Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme

Te Wharau Road, Gladstone

  • View to the Tararua Ranges with the lower reservoir and spillway in the foreground and surge tower no.1 on the hill in the background.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Natasha Naus. Date: 15/02/2011.
  • Surge Tower no.2 and single penstock.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Natasha Naus. Date: 15/02/2011.
  • Exterior and entrance to Power Station B.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Natasha Naus. Date: 15/02/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7814 Date Entered 23rd June 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 6368 (CT WN357/228); Lot 1 DP 6369 (CT WN357/226); Lots 1-2 DP 7552 and Pt Lot 1 DP 6367 (CT WN357/227); Lots 1 and 2 DP 8639 (CT WN389/251); Lot 3, 6 DP 8639 (CT WN404/182); Lot 4 DP 8639 (CT WN421/128); Lot 5 DP 8639 (CT WN404/69); Wellington Land District and the buildings and structures known as the Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme thereon, and their fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Carterton District


Wellington Region

Legal description

Lots 1-2 DP 8639 (CT WN389/251); Lot 3 DP 8639 (CT WN404/182); Lot 4 DP 8639 (CT WN421/128); Lot 5 DP 8639 (CT WN404/69); Lot 6 DP 8639 (CT WN404/182); Pt Lot 1 DP 6367 and Lots 1-2 DP 7552 (CT WN357/227); Lot 1 DP 6368 (CT WN357/228) and Lot 1 DP 6369 (CT WN357/226), Wellington Land District


The Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme was the first publically owned hydroelectric power scheme in the Wairarapa. It is located high above the Gladstone village in a valley of the Maungaraki Range through which the Kourarau Stream flows. Commissioned in 1924, its structures, buildings and reservoirs have punctuated the hilly rural landscape for almost 90 years.

The valley is part of a significant cultural landscape for the Wairarapa iwi of Rangitane and Ngati Kahungunu. It is associated with the well-known legend of the taniwha Ngarara Huarau and his defeat by the warrior Tupurupuru. The Kourarau Stream and wetlands were an important food resource as well as a place of mauri ora and mauri mate. Former occupation sites and wahi tapu sites are located in the vicinity and attests to the importance of the place to tangata whenua.

Work on the scheme began in 1920, when the Wairarapa Electricity Power Board was constituted to build the infrastructure needed to bring electricity to the homes and businesses of the people of the Wairarapa. Prominent Wairarapa settlers and successful farmers, Sir Walter Buchanan (1838-1924) and William Henry Beetham (1837–1925) were advocates for and made land available for construction of the scheme. Harry Richard Climie (1884-1961) a distinguished engineer responsible for electricity reticulation and hydroelectric systems throughout New Zealand, was appointed to design it in 1922.

The first stage of the scheme was completed in 1924 and the second in 1925. Together the Power Stations generated 1 megawatt of electrical power and supplied 235 customers. Kourarau was a symbol of modernity and technological ingenuity, and heralded a new age of service and consumption.

Since its construction, the hydro scheme has withstood floods, earthquakes and modernisation which may have threatened its operation. The scheme continues to operate using its original machinery and is a tribute to the staff and contractors of the Wairarapa Electric Power Board and its successors who have continued to maintain the scheme.

The generation of hydroelectric power in New Zealand has been an important part of engineering heritage in this country and the Kourarau Scheme is part of a legacy of renewable energy sources. While small in size and generation, the scheme is an important contributor to this history and a significant community owned asset that continues to supply power for Wairarapa consumers.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Kourarau Scheme has historic significance for its association with land owners in the area like Sir Walter Buchanan and William Henry Beetham, who were supporters and advocates of hydroelectric power. In particular Sir Walter was a driving force in the establishment of the scheme and he had the honour of commissioning the scheme in 1924. The design and construction of the Kourarau Scheme is attributed to Harry Climie, who made a number of important contributions to the engineering heritage of New Zealand, in particular his designs for hydroelectric schemes in the first few decades of the twentieth century. The Kourarau Scheme was the first publically owned hydroelectric power scheme in the Wairarapa and was able to provide power to Wairarapa Electric Power Board customers prior to the state schemes of Mangahao and Waikaremoana.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

The Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme is utilitarian in its construction and design which embodies the spirit of an object or structure expressing its use. Its aesthetic values derive from its various structures like the surge towers that punctuate the hilly rural landscape and are easily viewed. The reservoirs have a scenic beauty that belies their utilitarian function and the upper dam serves as a recreation site that is enjoyed by many.

Technological Significance or Value:

The Kourarau Scheme design has technological significance for its utilisation of 219 metres of fall to generate on average 1000 kilowatts of electrical energy. Harry Climie’s ambitious design was executed to its fullest extent with only minor changes over the years to improve and upgrade the scheme. The scheme continues to operate using its original machinery and is a tribute to the staff and contractors of the Wairarapa Electric Power Board and its successors who have continued to maintain the plant.

Cultural Significance or Value:

The Maungaraki Range, the Kourarau Stream and surrounding wetlands are important sites of significance to tangata whenua of the Wairarapa region. It is described as a place of mauri ora and mauri mate. The legend of the taniwha Ngarara Huarau and the warrior Tupurupuru who helped defeat him are important associations with the place. Names of pa and kainga are remembered in the naming of the area and sacred sites known to tangata whenua are present. The Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme sits within a valued cultural and historical landscape and contributes another story to the history of the place.

Social Significance or Value:

The Kourarau Scheme has social significance for providing hydroelectricity to the people of the Wairarapa which was influential in the transformation of the lives and businesses of power board customers, especially those in rural areas. As a stand-by plant the Kourarau Scheme was able to guarantee supply to industries and was an important factor in the Masterton hospital choosing to run on electricity, the first in New Zealand to do so.

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

The generation of hydroelectric power in New Zealand has been an important part of our engineering heritage and a legacy of renewable energy sources that have powered the country. The Kourarau Scheme, while small in size and generation, is an important contributor to this history and a significant community owned asset that continues to generate power for Wairarapa consumers.

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

The Kourarau Scheme was able to be constructed through the enactment of the Electric Power Board Act 1918 that resulted in the formation of the Wairarapa Electric Power Board in 1920. The Power Board raised a huge loan to build the infrastructure that was required to bring electricity into the homes and businesses of the Wairarapa district. While waiting for the state electricity schemes to begin supplying power the Board constructed its own stand-by plant to provide power to its consumers.

The Kourarau Scheme is associated with the distinguished engineer, Harry Climie, who designed a number of reticulation and hydroelectric schemes throughout New Zealand. He was employed by the Government to oversee the reconstruction of Napier after the 1931 earthquake and was chief engineer to the State Housing Department from its inception by the Labour Government in 1937.

The scheme is also associated with Sir Walter Buchanan, a successful farmer, businessman, politician and philanthropist. Buchanan made land on his Tupurupuru property available for construction of part of the hydro scheme and is commemorated for commissioning Power Station A in 1924.

(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua:

The Kourarau Scheme was constructed in an area that has significance to tangata whenua. The landscape is associated with stories of its formation, the warrior Tupurupuru and a number of settlement and wahi tapu sites.

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

The Kourarau Scheme is a historic asset that was in community ownership for 70 years and has recently been transferred back to the community in February 2011. This long community association gives the scheme social value and the improvements to the public access of the upper reservoir mean the public can continue to enjoy the amenity values of the place.

European settlement in the Wairarapa was built on a collective basis and the community asset of the Kourarau Scheme reflects this proud tradition.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

The generation of hydroelectricity is a valued asset to the energy portfolio of New Zealand and the small scale of the Kourarau Scheme, much of it original, gives people the opportunity to understand the fundamentals of how it works. While the Power Stations are not accessible to the public there are views to elements of the scheme like the reservoirs and surge towers from certain vantage points along Te Wharau Road that allow people to read the scheme.

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

The Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme is an important example of engineering design and execution. It is also a tribute to the men who constructed it using picks, shovels, scoops and horses, in difficult terrain and weather. The Boving pelton wheel turbines, General Electric generators, and much of the original electrical equipment is still in operation and is a attribute to the skills of the staff and contractors that have maintained it for over 88 years. The Kourarau Scheme makes an important contribution to the engineering heritage of New Zealand and remains a sustainable source of renewable electrical power into the twenty first century.

Summary of Significance or Values:

This place was assessed against, and found to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, d, e, f, and g.


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


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Climie, Harry Richard

Harry Climie (1884-1961) was from a family of engineers. His grandfather, Daniel Climie, was a partner in the construction of the London and North Western Railway and the first railway engineer for the State of Victoria, Australia. The family moved to New Zealand and Climie was appointed Wellington City Engineer. Climie’s sons became pioneering surveyors in Taranaki and Harry was born in New Plymouth in 1884. He was educated at Auckland Grammar and attended Glasgow University. He returned to New Zealand in 1908 and was appointed resident engineer for the Levin Water Supply. He joined the family firm of H.W. Climie & Son and was involved in a number of hydroelectric, drainage and electricity reticulation schemes.

After the Napier earthquake in 1931 Climie was appointed reconstruction engineer. In 1937 the Labour Government established the State Housing Department and Climie was appointed chief engineer for housing construction. He held the position until his retirement in 1952, after which he continued to practice as a consulting engineer.

Keenan, Henry Bryant

Henry Keenan (1897-1985) was born on 16 September 1897 in the seaport Bangor in Northern Ireland. He attended the College of Technology in Belfast and trained as an electrical engineer before being apprenticed to firms in Northern Ireland for five years. Keenan worked in Northern Ireland as an electrical distribution engineer and installation electrician. He moved to New Zealand at the end of World War One and passed the Wellington City Council exams to be registered on the Electrical Wiremans Registration Board. Keenan moved to the Wairarapa in 1923 and was employed by the Wairarapa Electric Power Board. He was assistant engineer for the consultants H.W. Climie & Son Company Limited for the Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme. In 1923 Henry ‘had the privilege’ of ‘connecting the first generator’ that sent the power into Masterton. When H.W. Climie & Son resigned Keenan was appointed as Chief Engineer to the Wairarapa Electric Power Board and made a number of improvements to the scheme.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Wairarapa with its fertile plains, dense forests, rich waterways and coastline has been an attractive place for settlement for centuries. The land has had a long history of occupation by Rangitane iwi as well as later arrivals such as Ngai Tahu, Ngati Ira and Ngati Kahungunu iwi who came to the Wairarapa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Rangitane (also known as Rangitanenui, Tanenui-a-rangi and Rangitanenui-a-rangi) was the grandson of Whatonga, one of three chiefs who commanded the Kurahaupo waka to New Zealand. The people of Rangitane settled the lower North Island and the top of the South Island which led to the creation of various hapu groups and over time some separate iwi groups. After Rangitane came the people of Ngati Kahungunu whose ancestry traces back to the Takitimu waka which arrived in New Zealand captained by Tamatea Arikinui. Kahungnunu was a famous chief that had several wives and fathered many children. Like Rangitane, Ngati Kahungunu migrated south and established themselves in places like the Wairarapa. Migrations and marriages between the peoples that occupied the Wairarapa resulted in a complex web of whakapapa and political alliances.

Crown purchases in the Wairarapa:

In 1858 William Searancke (1817?-1904), land purchase agent for the Government, secured a number of major Crown land deeds in the Wairarapa, Manawatu and Horowhenua areas, including parts of the Tupurupuru Block in 1858 and 1859. Further Crown purchases and subsequent taking up of Crown land by settlers saw over three quarters of the land in the Wairarapa transferred out of Maori ownership. European settlement in the Wairarapa was also promulgated by the development of the Small Farms Association by Joseph Masters. His legacy would be of the establishment of the towns of the Wairarapa including Masterton (named in honour of Masters), Carterton, Greytown, and Featherston.

Tupurupuru, Maungaraki and Hinewaka:

The land block on which the majority of the hydroelectric power scheme is located is known as Tupurupuru. Tupurupuru was the name of an ancestor of the Te Whiti/Maungaraki area. Tupurupuru was a famous Maori warrior who was instrumental in the defeat of the taniwha Ngarara Huarau (also called Mokonui) who had made himself a lair above the Kourarau stream and terrorised the local people. It is said that the taniwha died in the Uwhiroa swamp. Another version of the Ngarara Huarau story describes the cliffs near Kourarau as the bones of the taniwha.

Kourarau means ‘many Koura’. Koura are endemic freshwater crayfish that inhabit the streams, lakes and wetlands of New Zealand. The Kourarau Steam and wetlands were a rich source food and sustained groups living in the vicinity and those travelling from the coast to the interior. Kevin Fearon in his history of Gladstone notes a number of pa sites, kainga and burial grounds that were dispersed around the district, including the Kourarau Pa was on the banks of the Kourarau Stream high on the Maungaraki hills and the Hinewaka Pa site above Surge Towner 2. It is noted by Fearon that people who were to be buried at Hinewaka were pulled up the hill using a sledge and horse. Weapons and toanga were buried in the wetlands and the place is also associated with the concept of mauri, as a place of mauri ora and mauri mate. The construction of the hydroelectric scheme was to disrupt mauri and brought into the conflict of Pakeha technology with traditional beliefs.

Sir Walter Buchanan:

In 1922 land was made available for the investigation and construction of the hydro scheme by Sir Walter Clarke Buchanan (1838-1924), a notable New Zealander for his success as a farmer, businessman, politician and philanthropist. Buchanan had bought the 10,000 acre Tupurupuru run for £21,000 in 1873 and worked hard to establish his farm and cattle business. He was heavily involved in politics, representing Wairarapa South (1881-87), and then Wairarapa (1887-89, 1902-5, and 1908-14); knighted in 1912; and appointed as a member of the Legislative Council in 1915. As a wealthy farmer, Buchanan was able to influence conservative politics through various means, including the media. He bought 800 shares in the founding of the Dominion newspaper that would be an agitator during the term of the Liberal government. Buchanan was supportive of the Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme and would have the honour of opening the first power station in December 1923, several months before his death in July 1924.

William Henry Beetham:

A section of the land that makes up the upper dam and reservoir area was part of the Kourarau Station, owned by William Henry Beetham (1837-1925), an early European settler to the Wairarapa who along with his brothers established Brancepeth Station in 1856 and was a member of the firm Williams and Beetham.

By 1901 Brancepeth was one of the largest and wealthiest stations in the Wairarapa. It extended from what is now Ngaumu Forest in the south (towards Te Wharau) to the Taueru River in the north, and as far west as Kourarau. In an effort to avoid a government-imposed division of the run, the Beethams and Thomas Coldham Williams divided the Station and William Henry Beetham took over the Kourarau property in 1905. Beetham was also a supporter of the hydro project and had identified its use for hydroelectric purposes early on.


Further land was acquired from other land owners for the formation of the upper reservoir. Under the powers in the Electric-power Board’s Act 1925 and the Public Works Act 1928 approximately 11 acres of Section 2A Hinewaka Block (resurveyed as Lot 4 DP 8639) owned by Mitai Mikaera, was taken under proclamation and a new title issued to the Wairarapa Electric Power Board in 1930.

Early Development of Electrical Power in the Wairarapa:

The first study into the hydro potential of the Wairarapa formed part of the hydro resource report that Peter Seton Hay (1852/1853?-1907) of the Public Works Department presented to Parliament in1904. Hay noted the Tauherenikau and the Waiohine Rivers as possible sources of hydroelectric power. In November 1916 a group of people representing local authorities, industry and other organisations decided to a form a Wairarapa Hydro-Electric Investigation Committee. A number of sources were investigated with the Waiohine River deemed the most attractive.

In 1918 the government embarked on a plan for the generation of hydroelectric power and the Electric Power Board Act 1918 allowed for the establishment of a local body dedicated to the supply of power. It was envisioned that the state would generate the electricity and the power boards provide for the reticulation within their communities. A petition by the ratepayers of the boroughs and counties within the Wairarapa area proposing the establishment of the Wairarapa Electric Power District was made to the Government in 1920. The petition was accepted and the Wairarapa Electric Power Board was constituted on the 23 March 1920. The Board was made up of nine representatives of boroughs and counties within the Electric Power District: D. McLachlan (Masterton County), J.C. Cooper and R.J. King (Masterton Borough), T.V. Moore (Wairarapa South County), W.H. Booth (Carterton Borough), W. Benton (Featherston Borough), W.A. Huttton (Greytown Borough), J.W. Kershaw (Martinborough Town Board) and J. Martin (Featherston County). James Cooper was elected chairman.

Consultant engineers, H.F. Toogood and J.R.Templin, were employed to investigate the potential of the Waiohine River. The engineers submitted a favourable report for the development of a 3000 horsepower scheme. However, due to the scarcity of resources like labour, cement and capital the Government proposed that the Power Board abandon this scheme and rely on the 2000 horsepower that would be supplied by the state owned Mangahao Hydroelectric Power Scheme, due for completion in 1924.

The Power Board began raising the funds required to build the infrastructure to bring electricity to the households, businesses and industry within the Wairarapa Electric Power District. A loan of £260,000 was raised and a resident engineer sought.

On 8 March 1922 it was reported that the Power Board had appointed Harry Richard Climie (1884-1961) as resident engineer. Climie was an experienced electrical and civil engineer who had already been involved in a number of electricity reticulation and hydroelectric power schemes throughout New Zealand. He would leave the employment of the Board in 1924 and go on to design and construct other hydroelectric power schemes and led a distinguished career. Most notably he was appointed reconstruction engineer after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake in 1931, and became chief engineer for housing construction for the State Housing Department in 1937.

The Power Board decided to supplement the power that would come from Mangahao with its own hydroelectric stand-by plant. Climie proposed an ambitious scheme for harnessing the power of the Kourarau Steam; with its 219 metres of fall the stream had been identified by others for its potential. Climie estimated the cost of the scheme at £35,000 and his estimate would be close to the final cost.

Construction of Power Station A, lower dam and Power Station B:

Climie oversaw the design and construction of the hydro scheme and his family firm, H.W. Climie and Son, were involved with the project up to its completion in 1925. The hydro scheme was constructed in two phases with Power Station A and its generating infrastructure completed by 1923 and Power Station B in 1925. Permission was obtained by the Government for the Wairarapa Electric Power Board to construct electric works and erect electric lines in 1922. In that same year a licence to use water from the Kourarau Stream and its tributaries for the purpose of generating electricity was granted.

Contracts for the construction were let and excavations for the pipe line commenced in February 1922. Construction of Power Station A and the lower reservoir began with the forming of a dray road to access the lower dam site. The work was done by horses and teams of men. Six men were in each pit in the dam part before the scooping started. The time taken to complete the project took longer than expected due to a harsh winter and it was a testimony to the men who were camping in those conditions to get the work done.

Opening of the Kourarau Power House:

On 20 December 1923 a number of dignitaries and members of the public gathered to celebrate the switching on of Power Station A. J.C Cooper, Chairman of the Wairarapa Electric Power Board, presided and spoke about the ‘genesis of the scheme’ and also gave an indication of the power that the Kourarau scheme would generate for use by dairy plants, heating and home lighting.

George James Anderson (1860-1935), Minister of Labour and representing the Government, praised the need for communities to supply power as well as the government. He advocated the harnessing of the potential of New Zealand’s rivers for hydro-generation, with the closing comment: ‘Some people objected to the beauty of the Dominion falls being destroyed but utility must come before beauty.’

Sir Walter Buchanan in his speech made reference to the taniwha that had dwelt in the area and discussed the power of the ‘modern taniwha’ that would milk cows, freeze meat and build a huge dam. Henry Climie thanked the engineering staff and workman, the contractors and the companies that supplied the machinery and pipes. He also paid tribute to Sir Walter Buchanan for his advice.

The proceedings ended with Sir Walter pushing the button that turned the water on and the Boving pelton wheel turbine began its slow revolutions until it reached capacity. A plaque commemorating this event is affixed to the wall of the operation room marking the 60th anniversary of the Kourarau Scheme in 1983. On that day 235 customers received power and ‘Kourarau became the first publically owned and operated hydro-electric power station in the Wellington Province.’

The hydro scheme played an important part in the guarantee of electricity supply to a number of important Power Board customers including the Waingawa freezing works (connected 1931, closed 1990) and the Masterton Hospital. In 1927 Masterton Hospital became the first substantial hospital in New Zealand to use electricity for all services and the availability of the two stand-by stations at Kourarau formed part of the decision making for the hospital to rely on electrical power for its services.

The Kourarau stations were pivotal in initiating the reticulation of electricity in the Wairarapa eighteen months before the arrival of power from Mangahao or Waikaremoana which came online in 1929. With power available from the developing national grid the Kourarau stations took on the role of reducing the Wairarapa Power Board’s peak demand on the State system until an agreement was reached to feed power from Kourarau into the national grid in 1930.

In December 1924 an extraordinary flood drowned the turbine and generator, with debris and silt blocking up the stream and damaging Power Station A. After only a year of electrical supply Wairarapa consumers were plunged into darkness for a number of months until power could be reinstated. Repair and prevention were costly at a time when the Power Board was generating little income and a resolution to issue a levy from people within the Power Board’s district was passed. The Board raised £6,550 for the works and the power station was raised six metres to resist future floods.

An unforeseen issue for the Kourarau Scheme was the issue of the pipes silting up and the build up of lime deposits that had the capacity to reduce output by 25 percent. The solution for cleaning the pipes was a device called a cage ‘hedgehog’ (imported from England). The hedgehog is described as a ‘leather bag resembling an open-ended rugby football with an external frame which carries a series of steel wire brushes under tension against the pipe interior applied by a steel spring ring’. The hedgehog is hoisted into the pipes at Windy Point, on the site of Te Wharau Road, and rammed into place. Water pressure from Power Station B is used to blow the hog down to the Power House A where it is lifted out by a crane. The de-liming operation continues to be carried out in the same manner today. Changes to the scheme to allow for the ability to clean the pipes were designed by the Wairarapa Electric Power Board Chief Engineer, Henry Keenan, in 1928.

Cultural and Social Impacts of Electricity:

In the early 1930s the Wairarapa Electricity Power Board published a handbook for electricity users that outlined the myriad of electrical appliances and their uses in the home. The handbook also highlighted the use of electricity in industries like dairy farming with electric milking machines, separators and hot water. The introduction of a continuous electrical supply for consumers created social change for those in the home and in business. The handbook extols the virtues of this cultural shift: ‘No other source of power is doing for mankind the multitude of duties undertaken by electricity’. The Wairarapa Electric Power Board Head Office building was built in 1925 and is located in Carterton. When the head office moved to Masterton it became the showroom for appliances and electrical equipment for consumers. A portent comment at the opening of the Kourarau Scheme was that once electricity was introduced there would be a continual thirst for its use; its use being a ‘contagious thing’ that would require sufficient supply to meet demand.

Catastrophic events, monopolies and restructuring:

The Kourarau Scheme has had to weather a number of catastrophic events over the years. The first being the 1924 flood that disabled the Power Station A. In 1934 a severe hurricane dislocated the whole of the distribution system, causing over £3,000 of damage. Due to healthy revenues the Power Board was able to meet the cost of the repairs and the staff to carry out the work.

The Wairarapa experienced a magnitude 7.2 earthquake centred near Masterton on 24 June 1942. It caused substantial damage throughout the Wairarapa and Wellington regions. The concrete Surge Tower no. 1 bent over and began leaking during the upheaval. Repairs were required to strengthen it and Chief Engineer for the Wairarapa Electric Power Board, Henry Keenan, was involved in the plans to brace and strengthening the interior of the shaft using concrete and reinforcing steel. The headworks at the upper dam were also affected and cost the Board about £1,500 to repair.

A catastrophic flood in April 2005 saw the Kourarau Stream once again flood Power Station A, leaving it covered in silt and debris and the surrounding gardens devastated. Power Station B continued to operate while Power Station A was cleaned up and the workings dried out. The windows were blocked up, and large concrete blocks surround the operation room. While this detracts from the aesthetic values of the power station these works will hopefully ensure its survival into the future.

In 2006 work to stabilise the hillside was carried out after cracks appeared in the penstock and it was reported that water was coming down the hillside. The 75 year old concrete penstock was found to be in excellent condition but work was required to the area that was undermining the penstock’s footing. It was only the third time in its operational history that the scheme needed to be shut down so repairs could be made.

Over the years the upper dam and reservoir became a recreation site providing a place for residents to go fishing, rafting and kayaking. Trout were also released into the reservoir to increase angling opportunities. In 2010 an upgrade of the dam and spillway were undertaken with the construction of an auxiliary spillway to augment discharge capacity. Improvements were made to public access with a carpark adjacent to the reservoir.

During the economic reforms of the 1980s and 90s electricity distribution, generation and supply changed in the Wairarapa. The Wairarapa Electricity Power Board was formed into Wairarapa Electricity Limited in 1993, in accordance with the provisions of the Energy Companies Act 1992. Deregulation of the energy industry meant that that Wairarapa Electricity could sell to customers outside the region and customers could buy energy from other traders. It was at this time that the Kourarau Scheme was sold to the State Owned Enterprise, Genesis Energy Limited, who have utilised and maintained the scheme for over 15 years.

In January 2011 Genesis Energy announced that the Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme would be transferred to the Tararua Foundation Incorporated, a charitable trust managed by Trust House Limited, in February 2011. In a press release Genesis Energy outlined the reason for the transfer, stating that ‘they were approached by a collective of Masterton based businessmen interested in returning Kourarau to community ownership in the Wairarapa region. These businessmen emphasised the significant historical value of Kourarau to the Wairarapa community as well as the long-term amenity, ecological and recreational value of the land and upper reservoir to the Community’. The ownership of the Kourarau Scheme has come full circle and its role as a renewable energy generator under community control will hopefully see its continued use into the twenty first century.

Physical Description

The Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme is situated in the rural hilly landscape of the Maungaraki Ranges above Gladstone. A valley cuts down towards the Wairarapa plains through which the Kourarau Stream flows.

The scheme consists of two small power stations which are fed by two artificial reservoirs that have been formed through the damming of the Kourarau Stream. Water is taken from a reservoir through a pipeline to a surge tower before been taken through a penstock to a power station. The scheme is spread across 3.5 kilometres and descends a 219 metre fall.

Components of the Kourarau Hydroelectric Power Scheme:

Access to the upper dam reservoir is via the Te Wharau Road. The reservoir is signposted and public access is defined by a gravel carpark that is bordered by large limestone rocks. Walking access to the reservoir is via a fenced track that takes you up to the dam and the new concrete auxiliary spillway.

The upper dam reservoir covers approximately 25 hectares and is formed by an earth dam capturing the Kourarau Stream. The upper limit of the reservoir is controlled by a fixed concrete-lined spillway that allows flood waters to spill over into the natural channel of the Kourarau Stream. The original spillway area has recently been upgraded with the approach improved.

The intake is set into the bed of the reservoir and is located 5 metres from the Western shore. Water is taken at a maximum rate of 290 litres per second and fed through a steel pipe to surge tower 2 which is located on a hill side above Te Wharau Road. The surge tower is a concrete hollow structure with a metal pipe that runs up the middle. The pipe is full of water and is designed to relieve pressure build up in the system that can result from fluctuating flows. Water flows from the surge tower to Power Station B via a concrete penstock that runs under Te Wharau Road.

Power Station B is located below Te Wharau Road and sits at the edge of the lower reservoir. It is accessed via a private access road from Te Wharau Road. The Power Station is utilitarian in nature and structure. It is essentially a concrete box, made of one room that is approximately 7.5 metres by 6 metres. A corrugated iron sheathed wall forms the south elevation and this is where the entranceway is located. On entering the room there are stairs that take you to the floor of the station. In the middle of the room is located the Boving single disk pelton wheel turbine that drives an ASEA 250 kilowatt General Electric generator. Located in the eastern corner of the room is the power switch board. Much of the equipment looks to be original including the switch gear lever that is used to turn the power house on. A metal framed window is located on the west elevation and the flat concrete roof has metal tracks and hoists for the maintenance of the machinery.

Water is taken from the pipeline to cool the turbine and is discharged along with the generating water into the concrete tailrace into the lower reservoir. The reservoir is formed by an earth dam into which the Kourarau Stream and Sailormans Creek flow creating a 1.4 hectare lake. Located on the south side of the reservoir is a sluice gun which is used to dislodge sediment from the bed and banks of the reservoir. Pipes lead from the power house to the gun and the water pressure from the scheme creates a powerful jet of water.

Located at the upper level of the reservoir is a fixed weir concrete spillway consisting of four channels that discharge excess flood water into the Kourarau Stream. An upgrade of the approach to the spillway was made in 2010.

Set into the bottom of the reservoir is the intake which is controlled by the intake control tower. Access is via a metal bridge located on the south bank. Water from the intake is taken 20 metres via a pipeline to the scour tank. The scour tank has the ability to divert water through the pipeline towards Power Station A or divert it down a short pipeline back into the Kourarau Stream. This diversion is used for maintenance purposes such as emptying of the reservoir for the desedimentation process.

Water from the lower reservoir is piped to Windy Point, located along Te Wharau Road. A metal hoist structure sits above the entrance to two metal pipes which the hedgehog goes down to clean the pipes. These pipelines are 1182 metres long and end at surge tower no.1. This 30 metre concrete tower is located on a grassy hilltop and is a unique and prominent structure in the rural landscape. The surge tower is hollow with a metal pipe inside. The pipe is full of water and is designed to prevent the build up of pressure inside the pipelines. At this point the water flows into two steel penstocks that takes the water 2136 metres down to Power Station A.

Power Station A is accessed via private land (through the Tupurupuru Station) and is located on the bank of the Kourarau Stream. The station is another utilitarian concrete box structure that is twice as large as Station B. The entrance to the station is located on the North elevation. Alongside are metal framed windows with curved tops; they have been blocked up to prevent flood damage to the station but they can be viewed from the interior. An operation room that holds the electrical equipment is an addition to the east elevation; it is surrounded by concrete blocks to prevent against future flood water damage. Water is discharged from the station via a concrete tailrace back into the Kourarau Stream. Improvements to safety and flood prevention includes a large metal grille covering the exit point of the discharge from the station and a sliding hydraulic metal door that can be dropped to block the discharge exit.

Once inside the station access to the floor is via a platform along the entire west elevation and down a flight of stairs. In the middle of the room is the machinery. Power Station A utilises 131 metres of fall to drive a Boving twin disk Pelton wheel turbine driving a General Electric 700 kilowatt generator. Large metal tracks and hoists criss-cross the roof and allow for the lifting of the machinery. Entrance to the operation room is via a door located on the east wall. The electrical units inside the room have been modernised over the years due to upgrading and maintenance requirements and the damage from flooding. Lines on the walls show the water level inside the room during the April 2005 flood. Historic name plates from the machinery and the 60th anniversary plaque are affixed to the walls in this room.

A feature to note outside the Power Station is the area where the penstocks enter the station. This is where the hedgehog catcher and metal hoist are located. A metal garage alongside houses the hedgehogs and other maintenance equipment on site.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1923 -
Construction of Power House A, lower reservoir, spillway, surge tower no.1 and pipelines are completed.

1924 -
Power Station A is raised six metres to reduce damage by flooding.

Original Construction
1925 -
Construction of Power Station B, upper dam, spillway and surge tower no.2 is completed.

2005 -
Power Station A is flooded. The windows are blocked up and concrete blocks surround the operation room.

2010 -
Upgrades to original spillways, construction of auxiliary spillway and improvements to public access at the upper reservoir.

Construction Details

Concrete, metal

Completion Date

3rd May 2011

Report Written By

Natasha Naus

Information Sources

Alexander Turnbull Library

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

Domestic electricity: Wairarapa Electric-Power Board handbook for electricity consumers, Wairarapa Electric-Power Board, Wellington, 193[?]. Reference number: P Box 333.7932 DON 1930.

Alexander Turnbull Library

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

‘60 Years Hydro-Electric Power Generation in the Wairarapa, 1923-1983’, A Supplement of the Wairarapa Times-Age newspaper, Masterton, 1983. Reference number: P ffC363.62 SIX 1983.

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

Wairarapa Electric Power Board, Petition 1920. Agency Public Works W, Series 10, Box 8/, Record A2. Public Works Dept Wellington – Wairarapa Electric Power Board 1922. Agency, LINZ Head Office ABWN, Series 6095, Accession W5021, Box 364/, Record 13/90/14, Part 1.

Bagnall, 1976

A. G. Bagnall, Wairarapa; An Historical Excursion, Trentham, 1976

Centenary Celebrations

Centenary Celebrations

Kevin Fearon, Gladstone: a history of the Gladstone, Longbush, Te Whiti and Maungaraki Schools and their associated districts, presented on the occasion of the centennial celebrations of the Gladstone School, Centennial Committee, Carterton, 1976.

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

R. J. Cuthill. 'Anderson, George James - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10. URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/3a16/1. David Hamer. 'Buchanan, Walter Clarke - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10. URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/2b46/1. Sally Maclean. 'Searancke, William Nicholas - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10. URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/2s10/1



21 Dec 1923.

Evening Post

Evening Post

8 March 1922. 15 Dec 1925

Wairarapa Archives

Wairarapa Archives, Masterton

Wairarapa Electric Power Board File - cuttings, letters, reports, 1916-1977.

Wairarapa Archives

Wairarapa Archives, Masterton

Wairarapa Electricity Shareholders and Consumers Association Incorporated scrapbook of newspaper cuttings. Reference no. 98-3/46.

Wairarapa Archives

Wairarapa Archives, Masterton

Notes from Oral History with Henry Keenan, Wairarapa Electric Power Board Engineer, recorded 20 Nov 1983, Tapes 1-3. Historic Photographs

Wairarapa Daily News

Wairarapa Daily News

21 Dec 1923.

Wellington Regional Council

Wellington Regional Council

Greater Wellington Regional Council, Masterton. Kourarau Power Scheme: Resource Consent applications and Assessment of Environmental Effects, Genesis Power Limited, 28 March 2001. GWRC File: 01010067 to 69, Vol. II.

Wairarapa Times

Wairarapa Times-Age Weekend

Wairarapa Times-Age, 31 Aug 2005. Wairarapa Times-Age, 21 Aug 2006. Wairarapa Times-Age, 28 January 2011.

Other Information

A fully referenced Registration Report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office

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.