Dyke’s Dam (Sowburn Walkway), Patearoa, CENTRAL OTAGO

Patearoa is a small settlement in rural Central Otago, meaning “fortification with a clear view” in Te Reo Māori, although this may be more the original name of the Rock and Pillar Ranges, rather than the name given to the village.

Europeans settled here in search of gold in the 1860s, and named the place “Sowburn” with around 500 miners living there in the 1870s. Unfortunately the gold mining was short lived as workings were too deep, and many miners either left or turned their hand to farming. The population peaked in 1904, with farming the main support to the village.

Fun fact (which I learned today writing this) a sow is a female pig who has already birthed a litter. (As apposed to a gilt which is a female pig who has not, including those pregnant with their first litter). It’s also pronounced ‘sour’ rather than ‘sew.’

Now, Patearoa has a ‘usually-resident’ population of about 80 and 50 dwellings, about half of which are holiday homes. It is pretty evident when you visit the village that the numbers increase significantly in the summer, and that the settlement seems to be about to burst into popularity with new builds and subdivisions starting to appear.

The Sowburn Walkway follows the Sowburn River, and is a great walk in Patearoa.

If you don’t feel like walking, there is a great picnic and swimming spot where we parked our car. This is a particularly good option if it’s really sunny (as it often is during the hard summer months in Central Otago) as there is shade offered here, but not at the dam. This is what we did on Boxing Day 2022, which was relentlessly hot, coming back another day for the walk.

I would, however, highly recommend the swimming spot at Dykes Dam itself if you can manage the walk. Just take a lot of sunscreen and an umbrella for shade.

Track Facts:

(Also known as Patearoa Walkway)

  • 45mins (leave extra time for exploring and swimming)
  • 3km
  • Easy walking
  • Kid friendly, but wee ones will need to be carried as it’s not suitable for a pram
  • The walkway technically starts at Sowburn bridge (bridge 148 on the Patearoa-Paerau Highway), which would add an extra km (0.5km each way), but I would still recommend starting where we did, and adding this part on at the end if you wanted to make the walk a little longer.

Getting there:

From Patearoa drive down the Patearoa-Paerau Road. Turn left onto McSkimming Road, then follow it around to Chirnside Tce. We parked near “Top Bridge” where Chirnside Tce intersects with Aitken Road.

The track:

There are 2 tracks from the “Top Bridge” to “Gallaway Bridge,” one on each side of the river. They are sensibly named “Westside” and “eastside” walkways. At Gallaway Bridge the tracks merge to become a single track from there to Dykes Dam.

We made the walk a bit of a loop by doing the Westside walkway, up to Dykes Dam, then back down the Eastside Walkway. This is the way I would recommend, although going the other way around would be ok as well. If it’s a particularly hot day and you don’t want to be exposed to the harsh sun any longer than needed, you could just walk the Eastside track return as this offers some shade from trees, where the Westside track was exposed dirt track.

Part way up the Westside walkway you will find Tom Lewis’s Shelter. Tom Lewis, as the sign reads, was a gold miner who lived 1805-1898, living in a shelter he built under the rock here, and where he grew vegetables to sell in the village.

After about 15mins of walking you will arrive at Gallaways bridge, opened in 2011 (which is why some info about this walkway tells you to get your feet wet and cross the river to make it a loop track) This bridge is named after Ian Gallaway, a former broadcaster who spent holidays in Patearoa throughout his life, while living in Dunedin. Read about it here.

Just after crossing the river you’ll find the remnants of a Chinese mining camp. This is fun to explore and you can still see evidence of a number of built walls, as well as a fairly well defined cabin, with a wee dog kennel built into the outer wall near the ‘doorway.’

Dog kennel

Carry on from here for about 10minutes to the dam. Dyke’s Dam was built by Charlie Dyke, an early miner, although the dam was not very helpful for mining as it washed away in a flood.

From here, the walk is a simple 20minute walk back down the track, staying on the east side of the river when you get back to Gallaway Bridge. The Eastside walkway offers a bit more shade than the Westside, and there is an area of newly planted native trees which you can help along by watering out of one of barrels of water (or fill the barrel itself if needed and you want to aid some strength training to your walk). If you happen to visit a few years after I write this post, please do send me pics of these trees-I’m always interested to see this kind of progress (though tbh I’m likely to visit again and again myself).

Happy Hiking



Things to do nearby:

Bunny Lane Lavender Farm

This is a sweet wee (new) lavender farm and shop, located at 2 Hawthorne Ave.

The lovey owner gave me some fresh cut culinary lavender which I’ve been happily adding to cocktails and drinks (she suggested a choc lavender cake!). I purchased some lavender soap and dried bunches from the shop, but they also had oils and lots of other goodies to buy. (Including cute crocheted bunnies with lavender inserts for a nice calming comforter)

Famous Pies at Waipiata Country Hotel/Pub

When I say famous, somehow they’re actually not that well known. Which is an absolute travesty because they are the best pies I’ve ever had (let’s petition to add these to NZs list of best pies).

The Waipiata Country Hotel is right on the Otago Central Rail Trail and seems popular with cyclists as Pitt stop for lunch, or somewhere to stay overnight.

Anytime we are in Central Otago we visit for a pie. They are soo good and we will be back time and time again. Seriously, if you’re a pie lover (who isn’t?) you’re missing out if you haven’t tried these pies. I would even go so far as to rank them higher than the very popular Fairley pies (shocking as this is, I 100% stand by this).

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