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Natural Attractions - CATARACT DAM

Cataract dam The Cataract Dam is the first and oldest of the great dams of the Upper Nepean River, tamed to provide water for the growing population of Sydney.

One of the major tributaries of the Nepean River, the Cataract River rises in the mountains along the escarpment above Wollongong and flows inward - north towards Appin, west towards Wilton, then north again to join the Nepean near Douglas Park.

As the name implies, it flows much of its course through deep cataracts and ravines, hidden among the rough countryside except at Broughton Pass - on the road between Appin and Wilton - where it was forded in colonial times.

One of the world's great engineering feats.

Broughton Pass was on the first of the great south roads from the early colony of Sydney (1810s) and the upper reaches of the Cataract were probably first explored over a century and three quarters ago.

The great gorges further south no doubt inspired engineers to build the first of the great dams for Sydney, the Cataract - completed in 1907.

When built it was the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia, and the fourth largest engineering project of its type in the world.

The Dam Wall

Falls on the spillwayA scenic wonderland.

Close to Sydney, Cataract quickly became a haven for sightseers, and the owners - the then Metropolitan Water, Sewerage, and Drainage Board - were proud to show it off to daytrippers.

In those days man-made marvels were as popular as anything that nature could show to rival them, all the more so because they showed man's mastery over the environment.

(It's hard to imagine that only a century ago people were still coming to grips with the great advances of the industrial revolution.)

National engineering landmark.

The dam wall itself is actually of primitive construction (monolithic sandstone blocks blasted out of the surrounding cliffs) combined with then modern concrete technology for the facings.

The builders, Lane & Peters, topped the structure with sandstone crenellations and a sort of Victorian-Edwardian transition building housing the controlling mechanisms for the outfall.

The MWS&DB completed this marvel by building a vast picnic area hewn from the bush, with pathways, staircases, grottos, lookouts, and landscaped gardens to give the site a veneer of civilisation.

Picnic areas

Room for everyoneTHE family picnic destination.

A trip to Cataract would have been a grand day's outing in the early part of the C20th.

Added to and rebuilt over the years, there are now sufficient picnic facilities to cater for hundreds of families.

There are over 30 barbecue areas; 40 tables with benches; 3 undercover areas with BBQs, tables, hot and cold water for up to 40 people each; 3 clean and modern toilet blocks (paper supplied!) plus disabled facilities; a modern children's playground; heaps of garbage and recycling points; and acres of lawns for the kids to play on.

Get close to nature.

Our Edwardian forebears would have felt right at home here: the bush rolled back to allow for lawns and gardens; the rockeries and ferneries along the many bordered pathways and staircases down to the lookouts; little garden nooks to relax in at ease.

Close to the bush, but not too close for the city sensibilities of earlier times.

Today we feel more comfortable with the many native shrubs and flowers planted in the formerly exotic gardens.

(The grand homestead on the way to the dam is now a Conference Centre - unfortunately, not open to the public).

Conference Centre

The spillwayTechnical details.

Cataract Dam. Completed 1907. Basalt concrete faced sandstone masonry block.

The wall is 811 feet across, 684 feet high, 156 feet wide at base and 16 feet at top.

Dam is 950 feet above sea level, and when full the lake is 150 feet deep, 2,104 acres in area.

Average annual rainfall in catchment 56" per year.

The marvel visitors cannot see is that the waterflow is controlled into the river to a weir at Broughton Pass.

From here it is diverted through 2 miles of the Cataract Tunnel to the Upper Canal (about halfway between Appin and Douglas Park) where it flows some 57kms by gravity to the Prospect Water Filtration Plant near Prospect Reservoir.

From the water filtration plant it is reticulated throughout the city.

How 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 (southern outskirts of the city). At Appin turn left towards Wollongong. About 6 kilometres on, turn right then travel 4 kms to the Dam (all weather road.)

From Wollongong. Take the freeway north towards Sydney, then the Appin/Campbelltown turnoff; follow for about 15 minutes until you come to the Cataract Dam turnoff on your left. Follow road about 4kms to dam (all weather road.)

From Goulburn/Canberra. Take the freeway towards Sydney. About twenty minutes past the Mittagong turnoff to the Highlands, (just past the Roadhouse at Pheasant's Nest), take the Wilton/Wollongong exit. Turn right at the overpass, then follow for about 5 minutes then turn left to Wilton. Turn right at Wilton, following signs to Appin, down Broughton's Pass (your first glimpse of the Cataract River). At Appin turn right towards Wollongong. About 6 kilometres on, turn right then travel 4 kms to the Dam (all weather road.)

Cataract Dam is open 7 days a week 10.00am to 5.00pm. (Closes 7.00pm on weekends and Public Holidays during Daylight Saving Time.) 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 17/6/07