Little did the two miners who struggled up the Cromwell Gorge in 1862 think that the land they were standing on and the river below would one day become a man made lake, its waters used to generate electricity. But Horatio Hartley and Christopher Reilly were more intent on the present than the future and their first strike was made on the eastern side of the river opposite the point known as Gibraltar Rock. A few days later they knew they had struck it rich when gold was washed in gleaming quantities at Hartley's Beach, about a mile below Cromwell on the western bank of the river.
The stretch of river was to become the scene of countless mining operations both on land and, as the dredgers got to work, on the river. In its earliest days the rough track that wound through the gorge would accommodate little more than a packhorse but the need for supplies eventually saw a road of sorts pushed through the gullies and scrub. By 1868 a mail coach was running to Clyde but the road was so dangerous that at times the passengers had to be left behind.
The railway was put through from Clyde to Cromwell in 1917, eventually replacing the wagon teams that had so laboriously hauled in the essential supplies for the miners. The discovery that the gorge was an ideal location for the cultivation of stone fruit led to the development of orchards on the rich silt terraces that had been built up over time. Each day during the fruit season the train clattered its way to the city markets with thousands of cases of cherries, apricots and peaches. The days of the orchards in the gorge were numbered but the large new horticultural developments on the outskirts of Cromwell more than took their place.
The Clyde Dam and the waters of Lake Dunstan flooded 12 orchards in the gorge and a total of about 2,300 hectares of land. Included in this was the historic meeting point of the Clutha and Kawarau Rivers. To balance this was the tremendous area that has become available for a multitude of recreational activities both on and about the lake. Be sure to obtain a booklet explaining the history of the Cromwell Gorge from the Information Centre.