Tolaga Bay was visited by
Captain Cook between 24 - 30 October 1769.
The Tangata Whenua (local Maori) were friendly and hospitable and granted
the visitors the freedom of the bay. Wood and water were obtained and trade
occurred between the inhabitants and the explorers. Banks and Solander
collected botanical specimens.
Maori name for the place is Ou Auwoa or Uwoua, but Cook called it Tolaga
Bay. This is possibly a corruption of 'turanga' - landing or halting place -
which he took to be a proper name.
The area early attracted its share of pre-colonial traders who dealt in flax
and bay whaling. Round these trading posts developed a series of small
ports, among which was Tolaga Bay.
The site of Tolaga Bay township (252 acres) was bought by the Crown in March
of 1875 for £505, at which time it was covered with gorse.
By 1875 Tolaga Bay was the largest European centre on the East Coast with 52
European residents, but generally settlement came late to the area. Sparsity
of settlement and particularly a lack of roads led to the sea being the main
means of communication, a situation which continued well into the twentieth
The isolation, sparsity of
settlement and lack of roads of the East Coast of the North Island combined
to give rise to a surf landing service for the inhabitants.
Mariners called it the "call at your farm service". It was largely run by
seamen, many of them ex-whalers or navy men with experience in handling
It was achieved by the farmer droving a loaded bullock wagon into the surf
to create a kind of temporary "jetty" to which the surf boat would be
secured, while the ship lay in the roadstead awaiting cargo. This service
lasted until well into the twentieth century.
The isolation of the Coast also bred parochialism which expressed itself in
an extraordinary outburst of port development, with four ports being created
over one hundred and sixty kilometres of coastline - Hick's Bay, Port Awanui,
Tokomaru Bay and Tolaga Bay.
While Gisbome was the chief port of the area, these smaller centres had no
wish to share the costs of development of that port.
This was typically illustrated by the indifference shown by Tolaga Bay
residents to a poll among voters on the Gisborne Harbour loan, where only 29
persons bothered to vote, preferring to see improvements made to their own
The coastal trade dominated the business of these outports where small steam
coasters brought in supplies and general cargo and exported farm produce,
mainly wool, grain and meat.
The development of a local freezing works, in competition with the large one
at Gisbome, was often the factor that gave the promise of a substantial
Just after the turn of the
century a Farmers' Co-operative Company had erected a wharf in the mouth of
the Uawa River at Tolaga Bay, as a loading-out port for lighters taking
cargo out to the ships in the roadstead.
Control of the wharf passed to Cook County Council, which sat as the Harbour
Board after 1908.
As early as 1913 there was local interest in a jetty outside the river,
partly due to opposition to rating for Gisborne's harbour development and
the inadequacy of the existing loading-out system.
A freezing works was opened at Tolaga Bay after World War One, by which time
the old wharf had silted up.
In 1917 the Gisbome Sheep Farmers' Frozen Meat and Mercantile Company Ltd.
ran a trading store at Tolaga Bay. They also had a trading store in Tokomaru
Bay and had a major interest in the Hick's Bay Freezing Works.
This company already controlled the Gisbome lighter trade and now indicated
an interest in entering the coastal shipping business. They challenged
Richardson and Company and the Union Company's domination of the East Coast
trade but the major companies prevailed.
In 1919 Tolaga Bay formed its own elected Harbour Board and rates were
imposed on the Harbour District from early 1920 onwards.
In 1920 renowned marine engineer Cyrus J.R.Williams was appointed as
consulting engineer to the Board. His initial report proposed a 900 foot
road, a pier or jetty 1500 by 16 feet, a wharf 400 feet long and 51 feet
wide, giving a depth at low water of 21 feet. The estimated cost was
In 1922 a report was produced on procuring a £ I 00,000 loan to finance the
harbour works. However, there was difficulty in getting the loan, which was
not confirmed until February 1925, when the Public Trustee accepted a
sinking ftmd of £70,000.
Between 1920 and 1924 there were various changes reducing the length, width
and lowwater depth of the proposed wharf and in June 1924 the plans were
approved by the Govemor-General.
On November 13, 1924
Frederick Goodman of Kaitia Bridge, Gisborne, signed a contract with the
Harbour Board for the construction of a wharf and road for the sum of
£60,331. In February 1925 G.D. White-Parsons was appointed Resident Engineer
and Inspector of Works.
In August 1925 the approach road according to original plans was abandoned
and the engineer provided new plans for a relocated road and shortened
wharf. Miscalculations were probably due to William's unfamiliarity with the
site. The contractor was paid a relatively large sum (£5,000) for work
During 1926 to 1928 the construction of the wharf progressed; heavy seas
caused much damage to the new piles resulting in delays and the £70,000 loan
being expended well before completion of the project.
In March 1928 Tolaga Bay Harbour Board began negotiations with Gisborne
Sheep farmers Frozen Meat and Mercantile over the purchase of their "plant
and moveable buildings".
It is not clear from Tolaga Bay Harbour Board meeting minutes exactly where
the plant and buildings were located - the most likely place is the old
Hauiti Wharf. Three buildings are mentioned in the minutes but in June, 1929
when F.Goodman successfully tendered for the removal and re-erection
contract the shed is mentioned in the singular. In July the deal with
Gisborne Sheep farmers Frozen Meat and Mercantile was finalised and by
November the job was complete.
In 1929 Tolaga Bay Harbour Board resolved to buy twelve pairs of axles and
wheels from New Zealand Railways at Otahuhu and an Austin industrial tractor
These were apparently bought and operating by the opening of the wharf.
Goodman's wharf contract included the supply and laying of railway track.
On 22 November the wharf and shed were officially opened. The Hon. J.G.
Cobbe, Minister of Marine officiated. The opening was marred by a terrible
accident when a truck pulling a rail wagon loaded with people down the wharf
passed ships tied up at bollards; four women with legs dangling over the
side had their legs crushed.
Photographs of the opening show completed railway flatcars and the seaward
elevation of the cargo shed which bears no immediate resemblance to any of
the buildings in the complex at Hauiti Wharf. However there may have been
substantial redesign in the reconstruction of the fabric purchased from
Evident in photographs of the opening is a large main building with a gabled
hip roof, an open-ended lean-to where the railway tracks run through the
building, and what appears to be a canopy (referred to as a 'verandah' in
the minutes) over the loading docks on the I opposite side. Other details
visible are paired horizontal windows, two skylights, water tanks and large
ventilators on the main roof ridge.
Records show that the building existed more or less in its 1929 form on
another site - it is possible that the fabric of the shed was already nearly
thirty years old.
Later in 1929 the Tolaga Bay Harbour Board offices were shifted to the wharf
shed; it was resolved to buy four M dropside - 3'6" gauge wagons, sleepers,
points and rails." If these were purchased it is not clear where the extra
track was located (in relation to the wharf and shed line).
Motor lorries (Messrs Bray and Co.) were to be permitted on the wharf.
Deterioration of several piles was discussed at Board meetings. In June
Gisborne Sheepfarmers requested the Board's permission "to remove that part
of the old river wharf (Hauiti) extending to the high water mark" - this
establishes their location and assists in tracing the origin of the Tolaga
Bay wharf shed.
The opening of the Tolaga
Bay Wharf in December of 1929 enabled larger coasters to load alongside and
for many years the Richardson and Company coaster Kopara (1938) called
Tolaga Bay's wool dumping plant and wharf were used by coastal vessels which
took this freight down to Gisborne for transshipment.
In December of 1929, soon after the wharf opening, the Bencruachan, a ship
chartered to Geo. H. Scales, was the first overseas ship to load at Tolaga
Despite the resistance from the Conference Lines, who believed there were
too many "overseas" ports in New Zealand and were trying to restrict
overseas shipping to major ports, over the next decade Tolaga Bay was served
by Scales charter vessels Bencruachan, Benmohr, Benreoch, Benlawers, Benledi,
Benarty and Anglo Canadian.
However, even as the Tolaga Bay wharf opened, improved roading and motor
vehicles had begun to compete with coastal shipping, especially on short
hauls. It was ironic that much of the cargo that passed over the wharf was
road-making material, used to construct the road through to Gisborne, thus
providing an alternate means of transport.
In May 1929 ratepayers who were sending their wool overland to Gisborne were
written to by the Harbour Board, saying that the loss of revenue to the
wharf had resulted in a rates increase.
The onset of the Depression greatly reduced the amount of cargo going
through the outports generally. One hundred and thirty-two vessels worked
Tolaga Bay in 1936, but by 1939 only 88 called.
Trade was further reduced by the war which centralised shipping control and
this was not necessarily reversed quickly after the war. During the war
period a phone line was carried to the end of the wharf, Borer was found in
the cargo shed; TBHB resolved to buy a new dumping plant (wool press) engine
- a 17 h.p. Ruston horizontal diesel; a concrete foundation was built under
the pumps for the dump; the lean-to floor, presumably the railway lean-to,
was levelled and concreted; and there was ongoing concern about the
deterioration of the ferroconcrete of the wharf.
Additions to the shed were discussed at Board meetings in 1941-42, priced
and apparently completed. Kirks of Gisborne won the tender (£695) and
subsequently gave an estimate (£48) for "the erection of an upstairs office
and boardroom." The latter contract indicates that the addition was the
weatherboard-clad western lean-to. In August 1942 the floor of the new
addition was concreted at a cost of £94/17/6. In August 1943 it was resolved
by the Board to make further additions "to run the full length of the
existing building." Kirks' tender of £972 - a substantial sum - indicates
that these additions were probably both the northern lean-to and an extended
(in width) southern lean-to.
In 1952 part of the shed
was let to the State Hydro Department.
Power was installed in the shed in 1953. Previous lighting was provided by a
generator. It is not clear whether power was carried along the wharf.
The Tolaga Bay Golf Club was offered the Austin tractor for £10 1957.
In 1958 the Board wrote to the Richardson Line complaining about the poor
service to Tolaga-Bay.
In 1959 the Board held discussions with the Minister of Marine with regard
to the position of the Board's finances, shipping and general falling off of
revenue due to decentralising of shipping, lack of fertiliser imports over
the wharf and road competition.
In November 1960 the Harbour Board considered the falling off of trade to
the port, and decided that rather than replace the existing Harbour Master
(who had tendered his resignation), to pass the control of the wharf over to
the Uawa County Council, who accepted. November 29, 1961 was the final
meeting of the Harbour Board.
In November 1963 the southern side of the wharf was closed to shipping due
to damage and deterioration. A report on the condition of the wharf from a
Mr Booth gave the structure a conservative 15 year life in 1965.
By now the cost of shipping wool from the Tolaga Bay wharf shed direct to
Napier was higher than the cost of trucking from the wharf shed to Gisborne
and shipping from there to both domestic and British markets.
I.H. Lowe (Lowe's Fishing Co.) was permitted to establish a fishing base on
the wharf in 1968. In the same year a "six-wheeled" railway wagon was taken
to Gisborne and apparently thence to Ferrymead Museum, Canterbury.
Most importantly, 1968 marked the closure of the port for shipping. The
Harbour shed office rooms were let to Titirangi Station as a tea-room.
In May 1973 Cook County assessed the contents of the shed, sold some and
gave (?) some to M.O.T.A.T., Gisborne. In July further wharf plant was sold
In 1977 Cook County banned all vehicular traffic on the wharf.
The wharf shed was generally used for the storage of cray-fishing boats,
tractors and fishing gear, including a fish freezer.
The Cook County Engineer presented a report in 1984, on alternatives for the
future use of the wharf building to Council. The authors J. Dwight.. and L.
McDonald proposed "doing nothing", partial demolition, and "total
In 1995 the report above resulted in demolition of the decrepit 1940s
lean-to, the earlier western lean-to being spared. However the main
timber-floored original building was irreversibly (economically speaking)
modified by the chain sawing out of a substantial area of timber floor, the
removal of its foundations and the reversion to an earth floor to create
"garage space" to be let for the storage of fishing boats and equipment.
The southern lean-to, being accessible to vehicles, was already being let
for boat and associated storage. A large section of the removed floor was
up-ended and, complete with floor Joists as studs, was used to wall-off the
newly formed 'garage'.
Demolition iron from the northern lean-to was used to re-clad the original
northern wall, including the 1929-34 loading-out doors, and a wide door-way
was cut at the western end allowing vehicular access.
In 1989 the wharf shed was sold to Mr S.P. Destounis, fisherman, who has not
modified the building since.
The wharf in 1998. No longer part of a registered port and considered too
dangerous for vehicular traffic or berthage, the structure has evolved into
a very popular fishing place for locals and tourists alike, and particularly
for travellers, a challenge, because of its unusual length and the high
scenic value of its environment.