Balclutha, New Zealand

Balclutha (Māori: Iwikatea) is a town in Otago, lying towards the end of the Clutha River, on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is about halfway between Dunedin and Invercargill on the Main South Line railway, State Highway 1 and the Southern Scenic Route. Balclutha has a population of 4,230 (as of June 2020), and is the largest town in South Otago.


Iwikatea (Māori)
Looking across the Clutha towards the town centre. The distinctive road bridge is visible in the centre of the picture
Location of Balclutha within New Zealand
Coordinates: 46°14′S 169°45′E
CountryNew Zealand
Territorial authorityClutha District
  Total7.55 km2 (2.92 sq mi)
 (June 2020)[1]
  Density560/km2 (1,500/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+12 (NZST)
  Summer (DST)UTC+13 (NZDT)
Area code(s)03
Local iwiNgāi Tahu

The Clutha District Council is based in Balclutha.

The major service centre for the fertile farming region around the lower reaches of the Clutha River, it is also the nearest large town to the Catlins, a scenic region of native forest, wildlife, and rugged coastline.


Known locally as "Clutha", Balclutha's name – and that of the river on which it stands – reflects the Scottish origin of the town's settlement. The name comes from Scottish Gaelic and would be spelt Baile Cluaidh in that language; this translates into English as "Town on the Clyde".

James McNeil from Bonn Hill, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, who is regarded as the town's founding father, arrived in 1853, via Port Chalmers in 1849. His farm was on the site of the present town, where he and the Provincial Government established a ferry service across the Clutha in 1857; as a result the town was initially called Clutha Ferry.

The Māori name for the area is Iwikatea, literally "Bleached bones" (a local Māori tribal battle in 1750 left the decomposing bodies of the defeated, their bones whitened in the sun).


The Balclutha urban area had a usual resident population of 4,110 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 123 people (3.1%) since the 2013 census, and a decrease of 24 people (0.6%) since the 2006 census. There were 2,010 males and 2,100 females, giving a sex ratio of 0.96 males per female. Of the total population, 675 people (16.0%) were aged up to 15 years, 741 (18.0%) were 15 to 29, 1,734 (42.2%) were 30 to 64, and 957 (23.3%) were 65 or older.[2]

In terms of ethnicity, 86.6% were European/Pākehā, 11.5% were Māori, 3.9% were Pacific peoples, 5.0% were Asian, and 1.3% were other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).[2]


The Clutha River flows through the town. It is the largest river in New Zealand by volume of water, and the country's second longest after the Waikato. It provides the town with various recreational facilities, including fishing (brown trout), water skiing and power boating.

Balclutha Road Bridge

The most prominent structure in the town is the concrete Balclutha Road Bridge across the river, which was built in 1935. The original 1868 wooden bridge was washed away on 14 October 1878. Rebuilt in 1881, it was later considered unsuitable for motor vehicles.

The South Island Main Trunk Railway crosses the river some 800 metres downstream, near the junction where the Clutha River divides into the southern branch, known as the Koau (pied shag), and the northern the Matau (derived from Mata Au, the Maori name for the Clutha).

Most of Balclutha township lies on 'the flat' land which lies within a wide loop in the river to the south of the road bridge, but North Balclutha is on the hill to the north of the bridge and Rosebank on the hill to the south.

There are several natural features in and near Balclutha. Nearby at Benhar / Kaitangata is Lake Tuakitoto, and Matai Falls, a natural waterfall and scenic feature is in the Catlins.[3] The yellow-eyed penguin comes ashore for breeding in the Balclutha area at the edge of the Catlins, and The Nuggets are located at nearby Kaka Point.


Primary schools

Balclutha School is a co-educational state primary school for Year 1 to 8 students,[4] with a roll of 147 as of March 2021.[5]

Rosebank School is a co-educational state primary school for Year 1 to 8 students,[6][7] with a roll of 246.[8]

St Joseph's School is a co-educational state primary school for Year 1 to 8 students,[9] with a roll of 54.[10]

Secondary schools

South Otago High School is a co-educational state secondary school for Year 9 to 13 students,[11][12] with a roll of 486.[13]

Tertiary education

There is one tertiary education facility, Telford, a campus of the Southern Institute of Technology.[14]

Notable people



  • Bette Flagler. 2005. Adventure guide: New Zealand, Hunter Publishing, Inc, 800 pages ISBN 1-58843-405-2
  • Reed, A.W. (2002) The Reed dictionary of New Zealand place names. Auckland: Reed Books. ISBN 0-790-00761-4.