Water supply could make or break fortunes during the Southland gold rush. A series of races were built to service the workings including Port’s Race, Martin’s Race and Turnbull’s Race.

Southland gold

Shortly after the success of the Otago rushes, gold was discovered in Southland, and miners flocked to the area. The southern goldfields at Nokomai, Waikaia, and in particular the Longwoods, were characterised by small yields over a sustained period.

Gold was discovered at Round Hill in the 1870s, but the Europeans who discovered the site abandoned it shortly thereafter. A group of Chinese took over the rights to the field and established a town at Round Hill known as Canton. Round Hill was dogged by water shortages, and the construction of a series of water races to feed the diggings became necessary. 

Port's Water Race

Cut through heavy Southland bush by Chinese miners, and later extended to a length of 25 miles, Port’s Race provided water for alluvial mining at Round Hill for over sixty years.

Race construction

Henry Horatio Port and Charles Arthur Port were two of the miners operating a claim on the eastern side of the range who sought to improve their water supply. They obtained a licence to construct an initial race of six miles from Gorge Creek to the current location of Printz Battery in 1877. In 1888 they were approached by Chinese miners to extend the race to their workings at Round Hill.  Chinese miners were contracted to excavate the race extension and it was completed over a period of fourteen months. Martin’s Race and Turnbull’s Race were also constructed at this time to provide water to the gold mining operations at Round Hill.

In 1891 the Round Hill Syndicate, who owned most of the water rights in the area by that time, purchased Port’s Water Race. As demand for water increased the race was upgraded and extended to improve supply. It reached its most distant point at Granity Creek in about 1897. It continued in use until the 1950s, and was part of a vital water supply to the sluicing operations at Round Hill.

Getting there

Port’s Water Race can be accessed from the south end off Round Hill Road on the Long Hilly track, an easy day walk with interpretation. The Long Hilly track is part of the Te Araroa walkway and has been constructed by the Southland Te Araroa Trust.

Martin's Race

Martin’s Race was constructed around 1890 by Martin Anderson and Robert Erskine. The race was fifteen miles long, and both fed into Turnbull’s Dam and continued past it as a race before supplying the Round Hill dams. It was one of four large water race systems which fed water to both the Chinese miners and the Round Hill operation.

Martin’s Hut was built in 1905 by Fred Mason to house a water race maintenance worker. 

Getting there

Access is by unmarked route off the Cascade Road. It is possible to walk between Martin’s and Turnbull’s huts, and from there to Round Hill with good route finding skills.

Further reading

Hall-Jones, J. (1982) Goldfields of the South (Craig Printing Co).

Petchey, P. (1999) Longwoods Archaeological Survey: Port’s Water Race, Martin’s Water Race, Berndtson’s Water Race (Unpublished Report for the Department of Conservation). 

Related links

Back to top