. They are magnificent creatures growing to a length of about 300mm and are about 3-4 times the size of the skinks we usually find (on the right). We saw them on a visit to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary near Dunedin and ever since have been keeping an eye out for them. One day we'll strike it lucky.

The view over our shoulders as we scrambled amongst the rocky tors looking for lizards was spectacular, all the way up the Ida Valley to the the Hawkdun Range behind. A range made famous by Grahame Sydney's paintings. 


  1. Spectacular Central Otago! To me, it's grand, remote and mysterious...a lot more to be explored!

    1. Central, is fast becoming our favourite place. I love the vastness of it and that the landscape is so unique.

  2. So glad you didn't let this one (blog) get away.
    You turn a grave matter into an entertaining view and read....already at the top of the class
    ...even as a tall poppy....you would photograph it!

    1. Thanks Jimu, glad you enjoyed it and I still have quite a number of 'catch-ups' to work through. Who knows, we may have even visited the place for a 2nd time before I get to them! At this rate I'm sure I'll still be writing blogs long after we've finished our wandering lifestyle.


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