Travel Story - Under the clock in Alexandra
9 December 2020
Alexandra has a bit of a reputation of being the hottest, driest and coldest town in NZ. It has four distinct seasons and is one of the reasons it is rather a unique place to visit at any time of the year.
It is spread out on the banks of the Clutha River, 188 km from Dunedin and approximately 30 km south of Cromwell. It’s the biggest town in Central Otago, and the starting point for the famous Otago Central Rail trail is just a few KM’s up the road in Clyde. The newer Roxburgh Gorge Cycle Trail makes the whole area great for exploring on bikes (or e-bikes!).
Central Stories Museum & Art Gallery
Located in the main street, we’re always keen to visit local collections of history and memorabilia.
They’ve done a great job setting out exhibits which depict the rich history and heritage of the Alexandra region. We wandered around reading and learning about:
- Geology, gold mining, gold dredging – including a miniature working model dredge
- stories of the early explorers and a section devoted to the hard-working Chinese miners who set up in this area
- the history of the merino sheep
- how rabbits were introduced to the area (big mistake!!)
- the creation of the very popular annual Blossom Festival
It was a scorcher of a day, which Alexandra is renowned for. Getting up to 28 degrees, we decided that it really wasn’t a day for much walking in the bright sunshine so it was with some relief when I realised we could drive up to the lookout, rather than a very hot and taxing slog uphill.
We took the drive up to the lookout which is above the iconic Alexandra clock. There is a walkway to the clock and beyond to the lookout but on a day like today, why walk when you can drive!!
Lower Manorburn Dam
Next on our list was a visit to the Lower Manorburn Dam. This dam was constructed in the early 1900s and people have been ice skating on the dam every winter ever since.
In the 50s and 60s busloads of them would turn up from Invercargill, Dunedin and Christchurch and it would be filled with skaters. Today, the dam offers good fishing, kayaking and swimming. It is still popular but more of a picnic and a chill-out area
Carrying on with the ‘dam’ theme, we stopped off at Butchers Dam, also close to the Alexandra township. There are a few options when it comes to walking trails, but we decided to walk the 1-hour loop track.
It must have been quite the engineering feat when the dam was constructed between 1935 and 1937. It was built during the great depression to create a water reservoir for Alexandra. Today it is used for irrigation purposes and is privately owned. There is an impressive 728-metre tunnel which had to be drilled through solid schist rock.
We wandered across the impressive concrete structure of the dam and meandered around the loop track. We came across the interpretation boards and read about the fauna and flora and also more about the gold mining remains.
Eating & drinking
There are plenty of great cafes and restaurants dotted around the Alexandra area. The Courthouse Café is set in the original Courthouse built in 1876. Weaver Estate Wines is a family owned estate winery & vineyard with guest cottages, a boutique tasting room & guided tours. The Hinton Estate winery is located right on the rail trail and so close to town you can walk back to your accommodation. For some fine dining try Olivers Restaurant in nearby Clyde, a cozy restaurant & bar serving upscale New Zealand cuisine in a stone-walled 19th-century store.
Story written by Star Camper Care clients Scotty & Linda