10 May, 2011

Carrick Water Race

The Carrick Water Race brings vital water 34 kilometers across high altitude mountains, out of the lonely Nevis Valley.  Built rapidly from 1872 to 1874, to sell water to the miners of Bannockburn, it had many financial drama's, but remains today an essential asset to the local community.
Nevis valley.  You can see the water race running level across the hillside left of centre.
Passing out of the Nevis Valley via the Duffers saddle
Winding across high and lonely places. Look closely to see the water race.
Emerging high, 1000 meters above the cultivated valley

The water originally drove waterwheels for stamper machinery in hard rock gold quartz mines that ran along this mountain range.  There were even settlements here, but now all long gone.   The water wheel for the 'Young Australian' mine remains.  Incongruous set high on a mountainside in the dry landscape.
The last remaining water wheel.  The Young Australian Mine.  Not my photo.
There were bitter legal disputes as miners regarded themselves as purchasing the water completely, and objected to the the race owners reselling it to other users further down the mountain.

The names of these mines are legendary.    I just have to list them.

1. The Elizabeth. 2. Royal Standard. 3. Star. 4. Heart of Oak - later Last Shot. 5. Young Australian. 6. Caledonian.  7. Border Chief. 8. Crown and Cross. 9. Day Dawn. 10. John Bull. 11 Norwegian. 12. Perseverance Reef.  13. Perseverance Claim. 14. Veil of Avoca. 15. New Royal Standard. 16. Golden Star. 17. Dawn of Hope. 18. Duke of Cumberland. 19. Rob Roy. 20. Matchless. 21. Excelsior - afterwards Welcome. 22. Black Horse. 23. Coleen Bawn. 24. Nil Desperandum. 25. Patience. 26. Leader. 27. Robert Burns. 28. Golden Gate. 29. All Nations. 30. Kohinoor, or Amateur. 31. Golden Phoenix. 32. Heart of Lothian. 33. Enterprise. 34. White Horse - later Try again and Last Chance. 35. Golden Crown. 36. United Bannockburn. 37. Bonanza -later Frying pan. 38. Go by.

Recently I enjoyed a wonderful bottle of of Pinot Noir named after the "Crown and Cross"

You might ask why the water was not drawn out of the river and the lake.  But there was not the money for the technology and engineering, and certainly not the energy source to run it.
The water from the high Carrick race was the only energy source.  What else they had was human muscle, spades and shovels.  With Victorian enterprise and determination they dug this water race.

Doggie examines where water is dropped off into a side gully.
To distribute the water for farming and orchards an intricate network of water races has developed at the lower end.
Bottom left you can see where water is drawn again out of the side gully.
Bannockburn is the driest area in New Zealand and the vast amounts of earth moved  in mining at the foot of the mountains would not have been possible without the power of this water.

Eventually  in the 1890s as the mining went into decline the race was nearly abandoned, but fortunately was taken over by the farming interests and remains the huge asset it is today.

In this final picture you can see a distribution race on the far hillside, dry and brown above and green and lush below.   Close up you can see another minor channel distributing water across the paddocks, and a dry channel running away from the camera.

You can also see an iron sheet blocking water flow into the dry channel   The "Raceman"  moves around constantly changing the water flow to achieve the desired distribution.



  1. First off. You'd wonder how the hell they found gold in them-dar-hills. What on earth would cause them to enter in day one.
    Second. Can you imagine the volume of cash made by whoever had the franchise to ship water before the Carrick. That was a bigger gold mine !.
    On the second last photo there are loads of rills crossing at different levels. Were these going to different mines.
    Hard to think that Carrick is a name so far away from it's Celtic roots.

  2. Interesting questions. I will do my best.
    a. I drive regularly through landscapes far more remote than this. And gold has been found in all sorts of nooks. I too am amazed at how every square inch of our vast landscape seems to have been examined so closely in the 1860s. When this place was absolutely the ends of the earth.
    b. Ship water before Carrick. Not a chance of making a buck out of that. Would be like running a fifty mile round trip with bucket in hand and then trying to sell the contents for actual cost.
    C. All/most the rills in that photo are about land irrigation. (or are these days) The gold was in three places. 1.Top of the mountain range was hard rock quartz mining. Spotted all along the range. Needed stamping so thats why the water wheel etc
    2. Thousands of feet below they used water to sluice out cubic Kilometes. Not tried yet to blog that. Try Google images. "Bannockburn Sluicing". 3. In the river. There is a post on this blog about that.
    c. Celtic names. Did you note the mine names. Such a rich load of Celtic names. I am not sure of the actual 'Carrick' name connection. Got any suggestions? There is a Carrick area in Cornwall. And Cornwall was a source of hard rock tunneling and mining expertise.

  3. On the mine names. I can for the most part split between the Scot, the Irish and the English. In Gaelic, Carrick is a rock. Rather a pinnacle or lesser peak below the Knock or Ben. If independent as with your channel there is one important rock in the district, 'the' rock. Otherwise there will be a rider like the fish-rock or horses rock.
    What's interesting though is the rebellious nature of the mine names and a very distinct contrast with heart of oak etc'. I suspect the majority of the Scots were from the Highlands or even Harris. The Crown and Cross has the colour of the royal toast where on the words 'To the King' the glass was passes over the fingerbowl. The Stewart King over the water. Of course Coleen Bawn -white girl- was making a pretty strong statement for that time also.

  4. I should have said in the post but didn't. The whole mountain range is the Carrick. Not sure who named it. But the first white man who passed through was only in 1853. Only twenty years or so before the water race was begun.

  5. Had no idea what a water race was. In South Africa I see something similar, but, it is deeper, steeply lined with concrete, and looks like a deadly trap for any wild animal desperately trying to get to the water. Your doggie can toddle over for a drink, without risking life and limb.

  6. What stunning photographs of a beautiful country. I always wanted to see New Zealand but only ever got as far as Australia! It is never likely to happen now but perhaps I can live a little of the country through you photos and dialogue. Thanks for visiting me and following. Diane

  7. Anonymous12 May, 2011

    Kerry, this is fascinating. It's extraordinary to think of all those channels being dug out across the landscape. Elsewhere, people might have put the water in pipes, to establish their absolute ownership of it, and I guess to protect it from evaporation or contamination. But this open solution is so much more beautiful, and visible.

  8. Kerry, It’s another wonderful rainy Spring day, so I’m taking time to look over the Blogs I follow. Wanted to see what you have been up to. I sure enjoyed seeing the photos of the race and learning some of the history of that water system. Always interesting to me to see the ingenuity of man as they adapt to living in areas around the globe. LIked your posting. I'll be checking in again soon. Jack

  9. Anonymous17 May, 2011

    Kerry, hi

    I commented a few days ago on this fascinating post but my comment seems to have disappeared! It had struck me as surprising that the water was not diverted into pipes, which would have established undisputed ownership and I guess protected it from contamination. But it is much more beautiful as open channels - a lovely example of man's sometimes thoughtful and gentle management of the landscape...

  10. Saw your first comment. Not sure what happened. But blogger has been having some troubles I hear.
    Pipes? Well this channel was dug only 20 years after the first white person saw this mountain. I continue to be amazed at how they walked into this landscape with almost nothing mostly with just what they had on their backs. Established a whole social system including law and education and set about establishing an infrastructure.
    They dug this 35 kilometer channel by hand (that's 20 miles)n with no other equipment than a few shovels. Maybe some places they could use a horse and plough.
    There were no energy sources. The race was the energy source. And even no trees for wood.
    As for pipes, they did not have the resources to obtain such, or transport even twenty feet of those. They did use a lot of rock to make the odd bridge and contain the channel. But never shifting that more than say 50 feet.
    But so true as to how beautiful it is. I love to walk it, some 3000 feet above the valley.

  11. Hi Kerry

    Great post thanks. Love all the names you've gathered!

    Goods pics too of something we locals tend to take for granted.



  12. Kerry, Have not seen a new posting for a while what is up?

  13. The blog is a record and is not meant to be daily news. It's just the way I do it.
    Posts will go on when I have material of a good enough quality. So maybe every two months or so.

  14. Everything OK with you and yours. I know Christchurch is aways a bit. But then It's not all that far away either.

  15. Kerry, Yes the sunset was dramatic. I agree, it does look like a volcano cloud. I have been watching the news on the one in Chile and how it is affecting things your way and Australia. We do live in one world affecting one another more than we might like to think. I took so many more pictures of that orange sunset, but enough is enough for the posting. Glad you viewed them. Look forward to your postings. This one on water will never be a need here! Lake Michigan is right at my door, which is nice though I can not take water from it for the garden - that is illegal. Jack

  16. This water race was an absolute money pit for its owners, and prompted several Cromwell luminaries to sue for bankruptcy as call after call drained their wallets. The highest-profile casualty of this was George Wellington Goodger of the Cromwell Company mine at Bendigo. David Jolly only narrowly avoided ruin, due to an early sell-down in his holding in the mid-1870s.
    The Carrick Water race was only finished because the government was persuaded to step in and buy it, which in turn caused more problems when it came to maintenance and resource allocation. The water race owners never made a bean out of the whole project!
    To answer the question above about pipes and diversions, you need to understand that in terms of the legislation, the owner of the water resource had absolute title. This meant they gained and secured the right to a reliable source of water then could build their race across private property (without compensation to the landowner!) to their claim. Distribution of the water mid-flow was not only problematic, it was illegal! Any diversions built post-1886 reflect the ability of the Vincent County Council, on whom the government foisted the debt millstone after they got tired of dealing with Bannockburn miners, to over-ride the legislation to achieve a more equitable use of the water.
    The process of building a race is surprisingly complex, yet these amateur engineers built them in mere months (not this one though - it took 8 years to finally complete!) using the most rudimentary of materials and techniques. This race was one of the biggest in Otago (and Australasia!), both in length and in volume, aqnd was certainly one of the best built, so it is not surprising that it remains in use today.
    The actual technique of building a race is something I am working on at the moment.
    Thanks for putting up some beautiful photos. I may have to tear myself away from my usual research at Bendigo to go up there myself.

  17. I am the Carrick Raceman currently. I am working on an article on 'The Sisters'. These are two prominent rocks at the top of the Carrick Road. I am fairly close to proving who the sisters were. And how their lives tied in with the construction of the race.

  18. Hi David. I would love to hear from you. ph 021 655 907. I am really interested to see more of the Carrick Race and hear of your expertise about it.

  19. i recently visited this area,and marvelled at the resourcefullness of these felllows.Before the water race was finished how id they stamp the quatrz?.How did the trasport the water wheels and the stampers?.At he start of the Nevis valley there is a kins of siphon where the water comes from the nevis side and actually goes UP the valley wall to the race.This part is concrete pipe,is this a seperate water race system built later???

  20. Hmmm you might have been looking at Tub Brown's hydro-electric scheme? Before the use of water they bought coal up from Bannockburn to run the stampers. According to Edgar Parcell the water wheel never actually turned. That was based on local narrative history.

  21. Interesting blog thanks. We've just biked (well, mainly pushed) bikes from Duffers towards the source, past the 2 Race-keeper huts along the way. What an amazing job building the race!


I would love to hear from you on any of these posts. This blog is not daily news and I will respond to comments even on backdated posts.