Waitaki hydro station

Waitaki is a hydro station located in the Waitaki Valley, New Zealand.

It has six 15 megawatt generating units, with a seventh back in operation in 2016, totalling a generation output of up to 105 megawatts. Waitaki generates enough electricity each year for about 51,000 average New Zealand homes. 

Waitaki was constructed by manual labour as a ‘make work’ project during the Depression of the 1930s.  Meridian is investing more than $40 million on a four-year project to refurbish the Waitaki dam and power station.

The Waitaki hydro station on the Waitaki river 2An aerial view of the Waitaki hydro station and dam.

Building Waitaki

The Waitaki power station was the last to be constructed in New Zealand without modern mechanical equipment. Over half a million cubic metres of material was excavated, almost entirely by pick and shovel.

It is a concrete arch dam with no spillway, but it’s designed to allow water to flow over the top if it floods.

The hydro station started generating electricity in 1935, with two 15 megawatt generators operating – enough to meet almost half of the South Island’s electricity needs at that time.

Three more generators were installed between 1940 and 1949, bringing the generation capacity up to 75 megawatts.

The remaining two units were constructed from 1952 to 1954. The whole power house was extended and a new inlet and outlet channel constructed to accommodate them.

The birthplace of the world’s first social welfare system

Waitaki was a ‘make work’ project during the 1930s’ depression and spawned the trial scheme of the world’s first social welfare system.
The station is eight kilometres upstream from the township of Kurow, where its Doctor, D G McMillan, Reverend A Nordmeyer and local headmaster, Mr A M Davidson, developed a system aiming to provide free medical treatment to workers and their families if they paid a small weekly sum into a common fund.

Later, Dr McMillan and Reverend Nordmeyer became Cabinet Ministers and helped develop a similar scheme for the whole country. New Zealand’s new national social welfare scheme was subsequently implemented in 1939.

Key dates

  • 1928
    Construction begins
  • 1935
    First two generating units commissioned
  • 1940 – 1949
    Three more generating units added
  • 1952 – 1954
    Power house extended to accommodate another two generating units
  • 1954
    Waitaki fully operational

Discover Waitaki (PDF 947KB)