I have mixed feelings about dams. They help create the quality of life many of us enjoy today – added water, electricity – and new places for humans and animals to thrive. But they also ruin wild rivers, ecosystems, indigenous sites and degrade water quality. Then again, beavers embrace them, change is inevitable and perhaps dams are just a part of that inevitability. They also create pretty places I like to explore, like Lake Plimsoll in western Tasmania and Lake Clarrie Hall in northern NSW.
Since I’d already visited the former, I decided to explore Clarrie Hall Dam and its namesake lake, located just outside the town of Uki in the Northern Rivers hinterland. Described as perhaps “the most scenic” lake in NSW, Lake Clarrie Hall is fringed with lilies, virginal forest and has the backdrop of Wollumbin (or Mount Warning) – an accessible part of an ancient volcano that offers the first glimpse of the winter sun on the Australian mainland.
Lake Clarrie Hall is located at the end of a winding road that travels through lush countryside, and getting there was perhaps more fun than the destination. After passing meadows, forest and mountains, I arrived at Clarrie Hall Dam to sweltering heat and a lively population of monitor lizards. Around the dam are signs with snippets of indigenous history, which felt a little token, as the dam does nothing to serve indigenous culture.
Spying a trail alongside a boat ramp, I decided to follow it through the forest, just a few metres in from the lake shore. The trail had several vantage points that afforded views over the lake and towering Wollumbin, each stop better than the last. As summer was just beginning to kick in, the day was humid and I began sweating profusely.
I arrived at the third fork on the trail – marked by a sign indicating ‘dam wall trail’ – and followed this down to the lake. Here the lilies, lake and forested mountains looked nice enough, although I was feeling a little disappointed. I wasn’t getting the shots I wanted and Lake Clarrie Hall just wasn’t living up to my expectations. Clearly I’m spoilt living in this part of the world.
Heading back to the fork, I decided to follow the trail’s sign uphill, hoping it might take me back via a scenic adventure. After what felt like a two-kilometre hike up a steep hill, carrying merely a mouthful of water (another spontaneous adventure), I realised I was on the arduous path to nowhere. Sweaty and half-delirious, I returned back down the trail, passing several monitor lizards and arrived back at the lake’s second vantage point. Thankfully here I experienced a brief moment of magic.
All of a sudden, it seemed, the light changed dramatically. The generator on the far side of the river stopped and the sky took on a somber hue. A soft, peach-coloured sun crept above mountainous silhouettes and the forest suddenly looked vast, adventurous, beautiful. All was silent save for a kookaburra’s laugh, which echoed across the lake. I tuned in, watching dragonflies hover above lilies and small ripples dance beneath light shadows.
Lake Clarrie Hall had been well worth the visit, just for this moment.
Facilities/things to do
• There are several picnic tables, toilets and BBQ facilities at Clarrie Hall Dam, although the dam wall access affords no views over Lake Clarrie Hall.
• The trails are worth exploring and the place is popular with kayakers and fishermen, as the lake is stocked with Australian bass. You will, however, need a fishing licence to fish here.
• Clarrie Hall Dam is located 1½ hours north-west of Byron Bay, just outside the picturesque town of Uki.