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Poolburn Dam, Central Otago

Poolburn Dam, Central Otago

Central Otago is famous for its barren, rocky hills and seemingly never-ending landscapes. It’s a unique part of New Zealand and is easy to visit, considering its close proximity to tourism heavyweights Queenstown, Wanaka and Dunedin. Poolburn Dam is a prime example of what Central Otago has to offer – the landscapes are as good as you’ll see anywhere in the region and it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s also a Lord of the Rings filming location.

Getting to Poolburn Dam

The best way to visit Poolburn Dam is to drive there via Moa Creek Road. Nearby is the Ida Valley, Ophir and St Bathans (definitely visit St Bathans). There are other roads, but this seems to be the most common entry point. It’s recommended you travel in a 4WD vehicle as the road is fairly rough. We went in my dad’s 4WD, but I reckon we’ve driven on rougher roads in our 2WD car. I’m not suggesting you try it but it could be possible (don’t blame me if it all goes wrong though!).

The road to Poolburn Dam is closed from early June to late September. We went in early March and the conditions were good. The road winds its way past barren fields full of massive rocks and eventually leads to the blue waters of Poolburn Dam / Reservoir.

Poolburn Dam / Reservoir

You can get some nice views of the reservoir from the road as you’re coming down the hill, but drive up the other side a bit for some of the best photo opportunities. From there you’ll see right over the lake, including its islands and the small houses that have popped up around the lake. Trout are found in abundance in the lake and judging by the amount of small houses scattered around, it’s a popular spot to fish. I’m no fishing expert but if you’re keen on dropping a line somewhere in New Zealand this could be a good option.

From there you can drive around to see the actual dam, and the road continues from there towards Clarks Junction (I’d say you’d need a 4WD though). We turned around soon after and headed back – I can’t imagine the views getting too much better anyway although it would be an interesting drive.

There isn’t too much else to do at Poolburn Dam. You can go for a little walk by the water, climb some of the easier rocks and admire the unique views on offer.

Lord of the Rings

Poolburn Dam was the filming location for Westfold (Rohan) in the Lord of the Rings. It’s one of my favourite Lord of the Rings filming locations in New Zealand, the others being Mount Sunday, Paradise, Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) and Hobbiton (the last two are on the North Island).

Are you planning a road trip through New Zealand? Check out our South Island itinerary!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.