The Kaniere water race was initially built in 1875 to supply water for gold mining claims and later to generate power for gold mines and domestic supply.
Kaniere gold rush
The Kaniere gold rush came hot on the heels of others around the West Coast gold rush capital of Hokitika. The initial rush occurred in April 1865. Further discoveries soon followed and by the end of 1866 the population of the Kaniere field had reached a peak of 4,200.
In 1869, when the boom of the gold rush started fading, the idea to construct a large water race from Lake Kaniere to the Kaniere diggings was mooted. Selling water to miners was a lucrative venture that could revive the gold field. Despite ambitious hopes for its economic potential, local enthusiasm, and central government investment, the race was not built for another 6 years.
Turning water into gold
From 1875 the race was used sporadically for alluvial mining until 1907 when Ross Goldfields Ltd purchased it. The company planned to mine the deep alluvial deposits at Ross but water in the workings hindered this. A number of solutions were unsuccessfully tried, until finally the notion surfaced to build a power station some 25km away at Kaniere Forks. Electricity from here could be used to pump the excess water from the flooded mine. Nine km of the Kaniere race were brought back into service, and electricity flowed from the Kaniere Station to Ross from 1909 to 1916.
The race was in demand again in 1921 to supply the electricity needs of a large gold dredging operation at Rimu. In its 31 years of operation the dredge recovered 320,000 ounces of gold. With powering the dredge the priority, power fluctuations often occurred in Hokitika. To remedy this, a second power station was built at McKays Creek in 1931.
Powering West Coast homes
In 1953 the Rimu dredge stopped operating and the race’s contribution to gold mining was over. During its gold mining career, the Kaniere Water Race also supported some domestic power supply, which became the primary use for the power scheme from 1960.