The Powerhouse Café Heritage and History
In 1926, the Powerhouse building was built to house a small hydro electric generator which was driven by water from the nearby Rogerson river. This water was transported via wooden staved penstocks along what is now Jacks Pass Road. The electricity which was generated then went on to supply the existing Queen Mary Hospital as well as a few street lights. At some stage this DC plant was augmented by a a diesel generator, and by 1934, the main electricity lines then connected Hanmer Springs up with the rest of the grid via Waipara.
At various times since then, the building has been used as a vegetable shop, and as a storeage facility. The modern décor has tried to honour the industrial nature of this buildings history. It was first turned into a café around 2005, and has become iconic in Hanmer for its great coffee, baking and breakfasts.
History of Hanmer Springs
Hanmer Springs was named after Thomas Hanmer, an early settler in the 1800s. The name is often miss-spelt, by transposing the "n" and the "m", thus: "Hamner".
The Maori name for the springs in Hanmer Springs is "Te Whakatakaka O Te Ngarehu O Ahi Tamatea", which means, "the falling of the embers of the fire of Tamatea".
Maori legend has it that, being wrecked off the coast of Otago, Tamatea called on the Ariki of the northern volcanoes, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe to save them from freezing. The Ariki responded by sending flames down the Wanganui River, across to Nelson, where they rose in the air, dropping a portion at Hanmer Springs on its way to Tamatea in Otago.
The first known European discovery of the thermal springs was in April 1859 by William Jones, a farm manager from Culverden, who was drawn to what appeared to be "a remarkable fog". Early commercial development was hindered because of inaccessibility. It didn’t help that the first Ferry Bridge blew down in a strong nor’wester and wasn’t replaced until 1874. In 1879 an iron bathing shed was set up on the site and a manager appointed to run the primitive operation.
Bathing in the springs was nude. A pair of trousers or skirt hoisted on a pole indicated which gender had rights to the pool at a particular time.
In 1881 the government reserved 2560 acres around the hot springs and began to invest in baths and enclosures and segregated bathing took place.
Today, mixed bathing with appropriate bathing costumes being worn has become acceptable, and the complex has been developed into a world-class tourist facility.
While, from the outset the thermal pools were used for recreational swimming, they also gained early recognition for health rehabilitation. A sanatorium was built there in 1914. Treatment included both swimming in and drinking of the thermal waters. The sanatorium burnt down in the same year and was replaced with the Queen Mary Hospital in 1916. It was used for the convalescence of soldiers returning from World War I. Later the hospital was used for hydrotherapy and treatment of functional nervous disorders until 1971, and from then as an alcoholic rehabilitation centre. At the time of writing the hospital is no longer in use, but considered a heritage building.
Hanmer Township Today
The Hanmer Springs Township, built around the thermal reserve activities, has now grown and become a very popular rest, recreation and tourist area. Added to the attraction of the thermal pools are the many activities available on the pleasant plains, surrounding mountains, lakes, rivers and forest. Several adventure and recreational sports and activities now attract large numbers to the area. Hunting, fishing, skiing and tramping are popular activities in the region. Hanmer also provides one of 20 of New Zealand’s Forest Parks, the Hanmer Forest Park.