Reaching Hawera on a recent weekend trip with the committee of the NZ History Federation, during a petrol stop there, I looked around, and asked what the prominent landmark was, visible just along the road. When I was told it was the Hawera Water Tower -- I knew I wanted to take photos and find out more. So, the next morning, before the sun started baking us alive again from 9 am down there -- I set off on a wee walk from the motel, headed for the tower.
Built in 1913, it provided the needed pressure for Hawera's water supply so the settlement's folks could combat fires there. In the same month it opened, January 1914, a sudden earthquake caused the tower to list 2.5 feet to the south. Naturally, people were worried the whole thing was going to fall over, but the local council sorted it by anchoring with reinforced concrete, filling the tanks, then undermining and pouring more reinforced concrete. The lean was reduced to 3 inches.
The tower was made redundant later in the century, and became a tourist viewing platform, accessible by obtaining a key from the nearby i-Site for a small fee. However, large chunks of concrete fell off in 2000, and the tower was closed indefinitely. Public consultation in 2001 came out in favour of retaining the tower, and major renovation and restoration work was completed in 2004. Then, of course, we had the Canterbury quakes -- so the tower was closed to the public again.
The good news is that the structure itself is safe enough, but work is still needed to fully strengthen parts of it. "The water tower itself was safe but eight balustrades on the structure needed strengthening. It's a relatively minor fix and cost compared to what it could have been if the tower itself was found wanting," [South Taranaki District Council engineering services group manager Brent Manning] said. As the tower was a considered a category one heritage building under Historic Places Trust classification, Manning believed the process would take slightly longer but should be finished within the next few months. "I have no idea of that cost but I expect it to be possibly less than the cost of all the investigations we've done to date but nonetheless, at least we know the answers now." (Taranaki Daily News, 13 August 2015)
So, until work is done, and the keep out signs and the orange plastic hazard fencing are removed -- the only ones enjoying the views are the pigeons.
Heritage image: Taranaki Stables. Water tower, Hawera. Radcliffe, Frederick George, 1863-1923 : New Zealand post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-006028-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.