Known as Big River Town, Balclutha is surrounded by the Clutha River as it winds its way towards the sea. This river is the biggest river by volume and starts its journey at Lake Wanaka in Central Otago. Half a mile downstream from Balclutha the river divides into the Matau and Koau branches to create a unique geographical feature by enclosing a 10-mile long island of Inchclutha. Inchclutha is known for its great agricultural growing land, with several dairy farms and market gardens on this island.
Balclutha township is divided in two by the river. North Balclutha occupies the northern bank, and the main business area, "the flat" and Rosebank are on the south side. A 6 arched concrete bridge, built in the 1930s spans the river to link the town.
Primarily an agricultural service town with a strong dairy and sheep farming hinterland, Balclutha's major industries include Silver Fern Farms Meat processing plant, Fonterra Cheese factory at nearby Stirling and timber processing. Other industrial activities include general engineering, the manufacture of concrete products & several joinery businesses.
A strong retail centre makes up the town centre with 4 banks, post office, The Warehouse department store and many boutique stores and day time cafes. A Carnegie library, strong arts centre and theatrical society provide good services for the arts and literary followers. The hospital is also ideally located in central Balclutha close the shopping centre and other amenities.
The first settlers arrived in the district in 1849. James McNeil may be regarded as the founder of Balclutha. His farm included the present town site and he also established a river ferry. The locality was known to the Maoris as Iwikatea but in McNeil's time it became known as Clutha Ferry. The river provided the earliest means of communication and in August 1863 the s.s. Tuapeka began a regular service on the river as far as Tuapeka Mouth. The river service ended in 1939. After the discovery of gold at Tuapeka by Gabriel Read in 1861, the primitive road system was improved. A coach service began to run between Dunedin and Clutha Ferry in January 1861 and between Invercargill and Dunedin via Clutha Ferry in 1864. The township grew steadily and in 1863 town sections were surveyed at what is now North Balclutha.
The first bridge across the Clutha at Balclutha was opened in 1868. In 1875 the Dunedin-Invercargill railway reached the north bank at Balclutha and the rail link with Invercargill was completed in 1879. In 1878 a serious flood occurred, Balclutha was flooded, and the road bridge destroyed. The lower course of the Clutha changed and Port Molyneux was ruined as a port. Soon after, flood banks were erected to protect the town from further flooding. The names Balclutha and Clutha were chosen by the prospective Scottish settlers in 1846 so that the future principal town of South Otago would have an association with the city of Glasgow. Clutha is the ancient name of the River Clyde, and Balclutha means "town of the Clyde". Balclutha was constituted a borough on 10 August 1870
For further information on the Clutha District including climate, attractions, things to do health and education, visit the Clutha Country website.