22 July 2015

Whitianga Old Stone Wharf

  • Southern side of Old Stone Wharf and the ferry. Photograph courtesy of J. La Roche.
  • Stonework of wharf with 1950s concrete platform on top. Photograph courtesy of J. La Roche.

Built in 1838, this stone wharf used by the passenger ferry from Whitianga is thought to be the oldest wharf structure still in use in New Zealand.

Gordon Davis Brown (d.1842) is credited with designing and installing the wharf, aided by local Māori who squared the blocks of stone used in its construction. Brown was a Sydney timber merchant who came to Mercury Bay in 1836 to establish a timber mill and shipbuilding enterprise in the bay adjacent to Old Stone Wharf. Brown formed a business partnership with Captain Ranulph Dacre (1797–1884), also from Sydney, who was involved in exporting sawn timber and spars to the British Navy. Dacre is also noted for negotiating with Māori land owners for land and timber rights.

The Old Stone Wharf is constructed of large local stone blocks that were originally trimmed and fitted together without mortar. Considering the wharf has been built beside a swiftly flowing tidal steam and is subject to marine erosion, it is a tribute to the original builders that the structure has survived for more than 170 years.

Mortar has been used at later dates to pack between the stone blocks, although it was suggested this was the wrong thing to do. In the 1950s, a loading platform with a concrete surface was built on top of the original structure. In the 1980s, Ministry of Works staff undertook grouting work to hold the structure together. Further work may be needed to ensure that this historic structure remains intact for future generations.

Heritage recognition

This place has been recognised by Heritage New Zealand as a Category 1 historic place (List no.4675):
Old Stone Wharf: New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero information.


Find out more

Location

The wharf is used as the passenger ferry landing on the eastern side of the Whitianga Harbour, opposite Whitianga township, Coromandel.

Access

Daily passenger ferry services run from Whitianga, leaving Whitianga Wharf in Esplanade Road at regular intervals that vary according to the time of year. Alternatively the Old Stone Wharf can be reached by road via Cooks Beach to Ferry Landing.

Further reading

J Birthell, Guide to the History of Whitianga, Thames, 1980.

F Rogers, 'Dacre, Ranulph - Biography, from the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyTe Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (updated 1 September 2010).

'Browne, Gordon Davies' from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, AH McLintock (ed.), originally published in 1966. Te Ara –the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (updated 22 April 2008).