Prime Minister Keith Holyoake was joined by media, international guests (such as Swedish royal Prince Bertil), and elected officials to ceremoniously open the station.
In a carefully stage-managed piece of theatre, he pushed a button to see the station roar to life... But did it really?
Behind the Prime Minister, a neon tube lit up a large board with a map of New Zealand, showing the connection between Benmore and the capital, Wellington.
Much to the delight of the assembled crowd and guests, DC power from little old Benmore was powering the capital. Cheering, hugging, whooping and celebrations across the town of Otematata ensued.
So what really happened that day?
One of about four dam-building families still living in Otematata today is the Bayliss family, consisting of Alan ‘Taffy’ Bayliss and wife Bev.
Alan, now 85, was a technician in his heyday – working on Benmore between 1964 and ’68. He remembers the opening ceremony well.
He said he can’t remember seeing anyone as flustered and panicked quite as much as his foreman was; his face turning whiter as each turbine was declared out of operation.
Two burst into flames upon starting up; while the other turbine had accidentally been welded to its casing, preventing it from spinning.
He remembers clearly another problem quickly emerging on the morning of the ceremony – there was a limited number of seats in the hall where the opening would take place.
“There was a huge assembly of people and the physical space of the power station couldn’t accommodate all those people.
“All the MPs, the agencies involved, the Territorial Authorities, all invited and there was no room for anyone else – not even for the construction workers,” Alan said.
“That caused an uproar let me tell you . . . but thankfully for us there was another problem. Those running the evening needed security guards, tour guides, car park attendants and all the rest of it.
“So, our boss said, ‘listen fellas, you guys volunteer your services, I’ll pay for a shout.’ I was on the social club and we were already planning a big knees-up that night – so we gladly joined in.
“They got their volunteers and we had a great big knees-up in the gymnasium afterwards, along with some of the nobility invited,” he laughed.
There were around 450 Ministry of Works employees living in Otematata in the late 1950s, but that number significantly dropped with the dam’s completion.
At the 2001 census, Otematata had a “usually resident population count” of 243.
Alan Bayliss said he’s immensely proud of his and his colleagues’ work.
“I’m proud of what these New Zealanders have built and what they left behind. I take my hat off to one man in particular – Max Smith,” Alan said.
“He was the last project engineer for the MoW. That man started his working life in Roxburgh. When he came here (to work on Benmore) he had a whole number of people willingly help him make the dam into a real recreational space, where people wanted to be.
“Without him there would be no trees, no lasting recreational amenities. We wouldn’t have had boat harbours, toilets, boat ramps – you name it,” he said.
Benmore and Otematata would not be the same place they are today without the foresight of Mr Smith, he said.
What will I find in the area?
In terms of wildlife in the area, the New Zealand falcon/kārearea, sky lark, chukor, California quail and the New Zealand pipit/pihoihoi can all be found. As well as the common skink and common gecko if you look hard enough.
In terms of recreation, Lakes Benmore and Aviemore attract many boating enthusiasts, whether it be power boats, yachting or windsurfing. Jet skis and wave riders are also popular.
The wider area offers walks, tramps, mountain biking, boating, and fishing – Lake Benmore is well-known for its trout, with healthy stocks of both rainbow and brown trout. Chinook salmon and sockeye salmon can also be found.