The Lake Coleridge landscape has been formed over millions of years. Massive glaciers, earthquakes, wind, rain, frost, snow and volcanoes have all helped to form the landscape we have today.
The first people
Early Maori called the lake Whakamatau. The area had a plentiful eels and birds and was an important food gathering stop for people crossing the Southern Alps seeking greenstone (pounamu) from the West Coast.
The first Europeans arrived in the mid 1800s. They were surveyors investigating routes to West Coast gold fields. They named the area after members of the Canterbury Association (responsible for mapping Canterbury for European settlement), who were nephews of English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Run-holders settled soon after, taking up vast tracts of land for farming, which is still the area's main industry.
Lake Coleridge hydroelectric power station
Lake Coleridge was ideal for the New Zealand Government's first hydroelectric power station because of its geography and its location near the growing city of Christchurch.
Lake Coleridge is 170 metres above the Rakaia River, so only gravity is needed to bring water from the lake through the power station, emptying into the Rakaia River below.
Construction workers arrived in 1911 to a wild and bleak landscape. Initially they were housed in tents and sheds. The winters were harsh which prompted the building of some permanent housing. Building the power station was a massive and dangerous undertaking. It took three years to complete, becoming operational on 25th November 1914.
At the time it was a significant engineering feat because the station was built on glacial moraine (shingle) which had never been achieved before.
Lake Coleridge Village - past & present
Click here for a downloadable file of the features you can explore in the Lake Coleridge Village
During the early days of constructing the power station, the project employed up to 400 men. Traction engines, horses, carts and motorised lorries carried all the gear necessary for building and living.
Temporary camp sites developed at various building locations and a permanent village became established around the power station itself.
As conditions improved, wives joined their husbands and in 1914 a school began with 15 pupils.
In 1915 a 'show home' was built near the power station as an example of an all electric home. Electric Cottage is privately owned, but can still be seen on a walk around the village.
As construction workers moved on, power station staff and their families replaced them. One notable power station superintendent (1923-53), Harry Hart, was interested in New Zealand's forestry potential and experimented with planting exotic trees, particularly conifers, around the village. The collection grew large and diverse enough to be called an arboretum. Many trees are still standing and visitors can learn about some of them on the Harry Hart Arboretum Tree Trail.
Today, with many power station functions automated, the village's permanent population is small and residents mostly value the area for its recreation.
The power station is moderate in output by modern standards, feeding the national grid with a maximum 40 megawatts. Water stored in the lake is also used for irrigating farms on the Canterbury plains.
The 75th Anniversary of the power station opening was held in November 1989 and the Centenary was celebrated with an Open Day in December 2014.
Learn more about the area's history
If you visit Lake Coleridge Village you will find more information about the power station and the area's history on a display outside the power station.
Videos about the Lake Coleridge region's history
Historical videos about the Lake Coleridge region produced as part of centenary celebrations for the Lake Coleridge Power Station in 2014.
Rakaia Gorge History Poster
This poster is on display near the Rakaia Gorge Bridges in the Evans Reserve (North side of the river). Click on the poster to download the file.