Hayes Engineering Works. © Grant Sheehan

Tohu Whenua: Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead


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If you’re a fan of Kiwi ingenuity, rural inventions and workshops crammed with heritage machinery, then Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead is the place for you. 

Located along the scenic Central Otago Discovery Route between Dunedin and Queenstown, Hayes Engineering Works near Oturehua was once the home of prolific inventor Ernest ‘Ernie’ Hayes. His speciality was inventing and perfecting labour-saving devices to help with life on the farm. From rabbit bait cutters to windmills, Ernie’s products became sought after both at home and overseas. His most well known achievement was the refinement of the fencing wire strainer – farmers around the globe use it to this day to keep their fences strong and straight.

Not one to stay at home, Ernie’s wife Hannah was the other half of this success story. Dressed in ankle-length skirts, she made intrepid bicycle trips throughout the district to market their wares and take orders. 

Thanks to the work of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, Ernie’s workshop is preserved just as he left it. During the summer months you can take a self-guided tour most days. Our top tip: time your visit to coincide with an Operating Day to witness all of the various lathes, drills and saws come to life. 

Make sure you also explore the family’s 1920s homestead. Filled with a treasure trove of domestic devices that were well ahead of their time in rural New Zealand, the house features an indoor flush toilet, overhead shower and the likely first in-home sound system connecting each room to radio and messaging. 

Before you get back on the road, or on your bike – the Otago Central Rail Trail goes right by here – make sure you try some of the delicious food from the on-site café. It’s country hospitality at its best.

Hayes Engineering Works is recognised as a Tohu Whenua, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s top heritage experiences. The property is proudly cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

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