Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 9, May 1968


O.C. STEPHENS, CHIEF ENGINEER, T.V.E.P.B. [Thames Valley Electric Power Board - E]

The 40 ft. steel pylon erected recently alongside the Waihi Arts Centre and Museum in Kenny St., Waihi is one of about 500 which brought electric power almost 60 miles from Hora Hora, the first hydro electric power station on the Waikato, to the Waihi district. It is being preserved as a museum exhibit to commemorate the part Waihi played in the development of electric power in New Zealand. It is planned to refit the original large insulators on it and to inscribe the historical significance on a suitable plaque nearby.

The events leading to the Company's decision to construct Hora Hora began in 1890 when the systematic exploratory work at the mine showed huge quantities of low grade ore available, while sources of water power supplemented by steam power were being depleted at Waihi. Government permission to develop Hora Hora did not come easily. The first approach by the Company in 1903 was rejected completely. Further representations made in 1906 with the strong support of the people of Waihi, finally resulted in an agreement being made three years later. Early in 1910 Waihi men began work on the pioneer project and, as early as 1915 electric power was being used at Waihi. Apart, however, from a few "mine houses" it was not available for domestic use.

The transmission line bringing power from the station, situated at the Hora Hora rapids, 17 miles upstream from Cambridge, was the longest yet built in New Zealand and traversed extremely rugged country by way of Matamata, Kaimai Ranges, Waiorongomai and the Waitawheta Valley to the Waikino sub-station [at Victoria Battery - E]. It covered almost 50 miles and operated at 50 k.v. Most of the conductor used was No. O solid copper, but a 5 mile portion of the line across very rugged country of the Waiorongomai valley, at the back of Mt. Te Aroha, was erected with 7/12 hard drawn copper conductor. A telephone pair, No. 841 was erected below the 50k.v. conductor and 12 telephone huts were erected at intervals along the line. The late Waihi Gold Mining Company has been reported as stating that the individual towers were imported and erected on the sites in 1913 for £13 each. The towers were ungalvanised but could have been supplied, galvanised for additional £1 per tower. However it was expected the life expectancy of the mine was such that the galvanising was not warranted. The 4 mile section of the line from the Waikino sub-station to the Waihi mine was erected on similar towers but operated at 11k.v. The conductor was 37/12 HD stranded copper and was recently sold by the Thames Valley Electric Power Board as scrap copper for approximately 3/- per pound, yielding far more than the original cost of the line.

It is interesting to note that during the long period of negotiations, the main objection raised by the Government was that Hora Hora would create competition with its own plans for a bigger station on the Waikato River. On the other hand the Company claimed that the Government was at liberty to take over the project at cost, at any time, with the one condition, that 200 hp be set aside for the Company's use. In 1919 the station was taken over by the Government. Power Boards were formed and power, in excess of that needed by the Waihi Company, was distributed over much of the Auckland Province. Its value was especially evident during the initial difficulties experienced at the Arapuni station in 1930. The Hora Hora Power Station did much to demonstrate to the people of New Zealand the benefits of everyday use of electricity.

When the Thames Valley Power Board was first formed in 1920 the Waihi Borough Council, with flourishing gas works meeting the demand for lighting, cooking and heating, intimated that it did not wish to be represented.

Ironically it thus came about that the Hora Hora station, inspired and constructed by the Waihi people was producing electricity that was available everywhere but in Waihi homes, at least until 1924, when the first 70 Waihi consumers were connected, paying a higher charge than those in the Boards "inner area".

The fact remains that Waihi can be justly proud of its share in the electrical development in New Zealand, and the great engineering difficulties in transmitting electric power over such rugged country by the longest transmission line then in existence. The reliable service continued until April 1947. After 33 years, and with its generators turning until the last possible moment, the Hora Hora station was submerged by the new Karapiro Lake.

(The Waihi Arts Centre and Museum Association is extremely grateful to the Thames Valley Electric Power Board for the gift of the historic pylon, and to others for moving and erecting it at its present site, where it will be a sturdy landmark for years to come.) Ed.