A popular rest stop on the Otago Central Rail Trail, Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead is the legacy of English immigrants Ernest and Hannah Hayes, who settled in Central Otago after their arrival in 1882. Though he worked initially as a millwright at local flour mills, Ernest’s enterprise began when he started inventing tools to simplify work on his 150-acre farm near Oturehua. From rabbit bait cutters to windmills, Hayes’ labour-saving inventions quickly spread around the country and overseas. Perhaps most well known tool is his refinement of J Reid's fencing wire strainer, perfected in 1924, and is still used around the world today.
In a picturesque Central Otago setting, Hayes Engineering Works forms part of an industrious enclave that developed as demand for its products grew, alongside Ernest and Hannah’s family that expanded to nine children. Today, the rustic mud brick buildings and their authentic contents are remarkably well preserved.
The workshop – with its labyrinth of overhead shafts, belts and pulleys driving various lathes, drills and saws – was previously powered by windmill and then a water Pelton wheel, but now runs on an electric motor. Offering fascinating insight into how things were created back then, the machinery is brought to life with lively commentary on four scheduled Operating Days and many other times throughout the summer.
The family’s 1920s, mud-brick homestead was powered by the factory’s water Pelton wheel and furnished with many ‘modern’ inventions, such as piped radio. A vast collection of artefacts adds immensely to the story of the Hayes’ busy domestic life, as do agricultural buildings which include the stables and dairy.
Hannah Hayes, however, wasn’t confined to the house and farm. Dressed in ankle-length skirts, she made intrepid bicycle trips throughout the Maniototo and MacKenzie counties, seeking orders for Ernest’s early inventions. A colourful example of creativity and determination in the face of hardship and isolation, the Hayes family is an inspiration for us all.
Self-guided tours allow visitors to wander through the buildings and grounds, with pre-booked guided tours available throughout the season and on Operating Days (check the website for dates). Along with a delightful gift store, there is a cafe offering delicious food and refreshments during the summer months (September to May).