Report - - Ross Creek Reservoir, Dunedin - October 2016 | European and International Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Ross Creek Reservoir, Dunedin - October 2016


Is this the future?
Regular User

Ross Creek Reservoir is a category I artificial lake in Dunedin, New Zealand, and for a long time it remained the oldest large earth water supply in the country. Designed by Ralph Donkin, a civil engineer who was born and educated in England, it was constructed in the 1860s amid the Otago gold rush, to supply water to the expanding town at the base of the valley. After emigrating to New Zealand he became the engineer for Dunedin Waterworks Company and was quickly assigned the task of finishing a reservoir that a private company had attempted to build in 1863. Donkin’s plan was approved in 1864, and by 1867 the project was fully completed. For a brief period, it was known as the Royal Albert Dam, but the name was dismissed almost immediately due to its unpopularity.

The reservoir cost approximately £30,000 to build, and it was sufficient enough to supply twenty gallons per head to 20,000 people. It is said that the site is a typical example of nineteenth century engineering, particularly with its stone lined channels. Other important features include two small earth dams (one twenty-three metres high and the other ten), a valve tower and a large concrete overflow slope. It is estimated the reservoir itself can hold 130,000m3 and with modern technology could supply water to a large proportion of the city; one problem the water board encountered initially was that the reservoir was situated too low to supply water to many of the higher parts of the city.

The reservoir was used up until around twenty years ago, when a number of large cracks were discovered. Further cracks appeared in 2010 and they now have to be closely monitored. To prevent a disaster and further instability, the water levels in the lake have gradually been lowered over time. The Ross Dam Reservoir project aims to repair the dam so that the water may be used once again in the future. An additional problem that has transpired recently, however, which is one that might increase the repair costs, involves red algae. The plant is potentially harmful to humans and so would have to be completely removed from the waters for them to be safe to use. Despite the problems with the reservoir itself, the area surrounding it is a native public reserve that has been allowed to regenerate. It is a popular place for walkers and fitness fanatics, and the central lake in the middle is said to be one of the main attractive features.

Our Version of Events

Holed up in village-like city of Dunedin for a few months, we’ve been struggling to find anything interesting to explore. Any do-able rooftops aren’t really worth doing because they’re not high enough, the vast majority of abandoned buildings have been stripped and are being redeveloped, and the draining scene ends after you’ve done the old Victorian sewer – unless you like crawling through stoopy homogeneous concrete piping. So, when we came across an ‘abandoned reservoir’ while trawling the internet for things to do, it seemed like it might be worth a quick visit.

The next day, we found ourselves trudging up one of the trails in ‘the bush’. It’s pretty dense in there, by British standards. We tend to be used to small patches of woodland and the odd forest that doesn’t require a machete to walk through. Thankfully, though, especially since we’d left the machete behind, some nice chap/chapette has lain down a very convenient gravel track, so we didn’t really have to enter the foliage. It took several minutes to reach the top of the hill, and this is where the base of the first dam can be found. We clambered up the side, following a smaller dirt track, and emerged on a footpath at the top. The view was pretty incredible: on one side we had the lake, glistening beneath the morning rays, and on the other the bush we’d just walked through.

However, conscious that there were rather a lot of people around, we decided it was best to focus and watch them instead, so we could look for a gap in the traffic where we could hop fences and get some better close-up shots of the dam and all its intricate parts. Many luminous sports bras and sweaty vest tops whizzed past us as we stood, waiting, looking very conspicuous as we weren’t really dressed to blend in with the crowd. The minutes slowly ticked by, and the runners kept on coming. We were certain we’d seen some of them more than once; there was definitely a bit of déjà vugoing on! Eventually, our patience paid off though, and there was a very brief gap in between runners. With the skill of Olympic high jumpers, we wasted no time crossing the waist high wire fence. Once on the side of the dam, we took a few shots and tried to locate the cracks that had been reported, but we couldn’t really see any obvious ones. Considering the dam was described as being in ‘poor condition’ on the Dunedin City Council Website, we felt it looked in better nick than some of the active ones in the UK.

The next forty-five minutes were spent ducking and dodging budding Gladiator contestants; although, in hindsight, there was that much ‘Eye of the Tiger’ tuneage going on in people’s ears, I doubt anyone would have really paid any attention to what we were up to. Nevertheless, we wanted to at least pretend that we couldn’t get caught, so we made every effort to be stealthy. It was only the final overflow channel that presented any real challenge in the end. We’d intentionally left this until last as we knew we had to go back down that way to get back into the city. As we started to descend we quickly realised how much we’d underestimated the steepness of the slope, and how slippery the surface was. The entire concrete structure was covered by a bit of a canopy, so I guess very little sunlight gets onto it, meaning there was a nice layer of invisible slime everywhere. As the slope is in full view of everyone walking up to the dam, I’m quite certain we were seen as we clung on for dear life, onto the sides, branches and every other thing we could find. The thought of tumbling to the bottom didn’t appeal to any of us. After a painstakingly slow descent, we eventually reached the bottom. From there it was easy to climb back out of the creek. We did take a moment to gaze back up at the slope, though, to take in its full magnitude; it certainly seemed much more impressive now.