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The art of divining water

Garry Baker demonstrating how water dowsing works. PHOTO/ELISA VORSTER


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It’s pretty common to find No 8 wire in the back of a Kiwi bloke’s ute, but it’s fair to say not many would be using it to find water.

But Garry Baker from Carterton District Council has been using the wire to practice the art of water dowsing, or divining, for around 30 years and doesn’t plan on giving up any time soon.

The technique involves walking with a metal rod – or wire – in each hand until they cross over each other, indicating the presence of a water source.

The Sceptics Society is adamant it comes down to pure luck, and late last year British scientists were scandalised that divining was still carried out by staff in 10 out of the 12 water companies in the United Kingdom.

It reportedly prompted calls for the water regulator to stop companies passing the cost of using the “discredited medieval practice” on to customers.

Even Mr Baker won’t swear by it, but he’s found it to be reasonably successful, using the technique as often as once a month in his work as the council’s infrastructure and water manager.

“A guy built a fence and I told him where the [water] main was and he didn’t go through it so I must have got it right” he said.

“It’s good on properties that don’t have a drainage plan to work out which way the sewer goes,” Mr Baker said.

He learned the technique from an engineer he met when working for the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council in 1984.

He’s perfected his technique to the extent that he knew that when the rods crossed over, it meant the water source was at the back of his feet.

It can pick up all kinds of water sources from mains to sewer lines, and it was also handy in locating a water source on resealed footpaths where the toby box had been covered.

Sometimes it also picked up power cables.

Mr Baker is aware that people found the practice slightly unusual and was always happy to let them have a go and see for themselves.

“People have been quite amazed at how it works although some of them get it and some don’t.”

Any kind of metal rods could be used but Mr Baker preferred No 8 wire as it was “usually the easiest to find”.

Over the years, Mr Baker had shared his knowledge with contractors all around the Wairarapa region, although not all had the same success rate as he did.

And he admits the technique can be hit and miss.

“There are times we dig holes looking for something and haven’t found a bloody thing.”

Converted sceptic

Reporter Elisa Vorster describes her change of heart after witnessing water dowsing.

When I first heard about water dowsing, I thought it was a bit of a wind-up.

My initial Google search came up with a picture of an 18th century dowser wearing tights, puffy pants and a large hat.

When I realised it wasn’t a joke and people were still out there using this method, I was keen to meet up with Mr Baker and see what it was all about.

I found it astonishing a person who worked on the council was still using a practice which dated back to the 16th century.

When I arrived at the council yard, I had no qualms about telling Mr Baker that I was not a believer.

He wasn’t fazed by my response, and promptly gave me a demonstration on how to dowse.

I eagerly, yet sceptically, held the rods in my hands while laughing about how I expected nothing.

I walked over an area where a known water source was and laughed even harder as the rods actually crossed over to indicate there was water.

I was struggling to convince myself I hadn’t influenced the rods to move so I had another go, with the same positive result.

I have no idea how it works but I now know it does work – I guess I’ll eat my large, puffy 18th century hat.



  1. We use water dousing as a method to find water pipes on our property. It is something my grandmother showed me how to do as a child and it works.

    • Greetings Elisa.
      I’m fortunate enough to work for Geodivining International. The renowned Doug Bates was the funder of this company 25 years ago, and is unrivalled in the field of groundwater search. Our success is in no doubt due to trouble shooting surveys that wee undertake , where water has not been fund or not enough to supply a customer’s needs.

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