Reefton Power House Foundations

Rosstown Road, Reefton

  • Reefton Power House Foundations.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Mike Vincent. Date: 20/06/2012.
  • Reefton Power House Foundations.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Mike Vincent. Date: 20/06/2012.
  • Reefton Power House Foundations.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Mike Vincent. Date: 20/06/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5002 Date Entered 30th August 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent of registration includes part of the land described as Legal Road (Sec 154 Blk XIV Reefton SD as shown on SO 3938), Nelson Land District and part of the land described as Sec 198 Square 131 (CT NL2A/579), Nelson Land District, and the structure known as Reefton Power House Foundations thereon. (Refer to map tabled at the Board meeting on 2 May 2013).

City/District Council

Buller District


West Coast Region

Legal description

Legal Road (Sec 154 Blk XIV Reefton SD as shown on SO 3938) and Sec 198 Square 131 (CT NL2A/579), Nelson Land District

Location description

The Reefton Power House Foundations site is accessible via Rosstown Road which leaves SH7 immediately south of the bridge leading into Reefton township. The site is located on the true right (south) side of the Inangahua River. The site can also be accessed from State Highway 7 via a footbridge over the Inangahua River, to the east of Reefton township. The power house is signposted from the road.



Walter Prince was a British electrical engineer who arrived in New Zealand in 1883 to take up a position with the New Zealand Electric Light Company in order to supervise the installation of lighting at the Lyttelton wharves. Prince failed to fulfil this contract, however, and after it had been awarded to another firm the engineer moved on to Central Otago where he installed a hydro-electric power plant at the Phoenix Gold Mine in 1885. Invited to demonstrate his one kilowatt dynamo in Reefton, Prince arrived in the town in November 1886 and on the 24th of the same month he "lit up" four hotels on Broadway, Reefton's main thoroughfare. This display encouraged local residents to form a company to provide a public supply of electricity for the town and Walter Prince was subsequently appointed electrical engineer and contractor to the Reefton Electric Transmission of Power and Lighting Company. He was probably responsible for the siting, initial design and construction of the Reefton hydro-electric powerhouse, although, as with his previous endeavours, he was really more successful as an entrepreneur than as an electrician.

Prince was succeeded by John Horton in September 1888 and it was he who was responsible for righting the inadequacies of Prince's system and for writing New Zealand's first set of electrical regulations.

Following Walter Prince's demonstration of electric lighting in Reefton on 24 November 1886, the Reefton Electric Transmission of Power and Lighting Company was established on 6 December of the same year by sixty-five local residents. The company subsequently arranged for the installation of a power plant early in the following year, at a cost of £1800. After construction problems and equipment delays had been overcome the hydro-electric power station was tested on 1 August 1888 and began supplying the township of Reefton three days later.

The initial performance of Prince's system proved to be disappointing, however, but once John Horton had improved the insulation and water resistance of the distribution network the power station continued to supply Reefton until 11 November 1946. At that time the Greymouth Electric Power Board began supplying the town's electrical needs from the national grid, and after serving as a storehouse for a number of years the power station was eventually demolished in 1961.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Reefton hydro-electric power station provided the first public supply of electricity in the southern hemisphere and may therefore be ranked with stations in London, New York and Vienna as being amongst the earliest public suppliers of electricity in the world. The concrete foundations and turbine pits, largely of the 1908 and later station, serve as a visible reminder of New Zealand's early hydro-electric technology and development.


These ruins are the substantial well-preserved concrete foundations of a relatively small-scale hydro-electric plant of the early 20th century.


Access to the powerhouse site is provided by a swing bridge across the Inangahua River. This bridge is a prominent landmark and attracts attention to the site of the power station, although the site itself is largely concealed by vegetation.


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The original structure built on the site in 1888 may have been designed by Walter Prince, engineer of the power generation company. Very little of that building now remains. The designer of the 1908-1946 buildings is not known.


The Reefton powerhouse was located on the south bank of the Inangahua River. Part of the water-race which provided the water to drive the turbines is still visible. Nothing remains of the 1888 powerhouse, and the surviving remains are of the 1908 plant and its modifications through to 1961. Only the foundations of the former buildings survive, together with the 1908 and 1935 turbine pits and the 1908 penstock and water control gates. These are all in concrete. Some of the iron penstocks and turbines also survive on site.


The power station was continually modified throughout its life to the demolition of all buildings in 1961.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1908 - 1946

Construction Details

Mass and reinforced concrete.

Public NZAA Number


Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1906

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 5, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, 1906

Kay, 1960

Rupert A Kay, (ed.). Westland's Golden Century, 1860-1960: an official souvenir of Westland's centenary, Greymouth, Westland Centennial Council, 1960.


Architectural Drawings/Plans

Site information panels prepared by Reefton Electric Power Board.


The Press

3 March 1973, p12

Press, 26 December 1984, p15

Press, 5 August 1988, pp21-23

Electricity Supply Association of NZ

Electricity Supply Association of NZ

Photographs: N. Rennie, Power to the People - 100 Years of Public Electricity Supply in New Zealand, Electricity Supply Association of New Zealand, Wellington, 1989.

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.