For the past several years we have been hearing about how we had to make time to visit Clarks Mill (for some reason, that is the correct spelling, without an apostrophe in “Clarks”), the only surviving water-powered flour mill in New Zealand. Despite all the people telling us to make the short trip from Oamaru to Maheno to visit the mill, we either did not have the time, or, if we’re honest, the inclination, to make the journey until today.
During February, Clarks Mill is open every day, but on Thursdays and Sundays they operate the works, which seemed to be a great incentive to make the visit today. After a short introduction to the history of the mill (built in 1865 as part of the nearby Totara Estate, with machinery imported from all corners of the world, electrified in the 1930s etc) we were escorted into the main works of the mill to prepare for the switch to be thrown and the machinery to kick into action.
You really have to see the works in action to believe them. They are a marvel of both ingenuity and Victorian technology, and are incredibly impressive. The mill is three storeys tall, and it takes a small crew of volunteers to run the mill safely, with them calling to one another to make sure the coast is clear before the power is turned on and the nearly 150-year old equipment rattles to life. As is expected from such historic machinery, it does not exactly operate silently. The noise is not oppressive, however, but it does prevent the easy understanding of anything that the volunteers try to tell you about the equipment, its function or its history. Fortunately there are written descriptions throughout that explain everything, along with a very informative photo gallery adjacent to the top floor.
If you are in the Oamaru area, it’s well worth the 10-minute drive to visit Clarks Mill (and be sure to visit Totara Estate, too, while you’re at it). It’s open daily in February, and on Sundays from November to April, or by appointment.
Here are a few videos to give you a taste of what lies in store in this treasure of NZ history: