Taranaki – hydro power pioneer

The original Mangorei power station much of which is still in use today. Image sourced from: Puke Ariki Learning and Research archives.
The original Mangorei power station much of which is still in use today. Image sourced from: Puke Ariki Learning and Research archives.

New Zealand has an early history of drawing on hydro power to produce electricity. The Taranaki district in particular, has been a pioneer in the use of hydro-powered electricity, establishing 7 of New Zealand’s 14 public sources of electricity in the early times.

Taranaki takes the prize as the most electrically-minded province during the early years of power generation in New Zealand. Neil Rennie writing in 1989 from Power to the People [see note 1 below].

Taranaki’s early sources of electricity stemmed from hydroelectric schemes that drew from the water supplies and many streams that surround Mt Taranaki/Egmont. Demand for a public source of electricity began to increase as New Plymouth’s urban population grew. Additionally, local farmers, who were originally self reliant on their self generated sources of electricity, began to use more industrialised technologies. These technologies required a steady supply of electricity. Consequently the new farming methods provided a practical and economic justification for the establishment public power schemes.

In the beginning of the 20th century Mangorei Power station was established on the Waiwhakaiho River near Burgess Park. In its early stages Mangorei power station was constructed to be a combined water and electricity supply. It provided power to 41 homes as well as New Plymouth’s street lights in urban areas. During this era of its development the Mangorei power station required a mere 1200-metre water supply that was then piped directly from the Waiwhakaiho River to its neighbouring generating station.

In the summer time power was often unreliable as the water levels along the Waiwhakaiho would run low. In response to this dilemma local government commissioned the construction of a dam along the Māngamāhoe Stream in 1914. Consequently a new intake was also constructed further up the Waiwhakaiho River and a 420-metre open water race led to the dam [2]. Unfortunately this extension on the Mangorei Power Station was not as efficient as its original design; the Māngamāhoe Stream intake frequently became blocked by stones, boulders and other debris which required removal by hand. The development of this system however has left a historical mark in Taranaki as the piles of boulders that were removed by local residents by hand from the stream, have remained alongside the intake.

In 1971 the original low-head dam that accompanied this structure was rebuilt and replaced by another low-head dam several meters downstream. The remains of the first dam and its intake to the power station may still be seen a few metres up from the second dam [3].

From its humble beginnings in 1906 the Mangorei Power Station continues to be one of New Zealand’s oldest operating power stations. Although it has much evolved from its original from its evidence of its earlier structures can still be traced as it remains a central component of Taranaki’s and New Zealand’s industrial heritage [4].

[1]. Lambert, R. (n.d). The Alchemy of the Engineer: Taranaki Hydro-electricity, paragraph 1. Retrieved from: http://pukeariki.com/Learning-Research/Taranaki-Research-Centre/Taranaki-Stories/Taranaki-Story/id/1009/title/the-alchemy-of-the-engineer-taranaki-hydroelectricity

[2]. As above, paragraph 8.

[3]. As above, paragraph 8.

[4]. As above.