Cotter Dam

Review: The Cotter Dam Site


Late in 2013, there was much ado in Canberra about the completion of the new Cotter Dam. The new wall is a replacement and enlargement of the previous dam on the Cotter River. It was built as a result of the ten-year drought and the need for water security for Canberra.

The surrounding recreational areas had been devastated in the 2003 bush fires and the whole area has been rejuvenated to once again be a reaction area for locals and visitors on the outskirts of the capital.


While the area measures up as recreation and picnic area, the landscape design work is basic and adequate. The image above is of the end of the picnic and arrivals avenue that leads directly to the wall of the dam. An alternate is to park about a kilometre away and walk up the river on the other side. This I resisted on the day we visited, as the temperature was already into the 30s when we arrived.


From the outset, you are greeted with an abundance of signage. It is indeed meant to be an educational experience. Many people spent time reading all the information. I am not sure at this point how many actually stopped long enough to actually take in the sights.



As you can observe in the photograph above, the simple design solution delivers a natural surrounding to the stream that is moving away from the dam and heading downstream to join eventually the Murrumbidgee.


What hits you next is the walkway across the stream that leads up to a viewing platform.

The view below is from the walking trail just before the peak where the viewing platform is situated. The view from here looks back to the dam wall.

Again I have to suggest that landscape design work here was basic at best. The walkway is a very efficient and effective engineering construction. What is going for it, is that there is so much of it.


The walk way leads up the to the platform. Here there is even more information panels. And there is a higher view of the dam wall.

I notice very few people actually taking much time to take in the view. Most read some or all of the information;  a few posed for photos, and then off they went. Over the period I was there, I noticed only one group spending any time at all taking in the view.





I came to realise that there was a major view that was not part of the visitor experience. Having visited quite a few dams in my life, I remember well the power of seeing all that water before you. In this case, you do not get to see the water backed up behind the dam wall. You see the wall and get to walk up the hill to this platform, and when you get there, besides reading all lot of education materials, you see that wall again.

There is much online about the Discovery Trail. This walk way is a very solid and generous walking trail for those visiting the area. To be honest, without the view of the vastness of the water behind the wall, this whole experience is a bit light on. It is indeed of some interest. And there is a lot to read. But that’s it.

I would not go out-of-the-way to talk about it with visitors, and it is not a destination for recommendation for visitors to Canberra.

On the walk down by the other walk way, there is the reminder of the bush fires and a view from downstream of the dam.



There is no doubt that some great engineering work has been done here but I suspect the landscape design work was basic. I definitely had the feeling the modest design solutions were secondary to necessary engineering solutions. This may improve over time as finances becomes available through the normal recreation and parks budgets.

If you want a picnic, by all means head up there.

If you are into dams, maybe include this one on your tours. I also suggest going to the Googong Dam where you will see the water; and you have far less to read, so you may spend time taking in the views. (a review to follow)

If you want to see some good landscape design work, then go elsewhere.

If you are into water engineering and constructed walkways, then by all means have a look.

If you want a drive in the countryside, by all means pass through the Cotter Dam site, stop and have a quick look from the end of the avenue and then drive on to the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

Please read this in conjunction with the review of the Cotter Dam artwork – a review to be loaded 29 January – click here.

Recommendation: Rating 6/10

Paul Costigan, 28 January 2014

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