Salute to the Arrow Irrigation Scheme

Salute to the Arrow Irrigation Scheme

As holiday-makers rejoice in this hot, dry December and January, the hills, paddocks and lawns are baking tawny brown and crisping underfoot. It’s timely to realise the importance of the irrigation scheme which snakes and flows between Arrowtown and Frankton.

In the early days from the late 1800s farmers realised that irrigation would greatly boost production of crops and winter feed. In 1912 a private irrigation scheme was built by Robert Lee near Lake Hayes. It brought water from the other side to the Kawarau River to irrigate 600 acres of his Threepwood farm. The monument to him incorporating a water-trough for horses can be seen beside Ladies Mile. 

Construction of the Arrow Irrigation Scheme began in 1923 and it opened in 1930 bringing water from a dam beside the Macetown Road through pipes and water-races to irrigate across the basin Wakatipu basin. The pipes can be seen rising and falling from valley to valley and passing underneath the restored Lower Shotover Bridge. At its peak it carried 1700 litres per second and irrigated 1400 hectares. Now it has 14 km of pipes and 70 km of water-races.

salute to the arrow irrigation scheme blog 1Pipes being taken up the Macetown Road during construction. Photo credit Lakes District Museum.

In 1984 the Government decided to close the scheme, but the local farmers disagreed. They took it over and have managed it ever since. In 2005 a monument commemorating 75 years of operation was unveiled partway up the Arrow Gorge. 

Let’s be grateful to those who built it and those who still maintain it. Long may it continue to flow.

For more about the Arrow Scheme, Robert Lee and farming in the early days, see our Queenstown Heritage app for android phones with free information and optional pay-for articles:

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Queenstown Historical Society

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