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Natural Attractions - AVON DAM

masonry dam wallThe Avon Dam is the third of the great dams of the Upper Nepean Rivers, tamed to provide water for the growing population of Sydney.

Completed in 1927, it was one of the engineering marvels of the age.

Like the Cordeaux (completed 1926), it too became a favourite excursion destination from the city.

Being further out, however, its 'attractions' are smaller and on a more modest scale. This perhaps explains why the tourist facilities are more elaborate than its cousin, the Cordeaux.

Scenic countryside.

Half the fun of visiting the Avon is the miles of winding, scenic roadway you have to traverse to get there.

Visitors may not be aware that in taking this journey they are in fact exploring the same rugged terrain - the deep gorges and ridges - of the Great Dividing Range which daunted explorers in the early days of settlement.

From the turnoff on the freeway, the narrow road (surfaced all the way) winds up and down through gullies, across river fords, and over steep ridges. (Smug modern 4WDrivers might consider their predecessors happily negotiated this trip, on dirt, in T-Model Fords.)


bbq facilitiesFirst class picnic areas.

On arriving at the precinct of the Dam both the roads and the walking paths rise and fall unexpectedley, offering views of breathtaking beauty.

The Avon Dam is in quite rugged country, and the tourist facilities are spread over different levels approaching the dam.

At the top level is a large area of lawn with a large covered area, 4 electric barbecues, tables to seat 50+, and a sink with hot water! There are also 30 or more other tables nearby, covered areas, a modern children's playground, plus tons of lawns for kids to play on.

Ideal family outing.

On the middle and lower levels are lawns, tables, benches, and more barbecues offering more intimate surroundings for couples and family groups.

The sheltered areas and toilets are spotless and well maintained.

In all areas there are taps offering fresh drinking water from the Nepean Water Filtration Plant (we tasted it, and it tastes the same as you get in the city.)

From the picnic areas it is a one kilometre walk (or drive) to the dam itself - well worth a perambulation after lunch.

children's playground

dam wallA masterpiece of engineering.

The dam itself is in rugged terrain, with a spectacular lake backed up behind it. The architectural flourishes are not as elaborate as on the Cordeaux, but the massive sandstone masonry wall is more clearly seen from one of the lookouts.

There are a number of marked paths to vantage points from which to observe the dam - some interesting for the walk for its own sake.

The bridge over the cutting which provides a bypass for the dam in full flood - hewn out of the living rock (which rocks found their way into the dam wall) - shows the spectacular effort made to build the dam.

Cut from living rock.

The Argyle Cut in Sydney's Rocks serves as a comparison, except this is much deeper than convicts could cut, and made using more modern technology (1920s).

The dam wall itself is not so breathtaking - the fall from the top being lesser than others, but the views over the lake behind offer both a beauty to the eye and a tranquility to the soul.

On our visit (midweek) we encountered: 3 generations of a family enjoying an alfresco bbq in one of the sheltered areas while the children played outside; an older couple strolling arm in arm along the walks; and young lovers asleep in the sun on one of the grassed terraces.

This is how it must have been 50-60 years ago.

One of the beauties of the Avon Dam (apart from its spectacular surrondings), is the landscaping and 'beautification' of the public areas.

the cutting

spillwayEvocative landscaping.

The dam wall itself may not be a celebration of 20s style, but everywhere there are the signs of formerly well-attended gardens, neat stone stairs and pathways.

And best of all sculptures (even tables) in art deco style, and rusticated concrete columns and fittings disguised as tree trunks (from which age?)

In former times there were attendants here to maintain the area and beautify it (like there used to be on railway stations - can you remember?)

Many of their garden beds are now mulched over and planted with natives (not necessarily a bad thing), but every now and then you can see the remnants of their work: neat rockeries, paths and stairways, the camellia walk to the lookout over the revetement at the bypass, cold climate plants.

Take away the parking areas and the modern conveniences, and you could visualise yourself in one of Norman Lindsay's sylvan glens.

Technical Details.

Avon Dam. Completed 1927. Masonry dam (sandstone). Wall 230 feet high; 690 feet across; 1050 feet above sea level when filled. Lake 1,055 hectares; 214,360 megalitres. Catchment area 140 square kilometres.

Part of the water catchment area for the city of Sydney from 1927 to 1963 when diverted. Now supplies the Illawarra Region and Wollongong

How to get there.

From Sydney. Take the M5 south from Sydney, then F5 towards Canberra - about one hour.

To get to the Avon Dam, turn left at the Bargo exit about 10 minutes from the Pheasants Nest Roadhouse. Follow the signs (all weather road.)

From Wollongong. Take the freeway north towards Sydney, then the Picton turnoff; follow for about 15 minutes until you come to the F5; turn left towards Goulburn. Turn left at the Bargo exit about 10 minutes from the Pheasants Nest Roadhouse. Follow the signs (all weather road.)

From Goulburn/Canberra. Take the freeway towards Sydney. About ten minutes past the Mittagong turnoff to the Highlands, take the Bargo exit. Drive a little further on towards Bargo: look out for the bridge over the railway line on the right; turn right here, back over the freeway, then follow the signs.

Avon Dam is open to the public and operates 10.00am to 5.00pm and 10.00am to 7.00pm on weekends and public holidays during daylight saving.Entrance is free.

For more information contact the Sydney Catchment Authority on (02) 4640 1200 during business hours Monday to Friday contact 13 20 52 or see their website - www.sca.nsw.gov.au.

Last updated 10/2/11