Makareao Lime Works (Former)

254 Limekiln Road, Makareao

  • Makareao Lime Works (Former), Makareao.
    Copyright: Holcim New Zealand Limited. Date: 10/10/2008.
  • Makareao Lime Works (Former), Makareao.
    Copyright: Holcim New Zealand Limited. Date: 10/10/2008.
  • Makareao Lime Works (Former), Makareao.
    Copyright: Holcim New Zealand Limited. Date: 10/10/2008.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4368 Date Entered 26th November 1987 Date of Effect 26th November 1987


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 406503, Secs 84-85 Blk VIII, and part of the land described as Sec 31 Blk XII Moeraki SD (RT 467342), Otago Land District, and the structures associated with Makareao Lime Works, and their fittings and fixtures, and the archaeological remains associated with the Makareao Lime Works thereon. The registration does not include the Taylor's Lime Works that operates on parts of Sec 84- 85 Blk VIII and Sec 31 Blk XII, Otago Land District. (Refer to the maps in Appendix 1 of the Registration Report, showing the extent and the area excluded from the registration).

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 406503, Secs 84-85 Blk VIII, Sec 31 Blk XII Moeraki SD (RT 467342), Otago Land District

Location description

Limekiln Road is off State Highway 85 at Inch Valley, some 2 kilometres south west of Dunback.


The Makareao Lime Works with its three pot kilns, impressive brick Schmatolla Kiln, quarries and remains of the infrastructure of the Works is an outstanding monument to the importance of the lime industry to New Zealand’s development and is evidence of the historic industrial system that provided lime for both building and agriculture in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Lime deposits in the Waihemo area had been exploited as early as the 1860s, but it was not until the Government became involved in the construction of the Inch Valley Lime Quarry in 1898 that the lime burning industry was established on a large scale. Minister of Lands John McKenzie, himself a landowner in the Palmerston area, supported the establishment of the works and the associated branch railway.

Construction was overseen by the Public Works Department with District Engineer Edgeworth Ussher managing the contracts. In 1900 after some technical problems, the first lime kiln was fired. A branch railway was built to bring the coal for fuel into the works and to carry the lime to buyers, with the government providing free carriage for lime within 100 miles of the works.

After initial elation when the firing produced a ‘splendid sample’ of burnt lime, further difficulties followed. The kilns operated inefficiently and for a period the works were closed down and it was recommended that more kilns, in particular gas fired kilns were needed to make the operation viable. The Hon. Thomas Kelly, Member of the Legislative Council and a man with training in chemistry and experience in lime burning, was requested by McKenzie to assess the operation and provide a design for a gas fired kiln. This he did, with the operational support of engineer George Robinson who oversaw the project. Tragedy dogged the Works, when during the construction of the new kiln a cutting collapsed killing three workers, in a widely reported accident. Still the works failed to pay and the Government offered up the lease of the works by public tender. In 1909 the Milburn Lime and Cement Company (Milburn Company) took over the operation, starting a long term and significant association with Makareao.

One of the first decisions of the Milburn Company was to build a large and impressive brick Schmatolla Kiln, adopted with enthusiasm by company manager Frank Oakden after a fact finding visit with the inventor Ernst Schmatolla in Germany. The Milburn Company continued to develop the plant, adding new technologies as the need arose, and providing accommodation for workers, including a brick swimming pool near the Men’s Quarters and opening new quarries as the old ones were worked out. The Makareao Lime Works went on to become a key supplier of lime for the Burnside Cement Works near Dunedin until their closure in 1988, and therefore were associated with major building projects such as the Roxburgh Hydro Dam, in the mid twentieth century.

The Makareao Lime Works are located in Inch Valley, inland from Palmerston in North Otago, amidst the modern processing plant operated by Taylor’s Lime. The two nineteenth century and early twentieth quarry sites are located in the valley just above where the current processing plant is located. The historic lime works and associated sites and plant are located on the slopes of the hill below the quarry.

Stone was transported by way of a cable and tramway system the remains of which can still be seen. The Schmatolla Kiln is perched on the hillside just above the current processing plant. There are three buried pot kilns (or perhaps the gas fired kilns) behind the Schmatolla Kiln.

On a terrace between the Schmatolla Kiln and the Quarry are the remains of the Engineering Shop and the Winch Shed demolished in the late 1980s. The foundation and some equipment remain in place. The Single Men’s Quarters were located a short distance down the valley away from the caustic environment. The Single Men’s quarters was a long low single gable building demolished probably the same time as the Engineering Shop. Close by, the brick swimming pool built for the use of the [community] still remains. The swimming pool is raised above the ground (rather than recessed) with brick stairs providing access up.

The Makareao Lime Works provide insight into the history of the lime burning industry, which was integral in the nineteenth century to the production of lime for both building materials and for agricultural purposes. Makareao Lime Works has special technological value in illustrating the nineteenth and twentieth century systems for producing lime and providing examples of kiln types used in lime production telling an important story within history of the lime industry.

In 2010 the historic Makareao Lime Works, standing amidst the modern operations of Taylor’s Lime which produces burnt lime, hydrated lime and agricultural lime, recalls the historic importance of the lime industry to New Zealand’s development, its role in promoting agriculture and its value to the building industry.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Makareao Lime Works provide insight into the history of the lime burning industry, which was integral in the nineteenth century to the production of lime for both building materials and for agricultural purposes. The lime industry was well established in the Otago region, with kilns at Sandymount on the Otago Peninsula working in the 1860s and a substantial works at Milburn near Milton south of Dunedin. In the Shag Valley, near Palmerston in North Otago, there were a number of small kilns producing lime, but it was not until the Government took over the site and built the works that lime production was established in the valley, where it is still produced today. The history of the Makareao Lime Works and the associated railway line shows the essential nature of the industry and its subsequent takeover by Milburn Lime and Cement Company shows the developing importance of the works in providing lime for cement production, crucial to many large scale projects, such as the Roxburgh Hydro Dam, in the twentieth century.

Archaeological Significance or Value

The site and buildings have archaeological values and are recorded as archaeological sites by the New Zealand Archaeological Association. Though no thorough archaeological site survey has completed, it is clear that the Makareao Lime Works provide insight into a developing working system, which from the construction of the works in 1898 and subsequent development by Milburn Lime and Cement Company. The remains of the various types of kilns, processing plant and quarry and associated transport systems provide archaeological evidence of this significant industry.

Technological Significance or Value

Makareao Lime Works has technological value in illustrating the nineteenth and twentieth century systems for producing lime. The technological significance of the kilns is of special significance, providing insight the various types of kiln and the technologies associated with them. From the early coal/timber fired pot kiln, through to coal fired kilns and more the more sophisticated Schmatolla Kiln, the technological evolution within the history of the lime industry is evident at the Makaraeo Lime Works.

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

The history of the Makareao Lime Works reflects the importance of the lime industry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From the Government’s construction of the works, the system of free cartage for agricultural lime linked into the national rail network, and into the history of the cement industry, and in particular the involvement of the pioneering Milburn Lime and Cement Company, the history of the Lime Works provides special insight into an essential industry.

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

The Makareao Lime Works have an association with a number of individuals who were significant. Engineers Edgeworth Ussher and George Robinson were prominent figures in the engineering profession. The Hon. Thomas Kelly was a significant figure in the political life of the country and his role in providing advice and design for the Government-built gas fired lime kilns is an interesting aside in his career.

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

The Makareao Lime Works have been identified in a number of publications as a significant industrial complex held in high public esteem. Geoffrey Thornton and Nigel Smith, writing on industrial heritage both refer to the complex as a significant place. Historian George Griffiths, recounting the history of the Waihemo area, also provides a detailed description of the Makareao Lime Works as a significant place.

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

The designs of the lime kilns at Makareao Lime Works are of special significance. The kilns represent a range of design technologies developed to process lime. In particular the Schmatolla Kiln, based on cutting edge imported technology in the early twentieth century is of outstanding significance.

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

The Makareao Lime Works, with its early system of operation still evident, sitting amidst the modern operations of Taylor’s Lime is a rare surviving works still able to provide significant insight into this industry. Thornton records evidence of over 50 lime kilns having been built throughout New Zealand, although only a small number now survive, some in a dilapidated state.

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

The historic structures associated with the Makareao Lime Works sit amidst the modern operations of Taylor’s Lime and are key components of the industrial landscape at Makareao.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place. The Makareao Lime Works with its three pot kilns, impressive brick Schmatolla Kiln, quarries and remains of the infrastructure of the Works stands as an outstanding monument to the importance of the lime industry to New Zealand’s development providing evidence of the historic industrial system that provided lime for both building and agriculture in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Ussher, E.R.

Ussher came to New Zealand in 1861 from Canada and was appointed Surveyor of Roads for Otago Province. Based in Dunedin in 1871 he was a railway surveyor in the newly formed Public Works Department and two years later was Surveyor of Waste Lands. By 1878 he was working again for the Public Works Department as Resident Engineer on the construction of the Dunedin-Christchurch railway.

A short time after this he became District Engineer for Otago, remaining in this position for 47 years. He carried out rail construction in mid and north Canterbury and also for branch railways in Southland. In 1904 he assisted P.S. Hay with exploration and surveys for his monumental report on hydro-electric power resources. In 1886 Ussher was elected Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Robinson, George Francis

George Francis Robinson (1840-1933) was employed as an engineer on road and bridge work from 1865, and as a Government engineer from 1874.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori History

The Waihemo River Valley, inland from Palmerston in North Otago provided a route for a Maori trail to the Maniototo and onto the Southern Lakes, now known as the Pig Root. Remains of moa hunting camps were noted on the nearby Kakanui Range. Oven and midden sites with associated artefacts were also found. Herries Beattie suggests that the original form of the name may be been Matau-kareao (matua – fish hook; kareao – supplejack). There are a number of umu sites in the valleys around the Blue Mountains showing that the area was significant for iwi.

The old Makareao lime works are located on the edge of the Waihemo Valley, a major travel route for Maori linking the coast with the interior, as State Highway 87 does today. While no comprehensive archaeological field surveys have been carried out in the Waihemo Valley, several archaeological sites are recorded on the New Zealand Archaeological Association scheme. These indicate the harvesting of natural resources, especially around Blue Mountain where the lime works are sited. No archaeological sites of Maori origin are known around the actual lime works.

Moa-bones found during the lime kiln construction highlight the former presence of moa naturally in the area, and a site containing moa-bones and taonga typical of the ‘Moa-hunter’ period is recorded at the mouth of Blue Mountain stream (I43/28). A Dentalium shell necklace also typical of this period (D43.1501 in Otago Museum) was found ‘in a cave near Dunback’ (Skinner ‘Comparatively Speaking’, 1974 p.86) and adzes from Camp Armstrong at ‘The Narrows’ (D.29.1787)and ‘Dunback’ (D.57.3) show that people were active in the area from relatively early times. Moa bones were often used as a source of lime for lime works in nineteenth century New Zealand.

To the south of the lime works numerous umu and a rock-art site (I42/8) are known on and around Blue Mountain. At least six umu (oven) sites are known along the banks of Blue Mountain Stream. Some of these are possibly umu too judging by the three metre to three and half metre diameter and the presence of numerous cabbage trees nearby. Another nine umu sites at least are known in the hills around Blue Mountain Stream, including the southern slopes of Blue Mountain.

This relatively high density of archaeological sites appears to indicate the prolonged harvesting of mahika kai in the Blue Mountain area by Maori, which should be expected given the presence of permanent villages of all ages nearby and on the adjoining coast. It seems likely the Registration area around the lime works was well frequented by Maori, while no archaeological material of cultural interest reflecting this is known.


The land in Shag Valley to the north-west of where the Makaraeo Lime Works are located was first taken up by pastoralists in the latter years of the 1850s. Whaler, businessman and landowner John Jones took up land there, with others following in his wake. Francis Dillon Bell took up Shag Valley Station, and later the land became part of what was known as Makareao Estate, associated with Waihemo Grange and its owners the Kitchener family. Following the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Kitchener in 1894, the property was left in trust.

Waihemo Grange estate was put up for auction on 8 June 1895. The sale attracted a large number of farmers but few bids were received and the reserve was not met. The Grange was offered to the Government under the Lands for Settlement Act 1895 but initially was declined. Negotiations must have eventually concluded successfully, for it was reported in the Otago Witness on 25 June 1896 the particulars for the disposal of 2144 acres of the Makareao Estate, previously known as the Waihemo Grange Estate. The ballot for sections on the Makareao Estate took place in July 1896. There was considerable interest and the sections were sold. With the sale of the estate there was local interest in the exploitation of the lime known to be on the property.

Lime and Pastoralism

Lime has long been used for agricultural and building purposes. Early New Zealand settlers burnt limestone in kilns reducing the calcium carbonate (CaC03) to calcium oxide (CaO). Calcium oxide was known as quick lime, burnt lime, caustic lime (or just ‘lime’). Lime was spread onto paddocks where the rain and the acid nature of the soil broke it down, improving the condition of the soil, boosting plant growth. For the first century of New Zealand farming the application of burnt lime was a crucial farming practice.

Lime burning was a simple process. There were a number of different types of kilns, which reflected the developing technology as well as the developing markets for lime. The simplest process was a pit where fuel was layered with limestone or shell and burnt. Intermittent kilns (which had various physical forms) were loaded, fired and emptied of their load each time. They were expensive in labour, time and fuel as the kilns had to be cooled down between loads. Continuous kilns operated so that fresh fuel and stone could be loaded into the kiln, and the burnt lime removed without interrupting the burning process. Freestanding intermittent kilns often had timber bridges or ramps to allow access to their tops for loading, as at Kakahu, Sandymount and Stavely kilns. It is difficult to tell if these kilns operated as flare kilns (where the fuel and lime were kept separate) or mixed-feed kilns (where lime and fuel were loaded in alternate layers). Intermittent kilns tended to be replaced with continuous kilns where the demand for lime was high and the industry further developed.

Other mechanised methods were introduced as works were adapted to meet increasing demand for lime and these associated sites and structures (such as quarries, crushing plants, rail lines and conveying equipment) are important in understanding lime works, and the connections to the industry as a whole. Focus has largely been on the obvious and interesting kilns rather than the whole works.

Archaeologist Jane Harrington writes that it is appropriate to view places associated with the lime burning industry ‘not as isolates, but as components which reflect the interaction between people and their physical and cultural environments, this interaction being grounded in the relationship between a site and all other related sites in a larger system.’ Sites should be considered within a web of relationships, including spatial relationships. The layers of activity include the structural remains of lime kilns, to a range of ancillary sites (roads, tramways, quarries, residences and so forth) to functional relationships in the landscape as part of a cultural landscape, where the process and transport of the resource or the product relate to the transportation and extraction technology of the time. These are dynamic systems reflecting changes over time.

Another archaeologist Michael Pearson writes that in Australia (and it could be applied to the New Zealand context) there is often inadequate historical description to identify the form of lime kilns, compounded by the lack of understanding of the various operating processes, which means that some uncertainty exists as to which kiln characteristics were required to enable a kiln to operate as continuous. Continuous kilns could be mixed feed (stone and fuel fed into the tall shaft kiln, burnt in the central section and removed at the base), or separate feed where separate fire boxes kept the lime and fuel apart. Kilns tended to be located at the source of the stone because of the transport costs, with fuel usually sourced from the surrounding district. In Australia the introduction of rail transport, and the production of cement in large plants in the later nineteenth century and early twentieth century, led to the demise of most small lime works.

Kilns were usually built of limestone and were of a circular ‘pot-type’ with a tunnel entrance at the base for firing and unloading. As loading was usually done from the top, kilns were often built into hillsides to allow the tipping in of the stone from a bridge. In Otago, lime kilns were erected as early as 1849, and there were kilns operating at Tokomairiro and on the Otago Peninsula in the 1860s. Oamaru, with its large deposits of limestone, was also the site of kilns in the 1860s. Architect and historian Geoffrey Thornton describes those surviving at Makareao as ‘dramatic industrial monument[s].’ Nigel Smith, writing on New Zealand’s industrial heritage, describes the Schmatolla Kiln as one of the country’s ‘finest industrial monuments.’

Makareao Lime Works

Lime had been quarried in the Dunback area by D. Hutcheson in the 1860s and by R. Murray in the 1870s. T. Falconer had set up a small kiln, but this facility could not meet the growing demands for lime. There were other known deposits nearby, for example at Janet’s Peak, where limestone was quarried.

By the end of the 1880s the government recognised the importance of lime to the developing agriculture of New Zealand. In September 1889 the Railway Commissioners reduced the railway rates for the carriage of lime for agricultural purposes (and also of drain pipes, tiles, gravel and stone) to encourage farmers throughout the country to use lime to improve the productivity of their land. Lime burners and farmers were enthusiastic in their support of this move. In 1898 the Government introduced free carriage of lime within 100 miles of the lime works, leading to a greatly increased demand from farmers. The development of the rail system was an integral part of the story of the lime works. The first part of the Dunback Branch of the national railway network was under construction by March 1880, and in operation by 1882.

There was general discussion in Otago about the advisability of the Government purchase of lime kilns. Milburn farmers (who had the Milburn Lime and Cement Company’s lime works on their doorstep) supported the idea of making lime available cheaply, but some questioned whether the Government could work the kilns any cheaper than a private company. They agreed, however, that cheap cartage was very important. Farmers had hoped that the Government would open up the lime deposits. They had the support of local Member of Parliament, Minister of Lands and Agriculture John McKenzie (1839-1901) who wanted to ensure a cheap supply of lime. McKenzie had owned a farm (Oykell) in Inch Valley for fourteen years, and owned a small holding at Shag River until his death. He was a keen advocate for the small farmer, with an intimate knowledge of farming, and did much to facilitate settling people onto the land and support them once they were there.

In January 1896 the Otago Witness enthused that the lime was conveniently situated, easily accessed, and would be a boon to Shag Valley farmers. In 1896 the Government purchased the Makareao estate and set the land aside for settlement. With the subdivision of the estate there were queries from people interested in leasing the quarry reserve for lime burning, if the Government was not planning to work the deposit themselves. The Government saw the opportunity to meet farmer demands for lime and decided to operate the lime works itself, estimating that the whole works would cost £10,000 to build. This alarmed other producers such as Milburn Lime and Cement Company, who feared they would be forced out of the market.

By early 1899 construction of the kilns at the Inch Valley Lime Quarry were underway, on instruction from John McKenzie. In February District Engineer E.R. Ussher called for tenders for the erection of one kiln with plans and specifications on view at the Post Office in Palmerston. Plans show the kiln lined with fire bricks, the top level with the ground. In June 1899 Ussher advertised for tenders for the erection of a lime cooler. By September 1899 the railway line to the lime works was under construction from the Dunback line to the Inch Valley quarry, and one kiln had been built and was ready for firing.

The Makareao Branch with four kilometres of track was constructed by the Public Works Department and opened on 31 March 1900. It was built solely to access the lime works. The Inch Valley Station had a loop for 15 wagons, a passenger platform and shelter shed, as well as a loading bank. The Makareao terminus (five kilometres further up the line from Inch Valley) had lime bins and a loop for 26 wagons.

By July 1900 the Otago Witness reported that the Inch Valley lime kilns were in ‘full swing’ and that several truck loads of lime had been sent away and ‘had been very highly spoken of’ by those who had seen it. Geologist James Black from Otago University analysed the burnt lime at Makareao. He was impressed: ‘This is a splendid sample of burnt lime. It will have great effect as an agricultural lime. The burning has been very thoroughly done. It is simply perfect.’ John Hay (the chief surveyor) was so pleased that he recommended the construction of two more kilns. The establishment of the works, however, did not progress smoothly, with personnel, construction and efficiency issues arising. Hay went as far as suggesting the works be shut down while more kilns were constructed, and indeed burning was suspended for a period.

An image probably dating from around the turn of the century (there is only one kiln operating) shows the site. A single kiln is built into the hillside with a recessed cut into the hill at the base providing access to the burnt lime. The kiln has a tall narrow chimney from which smoke issues. There is stone revetting along the bank on both sides of the kiln making a flat terraced area on which the workers are standing. Below the kiln reached by steep narrow steps is a tall narrow shed (perhaps the lime cooler) built into the hillside and a cluster of small corrugated iron buildings.

Efficiency problems resulted in a detailed assessment of the Works. A paper prepared by the Legislative Councillor and Member for Taranaki, the Hon. Thomas Kelly (d. 1921), described the functioning of gas-fired lime kilns which were designed to maximise output while minimising labour and fuel costs. Kelly visited Makareao, assessed the kilns and prepared plans and specifications in cooperation with the engineer George Robinson. Kelly recommended that gas fired kilns be built (and that the coal fired kiln be converted to gas) and John Hay concurred with his opinion.

George Robinson visited Makareao and the Milburn Lime Works (south of Dunedin). He was convinced that if the Government was to make a success of the works at Makareao at least three kilns needed to be constructed and kept running.

Gas kilns worked by ‘converting the fuel into producer [coal] gas in separate furnaces, and burning the gas so made in the kiln at some six feet from the hearth. The furnaces were supplied with heated air, heated by the waste gas from the top of the kiln, and also aided by a steam blast below the furnace in conjunction with heated air.’ The kiln was designed to hold 23 tons of limestone which in 24 hours was expected to produce nine tons of lime from 18 tons of stone. The body of the kiln was in two parts, divided by ‘the orifices of the gas flame.’ The upper part contained the limestone ‘in process of conversion into lime by the action of the gas flame’, the lower portion the burnt stone prior to removal. The stone was removed by means of a ‘revolving shield’, with an iron truck used to remove the lime. The kiln was fired by filling it with dry wood up to the gas outlets and the limestone placed on the wood until the kiln was half full. When the fire was established the furnaces were charged with wood and coal and fired. Once the furnaces had been lit for two hours the rest of the kiln could be filled with limestone to a little below the gas outlets at the top of the kiln. The all important air regulation was controlled by the shield.

By 1901 a gas fired kiln was being built. Government engineer George Robinson (1840-1933), who had worked alongside the Hon. Thomas Kelly, was in charge of the building of the second kiln. The kilns were built by W. Steel of Palmerston. The kilns were constructed in a line to allow a ‘straight and level siding’ for the rail wagons which brought the coal to be used as fuel for firing the kilns. Costings were also provided for the accommodation on site with a ‘Room & Office’ for the works manager, and a ‘Cottage for Engineer and three workmen.’

The widely reported ‘Dunback Mining Disaster’ which saw three workers killed when a cutting collapsed in 1901, provides insight into the nature of the site at this time. Engineer George Robinson was in charge of the excavation work at the time of the fatalities. The kiln had a cutting at the base 11 feet wide and in line with the already existing kiln. A brick tunnel was to be built in the cutting, and on top of the tunnel furnaces which would occupy the whole excavated space. The cutting was to be left open for about 30 feet and the brick tunnel started from that point and to run under the kiln. The accident happened when the cutting collapsed along a ‘flaw’ in the ground.

In 1903, after spending £14,000 on the development of the lime quarries, the Government decided to abandon the business as a commercial venture because it was failing to make money. The quarries were put up for lease by public tender. The lease documentation included an inventory of the plant and equipment. The buildings and structures included: 1 large lime kiln, 1 small lime kiln, 1 lime cooler with loading shelter shed, boiler, winding engine and shed, a coal shed and stable, stone shoot from quarry to tramline, a manager’s house, outbuildings and garden fence, 2 workmen’s cottages, 13 chains of tramlines from the quarry to the kilns and from the kilns to the cooler amongst sundry other equipment.

The Government was still supporting the lime industry, with lime carried free on railways for up to 100 miles in order to assist farmers and to discourage monopolistic practices. At the time there were four other firms working in Otago and Southland Meek and Co. at Fairfax in Southland, Lime Hills kilns at Winton, McDonald of Oamaru, and Meek of Oamaru. After briefly leasing the works to James Gibson, manager of the Mt Somers Coal Company who, like the Government failed to make the works pay, in 1909 the Government leased the works to the Milburn Lime and Cement Co. Ltd. which was already heavily involved in the lime industry. Milburn Lime and Cement Company, formed in 1888 (now a subsidiary of Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd), is one of New Zealand’s longest established cement brands. The Milburn Lime and Cement Company operated on a large scale, sending lime from as far north as Christchurch to Invercargill, and agricultural lime from Totara to Invercargill.

From 1909 to 1954 limestone at Makareao was obtained from two quarries. One was up nearby Inch Valley Creek, while the other main quarry was worked at 530 feet above sea level.

A ‘Schmatolla’ kiln, was constructed shortly after the Milburn Company took over the lease. Ernst Schmatolla pioneered this technology which improved on shaft kilns which prevented uneven burning of rock products (such as lime), resulting in an evenly burnt product, less wear on the lining of the kiln and substantial fuel savings, through the new arrangement of the cooler and the draw-pit. The Schmatolla kiln was loaded from the top. At the base were grates, under each of which there was a space filled with water. Air was regulated so that a large amount of combustible gas was produced. The gas was burnt part way up the shaft of the kiln. Company manager Frank Oakden, a man of large scale vision, visited Schmatolla in Germany and secured the patent rights for Australasia. He visited a lime works to see a kiln in operation, was impressed and ordered one for the Milburn works in Dunedin, which instead was installed at Makareao on Oakden’s recommendation. In addition an existing kiln at Makareao was converted to gas.

A visit to the lime works was reported in 1909:

I was shown the various treatment[s] [sic] the lime rock is subjected to ere it becomes that indispensible article – lime. To describe the vicinity towering high above its brethren hills of lesser height and worth, as though in its original state it would assume the prominence it eventually receives by virtue of its usefulness, the mountain of lime rock is an imposing spectacle. Veins of white rock girth its base, and higher up the colour varies, not so much evidence of the changing stratum, as the result of passing storms which have buffeted this exposed formation since prehistoric days when storm and mountain first met and tried conclusions. Our first steps were up the hillside through the powerhouse, where great winding engines, their latent power stored within, at present silent cylinders, lay like giants at rest. On the hillside we came to the initial step in the production of lime – viz., the severing of lumps from the parent stone in sizes handy for transport. This process of quarrying just as might be carried on in either the Glen or Pelichet Bay stone quarries. Then it is loaded for the descent to the kilns, and just here I was interested in an ingenious mechanical contrivance which resulted in a loading truck descending making good its passage by hauling up an empty truck on a seesaw principle. To the kilns I was next taken, and with the frank abandon which curiosity and inexperience is instrumental in prompting, I walked unconcernedly to the kiln mouth, but beat a hasty retreat as the keen sensible heat of glowing lime gave one to understand that caution must be recognised even in the search for knowledge. ‘This kiln has not been out for 10 years,’ said my host, and then I wondered no more at the vicious heat that made it unapproachable. Distance lends enchantment to the view, particularly when 10 years’ heat is radiating around one, so we descended to the foot of the kilns, where the lime, after doing penance in the flames, lay in its marketable state, merely awaiting the final process of grading, loading. etc.

In February 1913, the Milburn Company having secured a new 10 year lease on the Makareao works built a new coal-burning kiln to handle smaller sized stone as the Schmatolla kiln worked best on large lumps of stone.

Labour unrest at the Makareao works in December 1916 over wages for quarry hands at the plant led to a walk off. When the men failed to return to work (having taken up the farm or shearing work) the company built workmen’s accommodation and a dining room to act as incentives to attract workers.

Around World War One new technological developments in both agriculture and cement manufacture encouraged the use of crushed rather than burnt limestone. There was scepticism from farmers, with the Milburn Company going to some effort to demonstrate that the crushed product still worked: it spelt out the word ‘Milburn’ with crushed lime on a disbelieving farmer’s paddock, and the resulting lush grass growth spelt out the company name for some years. In 1917 a carbonate of lime plant was constructed to facilitate the Company’s trade in agricultural lime. The limestone was crushed twice then carried by elevators to a pulveriser. These efforts were successful and by 1918 the plant was producing over 7,000 tons of burnt lime (for the cement works) and over 3,500 tons of carbonate. The success led to the expansion of the plant with a new light railway line and shed for the small locomotive which transported stone from the quarry to the plant and further expansion followed in the 1920s.

In 1929 the lime works began supplying lime for cement to the Burnside Cement Works in Dunedin, following the installation of a new crushing plant. The crushed calcite rock was taken out by rail to the Burnside Cement Works in Dunedin until its closure in 1988.

By the mid 1930s there was a boom in lime burning and associated cement works. Giving evidence at an employment hearing Mr Roberts, representing workers at these sites explained that in 1927-28 there were 27 lime and cement works (employing 915 workers). By 1935 there were 50 such establishments (employing only 704 workers). Free cartage had meant that there were more speculative ventures and associated cost cutting. The plant was further expanded in the early 1930s, including conversion of the plant to electrical power.

By the end of the 1930s the original quarry, not far above the rail level, was worked out. The argillite overburden made the quarry uneconomic. A deposit of limestone was noted on the hilltop above the works, and negotiations with the owners began for quarrying rights, on what was hoped to be a deposit that would last for at least the next 60 years. After securing the mining rights development was delayed by the onset of World War Two, despite the cement industry being declared essential. The Company stopped burning lime in the old kilns in 1942.

In 1950 a new [exploratory] quarry was opened on the hilltop above the ‘old works’ at the height of 900 feet above sea level, with an aerial ropeway transporting the stone to the plant. In 1954 a new crushing plant was installed near the new quarry [by Downer Construction]. [There were two single men's camps where Downer's men and some works employees lived - one over the creek from the village and the other down the railway line from the village (about thirty single huts). The creek camp had eight rooms opening onto a verandah Ithe original limeworks men's quarters called 'The Morgue'. The construction project meant that more housing was needed and twenty single huts were set up behind 'The Morgue.' Both camps ate at the cookhouse next to the manager's house. Once construction was finished the camp by The Morgue was dismantled, and the other reduced to ten huts. The ablution block south of The Morgue was dismantled, but the floor remained. The concrete floor was perfect for a swimming pool. This was built from bricks from the Schmatolla kiln. The pool was used by village children as well as those from Dunback who were brought out for swimmng lessons].

A conveyor belt took the rock to the secondary crushing plant, and a ropeway takes it to the carbonate plant, providing the infrastructure for the Company to provide cement for large projects such as the Roxburgh Hydro development and by the early 1950s was the sole source of limestone for the cement works. In 1950 five trains operated a week but by 1968 limestone was the sole traffic and services were reduced to three times a week to the Burnside Cement Works in Dunedin.

A deed from 1953 indicates the plant existing at this time. It describes: 2 kilns; Lime Cooler and Shed part iron part concrete; Boiler in disuse; Winch and iron rope and Shed for same; Coalshed; Iron Shed for holding blowers; Manager’s house and outbuildings; Workmen’s cottages (2); 13 chains Tramlines; Reservoir with pipe connection; Garage; Fencing and gates.

In 1963 the Milburn Lime and Cement Company merged with New Zealand Cement, becoming New Zealand Cement Holdings Ltd. The new company worked limestone quarries at five locations through the country.

The peak limestone production at Makareao was in the 1970s when all the limestone for Burnside Cement Works was quarried from the site, producing 170,000 tons. In December 1988 the Burnside Cement Works were closed, removing the limestone traffic which had kept the Makareao Branch Line in operation. The line was formally closed on 1 June 1989. The railway alignment remains visible at the lime works, as well as the bridges, abutments, culverts and formations associated with the Makareao Line. At the same time the rope way ceased to be used. The Engineering Shop and the Men’s Quarters (as they were called in the NZHPT records – presumably one of the sheds and the workmen’s accommodation noted previously) were demolished some time in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

A commodity report on limestone, marble and dolomite indicates that there were currently eight operating lime plants in New Zealand at that time. Two in the South Island (Makareao and at Browns in Southland, four in Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay (Mauriceville, Hatuma, Waipawa and Havelock North), and two in the Waikato (Te Kuiti and Otorohanga).

In 2010 the historic Makareao Lime Works, standing amidst the modern operations of Taylor’s Lime which produces burnt lime, hydrated lime and agricultural lime, recalls the historic importance of the lime industry to New Zealands development, its role in promoting agriculture and its value to the building industry.

Physical Description


The Makareao Lime Works are located in Inch Valley, inland from Palmerston in North Otago. The Lime Works are set at the base of a steep hillside among tussock and pasture. Current quarrying activities take place on the highest part of the site on the north side of the Blue Mountain Range ridge. This quarry has been in operation since 1955.

The nineteenth century and early twentieth quarry sites are located in the valley just above where the current processing plant is located. The historic lime works and associated sites and plant are located on the slopes of the hill below the quarry.

The Quarries

The Makareao Lime Works are located close by the source of the limestone in Inch Valley. There are two sites that were used historically to quarry limestone: the first quarry, located on the hillside above the Schmatolla and pot kilns, and the later quarry, used for a shorter period around World War One which is located across the valley. Stone from the quarries was transported to the kiln by way of a cable and tramway system, the remains of which can still be seen, with the alignment of both the tramway and the railway still evident. The first quarry was abandoned once the overburden of schist became too great, and the second was used for only a short time as the quality of stone was not as good.

The first quarry shows the remains of the winch and tramway system. The concrete piers that held the cables and winches are in place and show that stone from the second quarry was transported using this system. The flat alignment for the bins to transport the lime can be seen running down the steep slope toward the kilns. The second quarry is fairly shallow and is terraced.

The Schmatolla Kiln

This tall brick kiln is perched on the hillside just above the current processing plant. It is cylindrical in form, and elliptical in plan. It was fired by coal gas. The freestanding kiln was originally fed from the top via a wooden overbridge and trolley line, the remains of which are evident. Vertical shaft kilns worked from the top down: raw material (crushed stone) was fed in at the top of the kiln and the burnt lime was withdrawn from the bottom. Heat to calcine the stone came from the middle of the kiln and therefore any stone at the top of the kiln was preheated by rising hot exhaust gases and any below cooled by incoming air. The processing method is reflected in the form of the kiln, with a top opening, doors to add fuel part way down, and openings to remove the burnt lime at the base of the kiln.

The brick work is notable with arched openings. Steel straps circle the kiln providing structural support. The remains of a metal catwalk are evident around the circumference of the kiln above the fuel openings. Cast iron doors remain on some of the openings of the kiln.

The bays where the burnt lime was unloaded are large openings with flat arches on side of the kiln facing away from the hill. The lower side walls at the base of the kiln are partly absent as the bricks were removed. There are the remains of other structures associated with the historic lime works operations still evident but a comprehensive site survey would be needed to identify these with any certainty.

The Pot Kilns

There are three buried pot kilns (or perhaps the gas fired kilns) behind the Schmatolla Kiln. The kilns, judging by historic photographs, originally had brick tops and chimneys that projected above the ground, but these are no longer in place. The top openings are holes in the ground (ringed by a metal strap) dropping some 12 metres to the bottom of the kilns. The interiors of the kilns are lined with fire brick. The tunnels from where the burnt lime was retrieved are built into the hillside. They have concrete foundations and are brick lined.

Remains of the Engineering Shop and Winch Shed

On a terrace between the Schmatolla Kiln and the Quarry are the remains of the Engineering Shop and the Winch Shed. The Engineering Shop was a single gable shed built on concrete foundations. The Engineering Shop was demolished in the late 1980s. The foundation and some equipment remain in place. The remains of a brick forge are still in place. Above the Engineering Shed is the Winch Shed. This is a heavily built concrete structure in which still stands the largely intact steam winch with its timber barrel for the cable.

Remains of the Men’s Quarters and Swimming Pool

The Single Men’s Quarters were located a short distance down the valley away from the caustic environment of the lime processing plant. The Single Men’s quarters was a long low single gable building but was demolished probably the same time as the Engineering Shop. The building platform is visible. Close by the brick swimming pool built for the use of the men still remains. The swimming pool is raised above the ground (rather than recessed) with brick stairs providing access up to the pool and into the water.

Notable Features

The Schmatolla kiln was fired with coal gas.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1898 -
Construction of works begun.

Original Construction
1899 -
Lime Cooler built and first pot kiln for the Government Lime Works built

Original Construction
1899 - 1900
Makareao Branch Railway begun; opened 1900 to service Lime Works.

1901 -
Alteration of Kiln to gas fired.

1901 -
Cutting collapses during construction of kiln killing three men.

Original Construction
1901 -
Construction of second kiln begun

Original Construction
1909 - 1909
Schmatolla Kiln built

Original Construction
1913 -
New gas fired kiln constructed

Original Construction
1916 -
Worker’s accommodation constructed

1985 - 1989
Engineering Shop and Men’s Quarters demolished

1990 -
Taylor’s commission new lime works at Makareao

Construction Details

Brick, concrete, steel, timber. Iron bands around the Schmatolla kiln.

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

20th February 2012

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Smith, 2001

Nigel Smith, Heritage of Industry: Discovering New Zealand's Industrial History, Auckland, 2001

Thornton, 1982

Geoffrey G. Thornton, New Zealand's Industrial Heritage, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1982

Porter, 1983

Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.

Geoffrey Thornton, ‘Industrial Buildings’.

Moore, 1978

C.W.S. Moore, Northern approaches : a history of Waitati, Waikouaiti, Palmerston, Dunback, Moeraki, Hampden and surrounding districts, Capper Press, Christchurch, 1978.

Morton, 2002

Harry Morton, Carol Johnston and Barbara Chinn, The cornerstone century: The Story of Milburn New Zealand Limited, Milburn New Zealand Limited, Christchurch, 2002

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. It was reviewed under the Historic Places Act 1993. Copies of the original registration report and the fully referenced review report are available from the Otago/Southland Office of the NZHPT.

Additional information provided by Nairn Smith May 2013.

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.