Bullendale Hydro Powerhouse reconstructed

“Who would have imagined eight years after the world’s first hydroelectric power scheme was built in  Northumberland... that a hydro-electricity plant would be constructed in the South Island of New Zealand,” says Marion Borrell, a trustee on the Wakatipu Heritage Trust.

Bullendale Powerhouse at the base of a hill with two people in the foreground.
Replicated power house structure. Photo courtesy of Marion Borrell.expand/collapse

“George Bullen and Frank Evans not only imagined this but created it, New Zealand’s first industrial use of hydro-electricity and first transmission line, at one of the most remote goldfields in the country .”

The Wakatipu Heritage Trust, established by Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai and Queenstown Lakes District Council in 2012 to undertake the preservation of publicly-owned heritage sites, set about exploring the restoration of the Bullendale Dynamo Powerhouse up the left branch of Skippers Creek. Investigations also involved Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and archaeologist Dr Peter Petchey. In 2014 Peter prepared a conservation plan for this project. 

The Wakatipu Heritage Trust decided to rebuild the dynamo shed in order to protect the remaining machinery, consisting of the two dynamos, the intermediate shaft with three pulleys, and two Pelton wheels. By May this year, a replica building had been constructed with the machinery mounted in new timber supports in the exact positions. 

Trustee Grant Hensman led the project. Peter Petchey and David Clarke, Director of the Lakes District Museum, also played key roles. Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga staff provided advice and oversight. The contractor, John Henderson Construction Ltd. from Glenorchy, contended with the disruptions of Covid-19, winter weather, and other delays to carry out the work between early 2021 and May 2022.

“Even with the assistance of helicopters for the heavy lifting, it was quite an achievement in a location without vehicle access,” says Marion, noting that the overall cost for the project came to $330,000. Plaques at the replica building acknowledge support from New Zealand Lotteries, Central Lakes Trust, Community Trust South, Delta Utility Services, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, Peter Petchey-Southern Archaeology, Skyline Enterprises, John Henderson Construction, Findlater Sawmilling, Opus/WSP, Pioneer Energy, Grant Hensman-Beaver Contractors, Department of Conservation, and the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

The Bullendale Hydro-Electric Dynamo and Mining Site is a category 1 listed place on the New Zealand Heritage List Rārangi Kōrero.

Like many quartz mine operations, the costs to run it were high, and the rock was often of poor quality. The Phoenix Mine over the hill at Bullendale that was powered by the Dynamo Powerhouse went into decline in the late 19th century. The mine finally closed in 1907.

David Watt