Bullendale Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site

Skippers Creek Right Branch And Skippers Creek Left Branch, Bullendale

  • Phoenix Mine Hydro Electric Plant Site.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Date: 1/02/1983.
  • Bullendale. Phoenix Achilles Mine Dynamo. 2011.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Peter Petchey.
  • Dynamo Hut. 2011.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Peter Petchey.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 5601 Date Entered 22nd April 1985


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 148 Blk XI Skippers Creek SD (Recreation Reserve, NZ Gazette 1985, p.5386) and Pt Legal Road (Bullendale Track), Otago Land District, and the structures associated with Bullendale thereon, and a class of chattels that includes all remnants around the site belonging to the era of gold mining era and all objects associated with the mining and power generation operations and settlement at Bullendale within the extent of registration boundary. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Queenstown-Lakes District


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 148 Blk XI Skippers Creek SD (Recreation Reserve, NZ Gazette 1985, p.5386) and Pt legal road (Bullendale Track), Otago Land District.

Location description

Bullendale (formerly known as ‘The Reefs’) is located in rugged country between the Richardson Mountains and the Harris Mountains in Otago, 27 kilometres north of Queenstown. The Bullendale settlement and the Phoenix (later ‘Achilles’) gold mine and the New Main Shaft were located beside the Right Branch of Skippers Creek. The power house for the mine was beside the Left Branch of the same creek. Access to Bullendale from the Wakatipu Basin is via the precipitous Skippers Road, to a point six kilometres south of Bullendale. Beyond Skippers was foot access via a pack track and up the stream bed.


The Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site at Bullendale is nationally significant as the site where, in 1886, hydro-electric power was used for industrial purposes for the first time in New Zealand.

In the mid to late nineteenth century New Zealand was a world leader in gold mining technology. It embraced new technology to make the extraction of gold more efficient and more profitable. The Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site at Bullendale is an outstanding example of the use of new technologies.

Bullendale was an extremely isolated gold-mining settlement in the upper reaches of Skippers Creek, north of Arrowtown. Originally known as ‘The Reefs’, it was established in the 1860s. The settlement was based around quartz mining, which involved underground mining for gold-bearing quartz and crushing it with a stamper battery to extract the gold. The stamper batteries were powered by water - but water in Bullendale was often in short supply due to the extremes of heat and cold. The country at Bullendale was rugged, the mining both tough and expensive, and there was a shortage of payable stone. Though the returns through to the 1880s were good, the difficulties eventually led to a search for new technology to crush the quartz.

By the late 1880s, Bullendale had been acquired by George Bullen, owner of the Phoenix Mining Company and the man after whom Bullendale is named. Together with the mine manager Fred Evans, Bullen made the inspired and pioneering decision to drive his stamper battery using hydro-electric power. Bullen hired Robert Ernest Fletcher, the pioneering electrical engineer who constructed the first hydro-electric power system in Australia. Fletcher generated hydro-electric power from two dynamos in Skippers Creek, and installed a power line over the intervening spur to the stamper battery at Bullendale. The electricity powered the stamper battery and was also sufficient to light the underground workings and to power the New Main Shaft winch. The equipment began operation in 1886, making it the first industrial use of hydro-electric power in the country and two years before Reefton became the first town in New Zealand to be lit by electricity. Once the technology was pioneered at Bullendale, the spread of electrical transmission to other areas of mining was swift. It was cheap and efficient power that could be transmitted over distance and the application to dredging technology was quick.

Despite the use of such advanced technology, the mine struggled, changing hands a number of times before finally closing in 1907. After the mine’s closure, Bullendale was abandoned. Some buildings were demolished for the iron, but the remote and rugged situation prevented the removal of much of the heavy equipment. As a result, the remains of Bullendale are remarkably intact.

The centenary of the commissioning of the power plant was celebrated in 1986, when the dynamos were restored to their original positions. In 1996 an archaeological survey was carried out, recording the whole mining system. The survey showed the system included the reconstructed dynamos, derelict battery sites, settlement sites and mine features, and revealing that the original electric motor had survived.

Bullendale Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site is of outstanding significance as the site where the use of hydro-electricity was pioneered for industrial purposes in New Zealand in 1886. The survival of so much of the overall system, including the major parts of the original dynamos and electric motor, makes this an internationally significant hydro-electric powered industrial site.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

In the mid to late nineteenth century New Zealand was a world leader in gold mining technology and also embraced new technology to make the extraction of gold more efficient and therefore more profitable. The search for ways of improving gold extraction led to the cutting edge of available technologies of the period. Bullendale Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site is an outstanding example of the use of new technologies, where hydro-electric power generation via a dynamo plant powered the stamper battery which crushed the quartz to extract the gold. This use of hydro-electric power marks the beginning of what has become a central element in the history of power generation in New Zealand.

Aesthetic Significance

Bullendale Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site is located within the spectacular steep country in the Richardson Mountains near Queenstown in Otago. The isolated location and the rugged terrain emphasise the achievement of the miners at Bullendale in working this area and building a hydro-electric plant, with the associated transport difficulties, in such a place. The isolation has been a key to the survival of the site.

Archaeological Significance or Value

Bullendale Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site is a significant archaeological site because it is example of a remote gold mine and associated settlement in extremely rugged country, and it contains the internationally significant remains of New Zealand’s first hydro-electric industrial power scheme.

Technological Significance or Value

Bullendale Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site contains the internationally significant remains of New Zealand’s first hydro-electric industrial power scheme. The electricity supply industry has relatively few relics in comparison to other industrial sites (as they are often redeveloped on the same site) making such remains especially significant as they provide evidence of these early technologies. The surviving site at Bullendale is remarkably early and relates to the beginning of the period of rapid proliferation of electric installations. Bullendale represents the movement of new technology into outlying areas and has considerable value not only as an early power scheme, but also as a superb archaeological example of technology transfer from industrialised Britain, Europe and America into the world.


The settlement of Bullendale was the home of the miners who worked the reefs in the area. An isolated place, a long and arduous trek over rough country from Queenstown, Bullendale was the social centre for the community. As well as the two remaining corrugated iron huts, a rarity in such an isolated place, the site commemorates that community and its hardy occupants who lived there from the 1860s until around 1907.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The history of Bullendale Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site reflects important aspects of New Zealand history. The occupation at Bullendale spans the period of gold mining history from the first gold rush to this area to the decline of hard-rock gold mining in the Lakes District, in itself an important part of the history of the area. Even more significant Bullendale and the Phoenix Mine’s pioneering role in the history of hydro-electric generation technology in New Zealand.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

Bullendale is associated with the first use of hydro-electric power in an industrial setting in New Zealand which is an important event in this country’s history. Related to this Bullendale therefore has an association with merchant, investor and pastoralist George Bullen (who gave his name to the area), whose willingness to adopt the technology lead to its use in this isolated place, and with pioneering electrical engineer Robert Ernest Fletcher who worked on hydro-electric projects and in other roles in both New Zealand and Australia.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

Bullendale has further potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand history through archaeological methods. The mining heritage which survives is wides-spread and consists of the remnants of the hydro-electric operation, open mines with rail lines intact, stonework/Timberwork for mining structures, the foundations of battery sites with their stampers, timber and mortar boxes, various water power generation equipment, cableway remains, a rock crusher and rock drill as well as the pack track, and the telephone/power lines, as well as numerous artefact dumps and scatters. The hydro-electric remains include the dynamo site and equipment and the remains of the dynamos.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

The community association with Bullendale has been recognised through its inclusion in publications celebrating the centenary of the generation of hydro-electric power, and the associated restoration on site in 1986. The further restoration in the 1990s illustrates the ongoing significance of Bullendale to the Queenstown community.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The Bullendale site has interpretation through a number of media, including film, on site interpretation and publication and has considerable potential for further public education.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

As a surviving example of the working system of an early hydro-electric power plant constructed for industrial purposes, the Bullendale site has outstanding significance, illustrating the technical operation and layout of the Phoenix Mine’s dynamo plant and battery, and the accommodation of those who worked them.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

Bullendale is among the earliest surviving hydro-electric sites in the world, and is certainly New Zealand’s earliest surviving industrial electric power site, and as such has outstanding significance.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The single working system which includes the Bullendale settlement site, the Phoenix/Achilles Battery site and the Phoenix Dynamo site which provided power for the mining operation and the township itself is a historical landscape in itself. It is also part of the wider mining landscape of the rugged Skippers area which provides insight into the lives of miners in this spectacular region.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.

Bullendale Hydro Electric Dynamo and Mining Site in its isolated location emphasises the achievement of the miners at Bullendale in working this area and building the first hydro-electric plant used for industrial purposes in New Zealand. Consistent with New Zealand’s position as a world leader in gold mining technology, Bullendale is an outstanding example of the use of new technologies, where hydro-electric power generation via a dynamo plant powered the stamper battery which crushed the quartz to extract the gold. This pioneering use of hydro-electric power in 1886 marks the beginning of what has become a central element in the history of power generation in New Zealand. The survival of so much of the overall system, including the major parts of the original dynamos and electric motor, makes this an internationally significant hydro-electric powered industrial site.


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R.E. Fletcher & Co.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

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Historical Narrative

Resources and the development of hydro-electric power

When fashionable Parisians took a late evening stroll down the Avenue de l’Opera during the Paris Exposition of 1878, Yablochov Candles lit up their world, sixty four arc lights on a city street. They were among the first in the world to see electric lighting. While the technology of incandescent bulbs ultimately replaced arc lights, this illuminating event led the way for the development of electric lighting and power for a multitude of uses around the world. The glamour of Paris far away from the mountainous isolation of the Lakes District of Otago, but only eight years later New Zealand saw its own pioneering entry into the world of electric light and power generation, to power a gold mining battery (through hydro-electric generation) at the Phoenix mine at Bullendale in early 1886.

The first commercially successful arc light systems were developed by Charles Brush (1849-1929) in the United States of America. The systems featured an arc light and dynamo. The Brush Dynamo was as one writer noted, ‘a monumental achievement in power generation.’ By 1879, the Anglo-American Brush Electric Light Corporation in England had been established and had purchased Brush’s English and foreign patents. This company provided the training ground for electrical engineer Robert Ernest Fletcher who played a major part in the Bullendale story, and who carried Brush’s invention to the far end of the world – to New Zealand.

New Zealand’s early experimentation with hydro-electric power was in the hands of private operators, Otago miners leading the charge. The Phoenix Mine at Bullendale had a generator for lighting in 1884, but it was the hydro-electric plant commissioned in 1886 at Bullendale, which was, as historian Peter Chandler writes, ‘the first significant generation and transmission of hydro-electric power for industrial purposes in New Zealand.’ The scheme attracted national attention. It was an important, pioneering period in the use of electricity – just two years later the West Coast town of Reefton would become the first town to be lit by electricity, which was provided by a small hydro scheme on the Inangahua River in 1888.

Mining at Skippers Creek

Like Ngai Tahu who have ancestral links with Whakatipu-wai-Maori (Lake Wakatipu) relating to tupuna Rakaihautu, and who valued taonga such as pounamu and gathered the mahinga kai of this mountainous region, so Europeans came inland in search resources, first pastoralism, then gold. Recorded occupation sites show that Ngai Tahu knew the Wakatipu area well, as a source of seasonal food gathering, and particularly as it was en route to the West Coast where pounamu was found. Following on from the spectacular finds at Tuapeka and Dunstan Gorge, gold prospectors swarmed over much of Otago. By the end of 1862 prospectors had reached Skippers Creek.

A reef was discovered by Jones, Murdoch, Southberg and Olsen and became known as the ‘Scandinavian Reef.’ The reef was according to archaeologist Neville Ritchie, the first quartz mine in the South Island. Quartz mining involved underground mining for gold bearing quartz which needed a heavy plant to crush the quartz and a large capital investment to build the stamper battery. The stamper battery also needed power, initially water power, thought this was a problem in an area with extremes of heat and cold.

Skippers Quartz Mining Co. Ltd was registered in March 1866 to work part of the Reef. George Francis Bullen was one of the shareholders, and it was after him that the Bullendale settlement was named. English-born Bullen was one of three brothers with mercantile interests in Melbourne, Victoria, and in Dunedin. They had branches in Queenstown, Cromwell, Hokitika and Greymouth.

Bullen was also a shareholder in the Great Scandinavian Quartz Mining Co. Ltd registered in May 1866. This company had its origins in the Scandinavian Prospectors Company of January 1864. It erected a small 4-stamp battery at their claim. The Great Scandinavian Quartz Mining Co. Ltd replaced the 4-stamp battery with a 30-stamp battery at the confluence of Murdoch and Skippers Creeks. The Scandinavian Reef was renamed the Phoenix Reef, and the company became the Phoenix Company, and was owned by the Bullen Brothers. Engaged through a Melbourne newspaper advertisement, Cornishman Fred Evans was employed as mine manager, a position he would hold for the next thirty years. The Otago Quartz Mining Co. Ltd built a 16-stamp battery in Murdoch’s Creek in 1866, which became known as Southberg’s Battery. The country was tough, the mining tougher, and there was a shortage of payable stone and though the returns through the 1880s were good, the difficulties led to a search for new technology.

The Phoenix Mine Company and the Development of Hydro-Electric Power

In 1885 George Bullen acquired Southberg’s ground and by 1888 he had purchased the British-American ground. In 1889 he bought the Phoenix Extended Claim, making him the sole owner of the field. The Phoenix and the Otago Quartz Mining Companies held a shared water right, which powered both batteries, though there were problems with water supply in dry periods. These problems led Bullen and Phoenix Mine manager Fred Evans (whom historian De La Mare credits with the initiative for pursuing hydro-electric power) advised by Walter Prince (an employee of R.E. Fletcher & Co.) to investigate the use of electric power.

In November 1884, Walter Prince visited the Phoenix mine to report on a proposal to use water from the left Hand Branch of Skippers Creek for power generation, at which time electric lighting was already being used. It was during this visit that first mention is made of a small dynamo which was already being used to provide lighting. The site chosen for the generating station was on the other side of Southberg Spur from the mine, in the Left Branch of Skippers Creek. R.E. Fletcher & Co. was contracted to supply and install the system at a cost of £2,200. A water race was already constructed in the area for Alymer Company’s sluicing claim.

R.E. Fletcher & Co. was a Dunedin firm of electrical engineers and contractors. Robert Ernest Fletcher (c.1857-1935) (an Associate of the Society of Electrical Engineers in London) was born in Dulwich, London and was trained at what was then known as the Anglo-American Brush Co (later the Brush Electrical Engineering Co). He went to Melbourne in 1882 and on behalf of the company started the Australia Electric Co. Fletcher was appointed to carry out the construction of the first hydro-electric system in Australasia in Launceston, and also for the first government hydro-electric scheme in New Zealand with the generating plant at Okere Falls in 1900. By 1884 he seems to have set up his own concern in Dunedin, specialising in mine lighting and in transmission of power over long distances (the Bullendale connection was made in 1884). His obituary in the British Journal of the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1935 describes him as ‘one of the pioneer electrical engineers of Australasia.’ He died in Auckland in 1935.

Fletcher was involved in mine lighting in 1885, lighting the Kaitangata Railway and Coal Company’s Mine, reported one of the earliest to be electrically lit, following on from the Australian experience where electrical mine lighting was becoming common place. In August 1885 they fitted out the Mosgiel Woollen Mills with a Victoria dynamo which provided power for 300 lamps, reportedly the largest incandescent installation in New Zealand. They exhibited lighting and electrical transmission over a two mile distance powered by a Pelton wheel at an exhibition in Wellington in August 1885. Fletcher went on to supervise and specify the electrical equipment of the Brunner Coal Mine, the first in the country to use an electric plant for powering a coal mine. He later moved to Wellington, where he continued his work as an electrical engineer, including providing advice to the Government on large electrical projects.

Despite the good lighting, the path was not always clear for Fletcher. He was adjudged bankrupt in mid-1886, within two months of completing the Bullendale contract. The bankruptcy proceedings were reported in the paper and give an indication of Fletcher’s operations. The Otago Daily Times reported that Fletcher was working with Walter Prince, carrying on business in Dunedin. Prince entered into an agreement with Mr Bullen of the Phoenix mine, for transmission of electrical power with the machinery supplied by the Australasian Electric Light, Power, and Storage Company Ltd. The Court found that the Australasian Electric Light, Power, and Storage Company Ltd were entitled to claim the price of two generators but no further claim.

Walter Prince is a more elusive figure. Reefton historian Ina Lineham has followed Prince’s trail. She writes that Prince arrived in New Zealand in January 1883 and had been brought over to New Zealand as engineer for the New Zealand Electric Light and Power Company. This company installed electric lights at Lyttelton Harbour in 1883, and was involved in lighting various Dunedin businesses, but by the end of the year Prince was no longer electrician, and pops up again living in Port Chalmers in June 1884. Lineham writes that Prince and Fletcher traded together. The scheme at Bullendale was nearly the end of him, as he was kicked in the head by a horse, with ‘no hope of recovery, but despite this went on to apply his talents to other power schemes (and his inability to work brought down his and Fletcher’s operations. Prince was later linked to the generation of power for lighting Reefton (August 1888), and for lighting houses in Milton (December 1888), and is listed as an electrical engineer in Kaikorai Valley, Dunedin. Chandler states that Prince was replaced by Fletcher, but the bankruptcy proceedings seem to indicate a closer link, like the one outlined by Lineham.

Carting the heavy equipment over the precipitous and hazardous Skippers Road and then via a rough track to Bullendale was a momentous feat in itself. Each of the dynamos alone weighed three tons. The Bullendale hydro-electric power plant was commissioned in 1886, with a trial of the system held on 3 February 1886. The Otago Witness reported at some length about the event, emphasising the huge achievement in such a remote area:

‘In the battery-house, mounted on a strong wooden platform, was one of the Anglo American Brush Company’s Victoria dynamos, which had been fitted up as a motor. Standing by this machine, awaiting the starting of the generators situated at a waterfall two miles away, we were speculating on the wonders of electricity, when, suddenly, as if by magic, the wheels of the motor began to move and then to buzz round with marvellous rapidity. The current had been switched on, the electric transmission of power at the Phoenix mine was an accomplished fact, and we were among the first to witness the success of what was perhaps the first experiment of the kind on a practical scale made in the Southern Hemisphere.’

The account continued:

‘A little distance from the battery-house are two little dynamos driven by small pelton wheels and used for generating the current for lighting purposes. The generators are situated about five miles by track in what is called the left-hand branch, but more correctly speaking the right branch, of the stream which has now been appropriately christened Dynamo creek.’

After describing the spectacular setting, mountains, the backdrop of Mt Aurum (‘a fitting background to so romantic a scene’) the reporter described the dynamo-house, where the visitors were given a tour by Mr Fletcher:

‘The two large Brush dynamo machines were at work generating the electric current which was travelling over the intervening hill to the motor in the battery-house, Mr Fletcher having just that day completed his momentous undertaking. His task was by no means an easy one, for some of the parts had been damaged in transit over the Skippers track from Queenstown, and the workmanship of others did not reflect much credit on the Home makers….Mr Fletcher’s indomitable perseverance and skill, and the work which has at last been brought to a satisfactory issue may now be regarded as one of the triumphs of modern engineering. The dynamos are situated in an iron building at the foot of a perpendicular cliff about 200 feet high. An open ground race about half a mile in length brings the water from the creek to the top of the cliff, and it is then conveyed to the pelton wheels which drive the generators in a couple of wrought iron pipes....An almost perpendicular fall of 180ft is obtained, and the four or five heads of water coming down the pipes send the pelton wheels round with great velocity.’

The writer continued optimistically about the new technology: ;There can be no question of the utility of the electric principle…There can be no doubt that electricity will, before many years, play a very important part in the development of the quartz reefs in the Wakatipu district…Power in the shape of numerous never-failing streams is daily running to waste….’ The electric lighting extended to the battery house, the hall and mine office, to some of the houses, and the mine, and along one of the tramways. The isolation meant that steam driven technology (with associated fuel provision and transportation) and water power (in an area where flow would have to be maintained in dry and icy conditions) meant that electrical power appeared to offer a relatively cheap and effective solution, and stands out as a ‘shining example of the triumph of human ingenuity in the application of electric power to gold mining processes.’

The DC transmission line was mounted on poles constructed from hardwood lower sections, with softwood upper sections bolted on. Ceramic insulators were mounted on wooden cross-arm at the top. The line made its way across the gorge in front of the power house and over the high ridge of Southbergs Spur to the battery house at Murdochs Creek, a distance of over one and a half miles. The motive power may also have driven a chaff-cutter (if as local tradition maintains, Dynamo Flat was planted in oats), and the tail water drove a sawmill on at Skippers Creek.

In 1890 Fred Evans, the Phoenix mine manager, reported on the operation of the power plant. Evans said that there had been a lot of local interest about the use of electric power, with many people sceptical about its success. He stated that

‘at the present time we are driving 20 heads of stampers at a distance of two miles from the source of power, the water power at this time of the year being at its lowest and the frost at its strongest. In the morning shift we drive 10 heads, with stone crusher and air compressor, the latter providing power for winding 150ft deep trucks containing 7cwt. Quartz. The waterfall at the generating station is 168ft of five heads, supplying two 5ft Pelton wheels, driving two 40ft light machines of the Anglo-Brush pattern, the motor being a Victoria. The greatest amount of energy exerted when having seven heads of water, we drove 30 heads of stamps, stone-breaker, air compressor of 12in diameter, 2ft stroke to 40ob, and amalgamating gear equal to at least 54-h.p. The wear and tear in the machines themselves is so little beyond the brushes as to be practically not worth calculating, the brushes costing about £1 per month. The motor has given 95 per cent efficiency, which in itself is a sufficient answer to its suitability as a power, without any question it must supersede steam on our rivers if they are to be made to pay.’

There were problems with the equipment largely because of the primitive understanding of the technology. Balancing the loads from the generators was difficult, with any imbalance tending to turn one dynamo into a motor and drive it backwards. The output of the dynamos was also less than expected.

Once the technology was pioneered at Bullendale, the spread of electrical transmission to other areas of mining was swift. It was cheap and efficient power that could be transmitted over distance and the application to dredging technology was swift. The technology surrounding dynamos developed rapidly.

Bullendale Township

Bullendale miners and their families lived in a small isolated settlement that grew up on the slopes around the battery, particularly on the sunny face facing the battery building. Most of the buildings were small huts, generally made from corrugated iron on a timber framing, of which two remain standing. It is estimated that there may have been as many as 50 such huts and small houses at the mine’s peak operation. Service buildings included Bullen Hall (with electric lighting), a billiard room, the Phoenix Hotel and a combined store, butchery and bakery. The structures associated with the mine were the main battery house, the winding house, a mine office and some ancillary buildings.

The End of Mining

Access to Bullendale improved marginally with the construction of the dray road from Arthurs Point to Skippers (completed 1890), but access past Skippers remained difficult and the transport of heavy battery and mining equipment was a major undertaking.

Poor returns in the late 1880s and early 1890s led George Bullen to sell the Phoenix Mine to English company Achilles Goldfields Ltd. The old battery was rebuilt in July-August 1896. The Achilles Company sank a new main incline shaft. Material was removed via a tramway to the battery. The winding was powered by a Pelton wheel and a corrugated iron shed houses the equipment at the shaft mouth. Troubles continued and by 1897 the Company was restructured as the Achilles Gold Mines Ltd. The mine was dilapidated with workings requiring re-timbering and the machinery was run down. R.E. Fletcher reported on the outmoded equipment and made recommendations for new generators and other improvements. Despite the installation of two new 30 h.p. motors troubles continued. The mine closed in May 1901. With its closure Bullendale lost its reason to exist. The Post Office closed in 1902.

Messrs Robert Lee and party, trading as Mt Aurum Quartz Mining Ltd bought the mine in 1903 and began working it in 1904. This company’s promoters were Robert Lee (of Kaitangata Coal Co.), politician and businessman Joseph Ward and Invercargill merchant Robert Anderson. Operation concentrated on the British-American Spur. An aerial cableway was constructed to convey ore to the old battery site, where a cyanide plant was possibly installed. The operation failed and the mine closed in 1907. Some small scale prospecting and mining continued locally in the late 1920s.

When the mine shut down Bullendale was abandoned. Transport difficulties meant that the equipment was left as it stood. The town stood unchanged until World War One when shortages of corrugated iron led to the dismantling of many structures. The Phoenix Battery building was set alight around 1920 to retrieve ironwork from the roof framing. Duncan McNichol of The Branches rebuilt the Ballarat Hut on his run with material taken from Bullendale, including the hall and the manager’s house. The Dynamo House was demolished around 1930 and the iron used to construct several other structures, including the nearby Dynamo Hut. In the Dynamo Hut visitors book Arthur Borrell wrote that the Dynamo Hut was built in 1919 using material from the power house.

Recent Developments

In 1979 the remains of the Phoenix Quartz Mining Company’s crushing and generating plants were officially recorded during the course of an archaeological site survey conducted by New Zealand Historic Places Trust on behalf of the Ministry of Works and Development.

In 1984 an Electricity Generation Centennial Committee was established, which made the decision to reconstruct the major elements of the Phoenix Dynamo on site. An archaeological excavation by Neville Ritchie located evidence of the building which housed the dynamos. Ritchie reported on the site’s ‘special historic significance’ marking the first time hydro-electricity was used in New Zealand for industrial purposes (and therefore the forerunner of the massive hydro-electric projects of the mid-twentieth century), but that this significance had been largely overlooked. Ritchie emphasised that the site should be considered as a single system (and its component parts – which included the water race, mines, penstock, dynamo plant, transmission line, settlement and battery).

In 1985 the Mount Aurum Recreation Reserve was gazetted, which included the Bullendale site.

In 1986 the centenary of Bullendale’s power plant was celebrated with a widely attended ceremony at Arrowtown which was addressed by the Hon. R.J. Tizard, the Minister of Energy, a history, and a reconstruction project. The main dynamo components were repositioned in their original context on a reconstructed framework.

In 2011 a project team from the Wakatipu Office of the Department of Conservation, the Queenstown Historical Society, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and goldfields archaeologist Peter Petchey are looking at the future protection and interpretation of Bullendale.

Physical Description


Bullendale is located in rugged country between the Richardson Mountains and the Harris Mountains in Otago, 27 kilometres north of Queenstown. Bullendale settlement and the Phoenix/Achilles gold mine were located beside the Right Branch of Skippers Creek. The power house for the mine was beside the Left Branch of the same creek.

Access to Bullendale from the Wakatipu Basin is via the precipitous Skippers Road, to a point six kilometres south of Bullendale. Beyond Skippers was foot access via a pack track and up the stream bed. The mine workings and settlement site are between and on the flanks of British-American Spur and Southberg Spur. Southberg Spur separates the left and right branches of Skippers Creek. Nearby Murdochs Creek, which runs into the Right Branch of Skippers Creek, was also the site of much mining activity.

The field remains are ‘extensive and complex’ and according to archaeologist Peter Petchey, are a ‘system’ and best interpreted as a whole. The system has survived ‘remarkably intact’.

Archaeological Evidence

Mine Workings

A great deal of surface evidence of mining remains with a vast amount of workings being underground. Mining remains include mullock heaps, adit entrances, shaft mouths, tracks and tramways. In 1996 an archaeological survey was commissioned prompted by the potential threat of modern gold mining exploration, as well as the need to develop a management plan for the area. One hut was restored by the Department of Conservation in 1998.

The British-American Spur mine workings were worked as early as 1866 (by the British-American Company) and between 1904 and 1907 by the Mount Aurum Company. They cover the south-facing flank of the spur, some 200-400m east of the Phoenix Battery site. The most obvious feature is a benched track that crosses the main south face terminating on the north face close to the later aerial cableway. This is possibly Perry’s Tramway’ shown on an 1866 map. There are other tracks which gave access to mine workings. The line of the aerial cableway built by the Mount Aurum Company can be found. Surface scars and mullock heaps show where adits are located.

The Mount Aurum Gold Mining Company Aerial Cableway was constructed in 1904-1905 to transport ore down the hillside, to allow them to work the old workings on the British-American spur above the battery. It was a single rope system with the distance between the terminal stations of nearly 3000 ft. From the upper terminal the rope rose 370 ft to pass over the ridge, descending to the lower terminal. Along the line of the cableway eight ore buckets can still be seen. The pylons that supported the cable have gone. The upper terminal is located on a small spur running into the head of a side gully of Old Man Creek, below the crest of British-American Spur. The upper return wheel is still sitting on a small area of flat ground. Other equipment is scattered about. A short adit is located directly above the wheel, a collapsed structure lies half buried there and a benched track leads away from the sites, around the spur and across the hillside towards the battery site (and is probably the 1866 tramway).

In 1896 the Achilles Company sank a new main incline shaft. Double lines of rails were laid. The winding was powered by a Pelton wheel and a corrugated iron shed housed the equipment and covered the shaft mouth. The New Main Shaft winding house site is located above the true left bank of Murdochs Creek site E40/47). It is well preserved, with some major mechanical components remaining in situ. It consists of a 90 ft by 30 ft (27m by 9m) terrace cut into the hillside with a track leading past on the downhill side. The mouth of the main shaft (now blocked) is at the northern end of the terrace. The stone foundations for the main winding hear are in the middle of the terrace. On the supporting walls is a cast iron winding drum and a drive shaft. On the north side of the winding gear are the remains of the shaft head framework, Cornish pump drive and cable guides. Near the south end of the terrace are the dismantled remains of a Brush Corporation electric motor, matching the description of the original 1886 motor installed in the battery house.

There is a shaft head at Murdochs Creek immediately below the site of the New Main Shaft winding house, probably dating from 1886-1887 and the Phoenix Extended Company’s workings. The shaft is blocked. Two cable pulleys sit beside the shaft which would have mounted on top of the head frame to guide the main winding cables. There is a scatter of iron artefacts in the streambed, including the remains of several shaft cages.

Though the workings of the British-American Spur are the most visible, the most extensive were those of the Phoenix/Achilles Mine, which reached a depth of over 600 ft (180m) below Murdochs Creek. Adits and tramway rails were still visible in 2005.

Battery Sites and Associated Features

Two battery sites are easily located at Bullendale: the Phoenix Battery and Southberg’s Battery. A third battery (the 1866 20-stamp mill of the British-American Company) was located on the true left of Skippers Creek downstream from the Phoenix Battery site. That site has not been relocated.

The first reference to a battery being set up at Bullendale was that of the Scandinavian Company in 1864. This was a 4-stamp mill powered by a water wheel. Presumably this was on the site of the later Phoenix Battery, as the Scandinavian Company became the Phoenix Company. New machinery was installed in 1867 – a 30-stamp mill that was in use until 1907. This battery was the battery powered by electricity, the first to be powered by electricity in New Zealand (if not the Southern Hemisphere) and as it had been for a time, the largest such mill in Otago, it aroused much interest. In the last years of the mine’s life it was powered solely by water.

The site of the Phoenix Battery was at the confluence of the Right Branch of Skippers Creek and Murdochs Creek (Site E40/40). The Phoenix (Achilles) Battery site had been damaged by flooding, with a channel scoured through the site of the battery house, though the schist foundations are relatively intact. The visible foundations measure 65 ft 6 in by 31 ft (20m by 9.5m), and are some 4 ft (1.2m) deep.

At the back of the battery house, against the foot of the hill are the decayed timber baulks for the 30-stamp mill. Only one iron mortar box is still standing in the timber baulks; two others have fallen, one containing two stamper shafts. Two belt pulleys on a shaft lie between charred posts on the scree slope. Several turbine rotors were found on site.

On a schist knob above the battery sits the Kincaid & McQueen rockcrusher that was installed in 1886. Between the crusher and the battery site was the paddock for the ore, from which material was fed to the stampers via an ore pass.

At the east end of the flat is a stockpile of battery fines. These are probably poisonous as there is no plant colonisation. Two tanks are located beside this stock pile.

A considerable amount of other machinery lies scattered about, much of it half buried. This includes, to the west of the Phoenix battery house, on the right bank of Murdochs Creek, the lower cable wheel from the 1904/5 aerial cableway.

Despite the flooding some of the major features of the battery have survived.

Southberg’s Battery

Otago Quartz Mining Company (of Southberg, Murdoch and Olsen) erected their battery in 1865 or 1866. It was located in Murdochs Creek above the Phoenix Company’s battery site and was powered by a Whitelaw turbine working under a 57-ft head of water. The tramway to the battery from the mine working was constructed entirely of timber. The battery was bought by the Phoenix Extended Company in the late 1880s and the ground sold to George Bullen in 1889. The battery was cut into solid rock and is on the true right bank of Murdochs Creek, upstream from the Phoenix battery site and is recorded as site E40/43. The cutting measures 18 m by 11 m. There is a scatter of artefacts, including two fallen mortar boxes lying beside their timber foundation baulks. Amongst the ironwork downstream of the battery site there are two Whitelaw turbine rotors. What survives, therefore, appears to be the major parts of half of the 16-stamp battery that operated from 1866-1889.

The Dynamo Site and Power Equipment

The dynamo site was recorded as E40/28 in 1979 and was subject to an archaeological investigation in 1985. It was partially restored in 1986 in time for the centenary. The restoration involved mounting the remaining equipment on a replica timber structure. Other visible evidence on site includes the water race leading from the Left Branch of Skippers Creek to the top of the penstock line, mountings for the penstocks on the rock race, and the tailrace leading away from the power house site. Evidence of both the early and late modes of operation of the dynamos survives. Also on the site is a small dynamo of a later pattern. The power line ran from the dynamo almost straight over Southberg Spur to the Phoenix Battery House. Its course on the battery side of the Spur can be identified from contemporary photographs, and it is possible to locate a number of power pole locations as many of the hardwood bases survive.

Brush Corporation Electric Motor (at New Main Shaft Site)

The dismantled remains of an electric motor are present towards the southern end of the New Main Shaft winding house (embossed Anglo American Brush Corpn. Lt. Electric Light.’ All the bearings and copper windings have been removed. The motor appears to be the same model and probably the same actual motor which appears in the contemporary photograph of the original electric motor in the battery house. If this is the original 1885-1886 motor (as seems almost certain) archaeologist Peter Petchey describes it as ‘invaluable because of its pioneering role in the development of hydro-electric power in new Zealand, and its continuing association with its original site.’

The Reefs/Bullendale Settlement

The settlement grew up and evolved as need dictated. The first semi-permanent huts were erected 1863-1864, as the Scandinavian Reef began to be worked by a number of mining companies. There was a concentration of houses around the site of the Phoenix battery, and grew particularly in the late 1880s as the fortunes of the Phoenix Mine improved, but with the closure of the mine in 1901 the settlement rapidly declined.

The specific buildings that are known to have existed include: Phoenix Hotel (built after 1878 and burnt down in October 1896 and rebuilt 1897); the billiard room (built by James Johnston); Bullen Hall (erected by George Bullen and including a library and meeting room, doubled as a schoolhouse 1891-1902 and lit by electric light); a combined grocer, baker, butcher, draper, hardware shop (opened 1885 by Harry Evans and closed in 1902); a slaughter house; manager’s house (burnt down 1897, probably rebuilt, but later dismantled) and a blacksmith.

Only two huts remain intact, one of these was restored by the Department of Conservation after it collapsed during a storm in 1998. Most other house and huts sites are marked by terraces cut into the hillsides, scatters of corrugated iron and artefacts, occasional stone chimneys and cultural plantings of poplar, hawthorn and mint. Settlement appears to have had several concentrations: on the sunny slip face opposite the Phoenix battery a group on the true right bank of Skippers Creek between 200m and 450m downstream of the battery; a group on Bakery Flat; and a group scattered between Baker Flat and the Phoenix battery. The last group probably included the mine and the assay offices and Bullen Hall. There were also residence sites around Caspers Flat. A total of 46 building sites were recorded on the 1996 survey. This includes a bread oven and bakehouse. Many of the sites show evidence of fossicking.

The two standing huts are both on the true right of Skippers Creek, one is on the sunny face opposite the Phoenix battery (Hut 1), and the other (Hut 2) is on a terrace 400m to the southeast. Hut 1 measures 16 ft by 10 ft (5m by 3.2m) with a single doorway in the centre of the front wall flanked by symmetrical sash windows. A stacked schist fireplace is situated on the east side wall, with a section of riveted iron pipe being used as a chimney. The Hut was originally partitioned into two, but the dividing wall has been removed. The remains of newspaper and hessian lining were found on interior walls, including a page from the 1896 edition of the Otago Witness. In 1998 the Hut was rebuilt after storm damaged it, although it is no longer strictly original, it still stands in its original form with much of its original fabric intact.

Hut 2 is also corrugated iron over a light timber frame. It measures 18 ft by 10 ft (5.5m x 3m) and also a stacked schist fireplace and an iron water pipe chimney. The Hut is divided into two rooms inside, with a table, bench and cupboard in the room with the fire, and bunks and a bed in the other room. The external door is in the corner of the front wall beside of the fireplace. There are only three small windows. One wall is lined internally with newspapers dating to 1937. This Hut supposedly belonged to Robert Duncan, a Bullendale miner.

Communications Infrastructure

A network of tracks developed to link the features noted above and the outside world. In addition there was a telegraph line out to Skippers, and the power lines from the dynamos over Southberg Spur to the Phoenix Battery. Some transportation systems were essential parts of the mining operation, such as the tramway and aerial cableway on British-American Spur.

There was no formed dray road into Bullendale. All equipment and supplies had to be transported up the creek bed and via a narrow pack track (probably constructed 1864-1865) winding along the valley sides. A legal road line exists but much of it has never been formally surveyed. The road line on cadastral maps appears to be the pack track sketched in.

Two alternative tracks were constructed. One track was cut into the side of the gorge on the true right bank, with several sections supported by dry stone wall revetment. The other track was constructed on the true left of the stream, and follows the route shown on maps of the area. It is longer than the direct route along the creek, but would have been safer and easier for the transport of heavy mining equipment. This was almost certainly formed prior to 1866. In the 1950s-1960s a farm track was put in across the Roaring Meg and was maintained into the 1960s, but is impassable to four wheel drives now.

Telephone Lines

There were two telephone lines at Bullendale: one to the dynamos; and one to Skippers Point. A telephone line was necessary between the battery and the dynamo power house to allow attendants to communicate. The telephone line used the same power poles as the power lines across Southberg Spur.

The telephone line to Skippers Point ran along Skippers Creek, the five mile long line installed in 1896. Several iron telephone poles can still be seen on tops of spurs and outcrops along the true right bank of Skippers Creek downstream of Bullendale.

Construction Dates

1864 -
Scandinavian battery working at The Reefs.

1884 -
Electric lighting installed at Phoenix Mine.

1885 -
Construction of Phoenix Mine Dynamo to power for the battery house at Bullendale.

1885 -
Bullen Hall erected; butcher’s shop and store opened, billiard room built, accommodation house opened; Telephone connection from Battery to dynamo plant.

Original Construction
1886 -
Feb: Trial of dynamo. Power plant commissioned.

1897 -
Mine manager’s house burnt down (probably rebuilt).

1896 -
Battery rebuilt by Achilles Goldfields Ltd. Phoenix Hotel burnt down.

1897 -
Phoenix Hotel rebuilt.

1901 -
Achilles Goldfields Ltd closes mine.

1904 -
Mine reopens under Mt Aurum Quartz Mining Co. Ltd.

1905 -
Mining ceases.

1914 -
World War One sees iron from Bullendale structures scavenged for use in other buildings.

1930 -
Dynamo Plant dismantled and used to construct Dynamo Hut (among other structures).

Construction Details

Timber, corrugated iron, cast iron, stone

Public NZAA Number




























Completion Date

29th March 2012

Report Written By

P. Petchey, H. Bauchop

Information Sources

De La Mare, 1993

A.J. De La Mare, The Shotover River - 'The Richest River in the World': A History of Gold Mining on the Shotover River, Lakes District Museum, Arrowtown, 1993

Historic Places in New Zealand

Historic Places in New Zealand

Neil Begg, ‘A Pioneering Power Plant’: Sep 1986, pp.30-31.

Petchey, 2006

Peter Petchey, 'Gold and Electricity: Archaeological survey of Bullendale, Otago', Department of Conservation, Wellington, 2006

Chandler, 1986

Peter M. Chandler, Let There Be Light...A History of Bullendale and the generation of electric power in Central Otago, Otago Central Electric Power Board, Alexandra, 1986

New Zealand Engineering

New Zealand Engineering

Rob Aspden, ‘Centenary of electricity in NZ - Bullendale 1886-1986’, June 1, 1986, pp.6-10.

Pickering, 2010

Mark Pickering, Huts: Untold stories from back-country New Zealand, Christchurch, 2010

ACCU Nara International Correspondent

ACCU Nara International Correspondent

Matthew Schmidt, ‘Bullendale – Site of New Zealand’s First Industrial Use of Hydro-electric Power: Protection & Preservation of an Internationally Important Cultural Heritage Site.’

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the Otago/Southland Office of the NZHPT.

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.