Central Otago District

Dykes Dam and the Sowburn

A natural swimming hole surrounded by rich gold mining history. Patearoa was originally named Sowburn, after the river that flows from high above in the rock and pillar range. For best info on the history of the Sowburn, hike up the trail to Dykes Dam. Along the trail you will pass by a Chinese miners camp and numerous swimming holes as well as heaps of Placards to inform you of the past.


Patearoa is located 20 km southwest of Ranfurly in the Maniototo area of Central Otago. Park at the picnic spot beside the bridge at the southern end of the township. There is an easy access swimming hole here. Or take the river trail up to where Dykes Dam once stood.

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Bugs in his eyes

Between Christmas and New Years in 2016, we had found ourselves camping in Oturehua with a whole bunch of friends. I had been reading a book on one mans journey to visit all the old gold mining rushes of Otago. Trying to convince everybody of these great swimming holes I had read about from 1960, to get them exciting for an adventure. But most had there own plans. So My family and I went with just another small family over to the next valley for the day.

As we pulled into the small town of Patearoa we realized it was quite a happening place in summer. At the rivers edge there were about 20 people jumping and swimming in the crystal clear pools. We didn't stick around here long, instead started walking up the trail to Dykes Dam. Along the trail we passed by an old Chinese miners camp, now just piles and piles of rocks with the odd foundation sticking through. We got passed by about 40 people all carrying tubes and wet suits heading up the trail. When we got to Dykes Dam, there were people everywhere, drinking, swimming, sunbathing, floating. It was a great sight to see. I grabbed one of my kids and started wading though the closest pool. I heard people yelling at me and realized my camera was starting to sink into the water. I turned around pretty quick. It wasn't long till my son found out about sand flies, swarming around us when we were in the shade. He keep telling me there are bugs in his eyes, and he couldn't open them. It was quite funny really. Please enjoy the pictures. And enjoy the trail.

Central Otago is Hot - Stu