When driving back out to Kinloch, not long after Kowhai Bush you cross over Turner’s Creek and there to your right you see an old building that in recent years has fallen into a heap of roofing iron and timber. John Richards, long time resident of Kinloch, recently called it “a dream destroyed by the ravages of time.” 

In its day, the Turner’s Creek Mill was a thriving operation and a hive of activity. WA (Bill) Grant arrived in the district in 1894 and within 5 years he had built the mill at Turner’s Creek. He and his original partner Len Valpy (who later left)  called their mill the Wakatipu Sawmills. Using much of the machinery from the now disused mill at Mill Creek (3.5 km past Kinloch), he relocated down to Turner’s Creek. The Mill Creek mill in its heyday had been a huge operation, boasting an 11m diameter waterwheel and scores of workers. After a few devastating fires, especially one in 1887 that nearly destroyed the region, the Mill Creek mill had fallen on hard times and Bill Grant was able to relocate it to his own site.

Grant’s mill focused mainly on red beech for use as timber and posts. Back behind the ruins of the mill, it’s still possible to see snigging tracks – the deep tracks formed by pulling logs out of the bush by horse or oxen. Lumber from the mill was brought out to Kinloch and then put on the boats that serviced the Head of the Lake (mainly the P.S. Antrim, P.S. Mountaineer, and after 1912, the T.S.S. Earnslaw) bound for places near and far. Bill Grant wasn’t the only sawmiller at the head of the lake in the early 20th century as the Cook Brothers had a mill at Routeburn using timber from around Sylvan Lake from 1926 and another mill ran at Mid Rivers into the 1950s. 

Bill Grant lived in this cottage at Turner’s Creek until his death in the early 1950s and was one of the Head of the Lake’s more colourful characters. His daughter, Rosie, who farmed alone for her long life on the other side of the lake on the Paradise Road above Glenorchy, was born in this cottage in 1905. Our museum collection has not only these photos of the mill and Bill in his heyday, but we also have his WWII rationbook (he doesn’t use much of it!) and many of his daughter, Rosie’s artifacts from her long life (we’ll do a feature on her sometime soon, too)

Today the property at Turner’s Creek is under DOC management and is currently locked for protection. But if you’re driving by, you can stop for a moment and imagine Turner’s Creek as it once was only 117 years ago.

In the photos, you’ll see a young Harry Bryant with his bike (one of the first in Kinloch), the great Mill Creek Sawmill (that later fell into ruin, too. It was never transferred from Mill Creek to Turner’s Creek), as well as some images of Bill Grant and the Turner’s Creek Mill.