A dam fine piece of paradise

GORGEOUS GORGE: Jarrod Gilbert takes a dive off the Pareora Dam into the Pareora River, South Canterbury
GORGEOUS GORGE: Jarrod Gilbert takes a dive off the Pareora Dam into the Pareora River, South Canterbury

Our No More Ugly series asks writers about their favourite places. Beck Eleven claims the Pareora dam in South Canterbury.

Everyone takes the piss out of Timaru.

Unless you're from Timaru, in which case you take the piss out of Waimate. I'm not sure what the pecking order is from there but I suppose it goes Oamaru then Gore.

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, growing up in Timaru means you know all about South Canterbury and South Canterbury is cool.

The countryside is gorgeous. And speaking of gorges (do you see what I did there?) I am going to let you in on my secret, special place. I actually hate sharing this spot with strangers so consider yourselves dear friends.

Wear comfy shoes, jump in a car and head out of Timaru, past Mt Horrible and along the Pareora Gorge Rd. To be honest, I only think that's the best route. It's one of those places I can only find when I follow my nose. It doesn't have an address and that's just the way I like it.

First you get to a spot called Evans Crossing along the Pareora River.

We used to take family trips to Evans Crossing. It was beautiful. We'd park by the river, unpack a rug and a picnic basket and spend the day swimming, throwing rocks, catching cockabullies and eventually some adult would mention something about the "billy" being on.

But I'm an adult now and I don't have the patience to lie beside a dried old river, so my itchy feet get walking to my favourite spot, past the gorge to the Pareora Dam.

There is a sign explaining the walk is an 80-minute return trip but you could be at the destination in 20 minutes quite easily.

You climb a couple of stiles, wander past the grazing sheep and the fence that always seems lined by their dried-out old poop. Go along the path, through some trees, balance on the edges of the old brick walls that exist for God-only-knows what reason.

You're basically beside the river for the whole walk but you reach a certain point and the rapids get louder. This means you are nearly there. Just five minutes up the dusty narrow path to the Pareora Dam.

I love the Pareora Dam. It's gorgeous in a ramshackle kind of way and it always feels like a secret because even on a busy day you'd be hard pressed to find half a dozen people there - which is just as well because there's not much space.

You can swim in the water above the dam, or daredevils jump from its concrete lip. But you do have to be careful because where the dam is crumbling, the water rushes through at speed.

I took my boyfriend to the dam in summer. He whinged a bit but when he saw the dam he was compelled to jump in, shorts and all. The dam is tempting like that.

A teenage girl drowned there in 2005, the summer I returned from London. I never knew her but I always think of her when I'm up there, near the dam.

The Press