On the Way there...
In the beginning, at the outset of this, our tiki-tour, Manapouri Power Station was on our New
Zealand bucket list. The first was the Mount John Observatory and this, Manapouri power station,
was second. However, due to the force majeur at the Tasman Glacier, it became third on the list –
not demoted, just shuffled along one place.
This was the third on our bucket list but not immediately fulfilled, being intervened by the previous,
part 3: Te Anau.
The visit started out from Te Anau with a coach trip to Lake Manapouri and about an hour's cruise
across it, all the while drinking in the beauty (see? I avoided that word "scenery"). That cruise was
followed by another coach trip, only two kilometres, but steeply down and around.
This, the Manapouri Power Station was built to supply the aluminium smelting plant at Tiwai Point,
across from Bluff and not far from Invercargill. The smelter uses the greater part of its output,
though as noted for Te Anau, an unusual dry spell had had an effect and the smelter had been
buying power from elsewhere, temporarily – but not for long, thanks to the large annual rainfall.
Lake Manapouri (despite much protesting) had had its level raised by some eight to ten metres
(thirty was planned) in order to increase the head of water to drive the turbines.
Lake Te Anau is one of the feeds into Lake Manapouri – along the upper Waiau River and the
Mararoa River is another.
The Power Station Itself
Building the power station was a considerable project and it's a long story, beginning in 1901 and
moving on to 1904 when a Public Works employee formally introduced the potential for a hydro-
electric scheme at this place.
The project moved forward piecemeal, with surveys by various interested parties from home and
overseas, until the 1960s when the work actually began.
In 1963, after much planning, when preparing for construction to begin, a passenger liner (from the
1930s) was brought to and moored in Doubtful Sound, as accommodation for the various crews.
Upon which the work began in earnest (the liner continued in its role as a hostel until the end of
Before construction could commence on the generator hall itself, an access road had to be cut
(blasted) through the rock (granite). A 2km (1.25 mile) spiral it says, but spiral or helix, it's a 360
degree or so turn (full circle), from ground level and down some 190m (620ft). The accompanying
photograph of the cutaway model, shows it in yellow.
At this depth, the generator hall was cut.
This, the hall is 118m/390ft long, 18m/60ft and 34m/110ft high and it houses:
- Seven vertical turbines 250 rpm, 121.5 MW each, (made by General Electric, Canada).
- Seven generators 13.8 kV, 121.5 MW each, (made by Siemens, Germany).
- The first-line maintenance equipment ... gantrys etc.
In all, the project consumed some 8,000,000 man-hours, NZ$1.6 billion (at 2012 prices) ...
...and 16 lives.
OK. Not wishing to belabour it, the above seems plenty enough for a trip report and as an
introduction – there's lots more available on the web (search Manapouri Power Station).
Nowadays, normal access to the power station is by the route we took, across the lake – there's a
regular service for personnel (not forgetting us tourists). There is some accommodation there, of
course, because it's a long way to travel for just one duty shift.
There is also a road, from Doubtful Sound to Lake Manapouri. That road is the Wilmot Pass Road,
unmade, rough in (a few?) places and it was used to haul the heavy stuff delivered by sea - and
that's where we were taken on the coach (before going back to Lake Manapouri to make the return
cruise and the 'bus trip back to Te Anau for the night).
That is quite a road. The eastern part that we covered is, obviously, manageable by coaches but
perhaps not reliably by learners or the inexperienced. For our driver, turning around at the top of
the pass was a test in itself - to the onlooker - though to put it in context maybe you can imagine the
turning facilities at the generator hall?
We didn't drive over the brow but most of us walked just over, to get a better view of the western
arm of Doubtful Sound. The road down the other side looked to be somewhat less easy - four-
wheel drive territory from first impressions. How the drivers of those heavy delivery vehicles
coped is a matter for conjecture.
Of the Fiordland Sounds, it's Milford that gets most attention, probably because it's closer to
Queenstown (which is on a rather larger scale than Te Anau and attracts more tourists because of
distances) but the cognoscenti opine that Doubtful Sound has more to offer the eye (one day, we
hope, we'll do the cruise...).
The Lake, the Sound and that road are hemmed in by rainforest as well as mountains. Birdcalls, the
occasional (imagined?) rustlings and, at this height (670m / 2,200ft), looking down on patches of
mist lingering over trees.
Returning to the bus, just over the brow (of the road, which had been cut through a narrow ridge
two or three metres higher), I took a last look back and paused a minute or so...
Hey, come on!
no, no, just a few seconds more...
There at the brow, up the cutting's face, from between about my knee to head height was mist. A
cloud in creation, forming in wisps. Gathering. Drifting upwards. Gathering ...and replenished by
...And Back Again
So to the bus and the lake cruise, the other bus and our second night in Te Anau, accompanied again
by a dozen bikes' worth from Palmerston North - Harley-Davidson enthusiasts all, on their annual
In earlier years I might have been seriously inveigled into beer but suffice it to say that they all
appeared quite reasonable people, considering (?). Well mannered on the road, too later we were
overtaken by a veritable cascade of helmets, with nary a moment of hesitant nervousness.
Articles by Rod Archive
02.04.12 Front Page
Back Issue Page