Concrete Water Tower

Albion Street And High Street, Hawera

  • Concrete Water Tower. Image courtesy of the South Taranaki District Council.
    Copyright: South Taranaki District Council.
  • Concrete Water Tower.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Rebecca O'Brien. Date: 1/11/2002.
  • Concrete Water tower and surrounding garden at Hawera, circa 1925. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library. Taken By: Sydeney Harles Smith.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 143 Date Entered 21st September 1989 Date of Effect 21st September 1989


City/District Council

South Taranaki District


Taranaki Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 21 Lots 25-30 of sec 19 Town of Hawera


Completed in 1914, the Concrete Water Tower in Hawera was the largest, reinforced concrete tower then constructed in New Zealand.

The small town of Hawera, which means 'burnt place' in te reo Maori, was built on a plain confiscated from Ngati Ruanui by the Crown in the 1860s. Like many Pakeha townships, Hawera suffered several destructive fires in its closely packed town centre during the early years of settlement. It relied on wells to supply water needed to quell the fires until 1902, when water was piped into Hawera from the Kapuni Stream. Just ten years later, in 1912, the pipes became too small to cope with the increased demand for water required by Hawera's expanding population. That year, when the fire brigade attempted to put out an inferno raging in the town's main hotel, the water pressure was barely sufficient to allow water from their hoses to reach the building's verandahs. Immediately after the fire the borough engineer, J. Cameron, presented the council with a number of ways to improve Hawera's water pressure.

One option was the water tower, a favoured means of increasing water pressure in towns built on flat land. This option was endorsed by A. Dobson, an engineer from Christchurch and a leading authority on water works. Working in conjunction with the town's insurance companies and the Office of the Inspector of Fire Brigades, Cameron and structural engineer S. T. Silver designed a water tower that would give sufficient pressure and volume to fight fires effectively.

Cameron incorporated two separate tanks into the new water tower's design. The top tank held 378,000 litres (100,000 gallons) of water, and was to be used solely for fire fighting. Directly underneath is a second tank, exactly half the size of the top tank, for household purposes. A large, central column of reinforced concrete just over 37 metres high supported both tanks. The tower was constructed on land originally designated a Government Post and Telegraph reserve so that, in emergencies, an extra 378,000 litres could be obtained from Hawera's swimming pool. This gave the town a total of 945,000 litres (250,000 gallons), which was sufficient to keep six lines going for six hours in the event of fire.

At £4,510, the cost of the structure was substantial and this prompted Cameron to follow the example of other towns and incorporate a viewing platform and making the tower an architectural feature of Hawera. 221 steps lead to the circular balcony near the top of the tower and the main entrance and some windows are decorated with pedimented hoods. The tower took two years to build from the time the foundation stone was laid in 1912. In 1913, progress was delayed by an earthquake, which tilted the partially completed tower off centre by just over 76 centimetres (2 feet, 6 inches). The fault was corrected overnight and the tower passed its preliminary tests. It was judged sound in 1914.

The tower proved to be a major attraction for visitors to Hawera and became a symbol for the town's identity. In 1932 the tower was crowned with 500 red, neon lights as part of Hawera's fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Donations following the anniversary were used to purchase 18 neon tubes, which were erected on the top of tower as a reminder of the event. Apart from a period during the Second World War, the lights have enhanced the tower's landmark status ever since.

As Hawera's population increased, the demand for water grew. By 1943 the town was using all the water collected every 24 hours. To cope with the demand, a new reservoir was established in 1948. Water consumption continued to rise and the reservoir was extended in 1958, rendering the Water Tower obsolete. The Water Tower tanks were drained in 1964. Although it no longer served its original purpose, pride in the tower remained. New neon tubes were installed in 1979 and two years later floodlights lit the tower from below. Since the 1990s it has been used as a cell-phone transmitter and the viewing platform remained a popular attraction in the area until its closure in 2000 after a large piece of concrete fell from the tower. The tower has since been restored and was officially reopened on 2 October 2004.

The Concrete Water Tower in Hawera has national significance as the largest, reinforced concrete water tower then constructed in New Zealand. It represents a major engineering achievement and has considerable technological importance. The building is a significant landmark. It can be seen from all directions, both during the night and day, and has become a symbol of Hawera. The tower has local interest for its close associations with the development of the town, as well as providing wider historical insight into the importance of fire-fighting techniques in New Zealand before the First World War. The tower is also interesting as a dual-purpose building; the incorporation of aesthetically pleasing features and a viewing platform attracted numerous visitors to the area. Described as Hawera's icon, the Concrete Water Tower is held in high esteem by the local community and is the primary feature on the district Heritage Trail.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This is the first large reinforced concrete water tower in New Zealand. It is the most visible monument of civil engineering in the Hawera District. As such it is held in high regard by local people. Red vertical neon lighting is visible for many kilometres from land, sea and air. It is now a popular lookout for locals and tourists.


This tower is one of the earliest substantial engineering projects in the South Taranaki area using reinforced concrete. This is a solid functional tower (in a park) with considerable concessions to prominent decorative elements.


The landmark significance is outstanding. It can be seen from a great distance in all directions. The grounds surrounding are a significant part of the 'green' areas close to the business section of Hawera.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Cameron, J.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Silver, S. T.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


J A Duffill an architect may have had a part in this design.

Architectural Description (Style):

This is a gravity design with total loads going onto a shallow foundation (3.5 metres deep) in the form of a ring beam. All loads are carried on a circular concrete wall with six equally spaced concrete pilasters. The tower is 45 metres high while the water tanks carry 450,000 litres (upper) and 225,000 litres (lower) respectively. Although the tower could not be described as elegant it has an expression of strength which has stood the test of time.

Notable Features

The landmark quality

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1914 -

1932 -
Neon lights added to the tower

1981 -
Floodlights installed at the foot of the tower

1985 -
Concrete roof replaced with butunol covered timber roof

1993 -
Steel pipes removed from tower interior

1990 -
Cell-phone transmitters installed

1979 -
Neon lights replaced

1991 -
Maintenance work carried out

Construction Details

Cast in situ reinforced concrete with a timber roof

Completion Date

1st May 2003

Report Written By

Rebecca O'Brien

Information Sources

Bromley, 1981

A. Bromley, Hawera District Centenary, Hawera, 1981

Moore, 1982

T. Moore, Hawera Fire Brigade 1882-1982, Hawera, 1982

Thornton, 1996

Geoffrey Thornton, Cast in Concrete: Concrete Construction in New Zealand 1850-1939, Auckland, 1996

Wilson, 1984

J Wilson (compiler), AA Book of New Zealand Historic Places, Lansdowner Press, Auckland 1984

1984 ed.

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Salmond Architects, Former Water Tower, Hawera; Conservation Plan, (Draft), July 2000

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this 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.