Kelso was a village in Otago in southern New Zealand which was abandoned in the 1980s. It was located near the town of Tapanui on South Island. It was located roughly equidistant from Dunedin and Invercargill. At one stage in the 1960s, almost 300 people called Kelso home and the rural settlement was home to many sheep farmers and a small dairy factory serving the industry.
Kelso was founded in 1875 and was intended to be the largest township in the West Otago region. Tapanui eventually took over, serving mainly as a hub for the local forestry industry at the foot of the Blue Mountains. Kelso was named after a town in Scotland of the same name, the hometown of one of its earliest settlers, James Logan.
At its height, Kelso had a primary school with three teachers, shops, saleyards, a church, hotels and a town hall. It was a thriving community that brought people from all over the region.
The railway arrived in December 1880 with the Tapanui Branch line, linking to the town of Waipahi and the Main South Line railway. The line was seen as vital to connect the West Otago region to other parts of the country however, Kelso’s location on the Crookston Burn, not far from the Pomahaka River, soon became problematic.
The village was built in an area prone to flooding and major events occurred in 1913 and 1917 when Kelso was placed in danger. Over the years, minor floods occurred occasionally and a particularly extreme one in 1978 caused the closure of the railway. In 1980, a second major flood caused extensive damage and it was decided to move the entire population elsewhere. The village was left abandoned afterwards and the land was claimed by nearby farmers.
The town of Kelso remains uninhabited to this day, largely destroyed by the flood in 1980. The government of New Zealand declared that the town would not be rebuilt. The farmland around it continues to remain in use, despite the issues with flooding, and efforts have been made to try to keep the waters at bay to little avail. A memorial has been erected to the town and the people who lived there. The rail line has never reopened.
The old dairy building remains in place and is still prone to flooding. Efforts have been made to create dams and so save the historic building from floods but to no avail, in fact, local councillors in New Zealand suggest the problem continues to get worse. Recent efforts have also been made by the local council to renovate the building but to no avail.