Sydney’s oldest castle inspired Dam perfect for a scenic visit and picnic
Located on the Cataract River and only a short 10 minute drive from the main strip of shops in the gorgeous town of Appin, Cataract Dam is one of the oldest and most picturesque dams in Sydney. Its castle-like sandstone architecture and tower make for a beautiful site to see. At the time of its construction from 1902 to 1907, Cataract Dam was one of the biggest engineering products in Australia and the fourth biggest in the world.
Cataract Dam is 56 metres high and 247 metres long with a catchment area of 130 square kilometres.
Cataract was the first of the four dams constructed to collect water from the Illawarra Plateau. Together with Cordeaux Dam, Cataract’s main role today is to supply water to Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly council areas via the Macarthur water filtration plant.
Top 5 things to do at Cataract Dam:
1. Book the Manor house for a visit
Cataract Dam is unique in retaining a set of handsome cottages which date from the dam’s construction, built with ‘ashlar’ (precisely cut) sandstone quarried on site. Accommodation can be booked for short stays. The official quarters is a particularly fine example of a Federation Queen Anne bungalow, with matching outbuildings and landscaped gardens surrounded by a castle-like sandstone fence. When built, the house contained a board room, offices, four bedrooms and a kitchen.
2. Make a grand entrance!
From The Manor – dramatically set on a cableway platform used in the dam’s construction – walk down a drive flanked by an avenue of Phoenix palms and Jacarandas towards the dam wall. At the top of a flight of steps, experience a magnificent view of the dam wall directly ahead, with its unique valve house set against the backdrop of the lake’s densely wooded shores. You’ll feel like a king or queen making a grand entrance!
3. Walk across the dam wall
Walk down the steps and across the dam wall for magnificent views of the lake and Keele Island upstream, and of the deep Cataract Gorge downstream. If you walk the full 247 metres to the other end, you’ll glimpse the dam’s spillway. When the lake is full, the wall feels much higher than its 56 metres. Look out across the lake, then cross to the other side and look down into the gorge. You might be lucky and see giant plumes of water being released from the outlets below.
4. Be photographed next to a castle!
Near the centre of the dam wall stands the valve house, finished in weathered sandstone. Its Tudor style features a slate hipped roof with ridgecap finials and with parapet gable ends on the north and south sides and arched parapets on the east and west sides. It’s a great place for photos. Your friends might even think you’ve visited a castle!
5. Relax with a picnic
Throw down a rug and enjoy a picnic with family and friends in the landscaped grounds. Look out for reminders of the dam’s glory days as a picnic spot in the 1920s and 1930s, when Upper Nepean dams competed for the most beautiful gardens. Remnants of ornamental gardens, grotto shelters, decorative walls and ferneries are scattered throughout the upper picnic area, and near the dam wall is a concrete faux-log bridge. Modern facilities include electric barbeques, drinking water, picnic tables, a children’s playground and toilets.
Gallery + Map