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Rediscovering Cataract Dam

Home > Sydney > Outdoor | Free | Escape the City | Picnic Spots | Walks
by Postcards from Shayne (subscribe)
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Published February 29th 2016
A peaceful & picturesque location
If you ever find yourself near Appin, on the Appin - Bulli Road, why not take a short detour to Cataract Dam. It is located only 84km from Sydney but is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
Pretty as a picture - Cataract Dam

Cataract Dam is the oldest dam in Sydney, and arguably the most picturesque. Construction began in 1902 and was completed in 1907. At the time it was an important engineering project as it was the largest dam that had been constructed in NSW. To read about the history of the dam and why it was built click here.

Cataract Dam collects water from a 130 square kilometre catchment on the Illawarra Plateau south of Sydney. Today the main role of Cataract Dam is to supply water to the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly regions.

We decided to check out the dam recently and started our walk from the Wishing Well near the car park. The Wishing Well contains information about the many dams of the region. The walkway to the dam wall is signposted from here.

As you walk along the pathway you can enjoy the bushland of this natural setting. You will also come across some historic sandstone cottages dating from the dam's construction.

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
One of several sandstone cottages

The main road and path down to the dam wall is quite scenic and is flanked by magnificent Phoenix palms. With only the sounds of the birds and wildlife around it is a very quiet and peaceful setting. As you get closer to the dam you may hear the gush of the water being released.

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
Enjoy the serenity as you walk down to the dam

At the end of the avenue is the extraordinary Manor House. Believed to have been built around 1910 for use of Water Board staff, it is a Federation Queen Anne style sandstone house with landscaped gardens, tennis court and spectacular water views. The location, adjacent to the dam and right on the lakeside, is an enviable one. Imagine living here!

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
The Manor House (Image Credit: WaterNSW website)

From The Manor you turn right towards a large staircase taking you to the top of the dam wall.

The dam itself is an impressive structure, at 247m long and 56m high, and designed with Tudor style architecture. The wall is made of sandstone quarried from the site and has been given a decorative finish. Looking upstream the top of the wall has been castellated, i.e. built in the style of a castle with turrets and battlements. The top of the downstream wall has been corbelled in concrete.

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
The view upstream through the decorative castellation

The small structure near the centre of the dam wall is the sandstone valve house.

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
The Valve House

From the top of the dam wall there are fantastic views of the lake, surrounding bushland and Keele Island upstream.

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
Looking upstream at the lake

Downstream you can see the gorge below and the stream of water being released from the dam.

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
Looking downstream

The gardens and picnic areas surrounding the dam feature relics of another time such as man-made caves, concrete grottos, ferneries and rockeries.

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
A large walk through cave is a reminder of simpler times

Although the picnic tables have a decidedly 70's feel, there are also modern facilities such as BBQ's, hot and cold water, modern toilet blocks, disabled facilities and a children's playground.

Cataract Dam Sydney Wollongong
One of several picnic areas

While we only stayed for an hour or so, visiting Cataract Dam reminded me of Sunday drives of decades past, family picnics and lazy summer days enjoying the great outdoors. It was a relaxing and enjoyable visit to rediscover a forgotten treasure.

Cataract Dam is open from 10am to 5pm daily, however during Daylight Saving Time there are extended hours on weekends and public holidays from 10am - 7pm.

Entry is free.

To get there:

From Sydney - Take the M5 south from Sydney, then the Campbelltown exit. To get to the Cataract Dam, take the bypass around Campbelltown southwards to Appin Road. At Appin turn left towards Wollongong. Turn right where signposted to Cataract Dam.

From Wollongong - Take the freeway north towards Sydney, then the Appin/Campbelltown turnoff. Continue for about 15 minutes until you come to the Cataract Dam turnoff on your left.

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Why? Rediscover a forgotten treasure
When: Every day
Where: Baden-Powell Drive, Appin
Cost: Free
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