Today the wharf is a local landmark and a popular fishing spot. A walk along the old tramlines on the wharf is also a chance to admire the interesting rock formations and strata on the adjacent cliff face. Under the wharf, the bands of algae, molluscs and crustaceans encircling the concrete legs provide a mesmerising view out to sea.
The world-famous Tolaga Bay Wharf reaches out into the blue Pacific for 660 metres, itself dwarfed by the massive cliffs of the nearby headland. It’s an East Cape tourer’s rite of passage to walk the length of this historic pier.
Tolaga Bay wharf is situated at the southern end of the beach. From the township, head south and turn left into Wharf Road, which leads to a parking area by the beach.
The wharf is 660-metres long and reputed to be the longest in the southern hemisphere. Rails are embedded in the concrete.
In the early 1900s the Uawa District around Tolaga Bay earned a reputation for its extensive sheep country and productive dairying. Export of goods was a laborious affair, with lighters travelling up the Uawa River to be loaded with cargo, which was then unloaded on to larger vessels in the bay. The double handling of goods, high number of trips needed to load a ship, and silting up of the river bar often contributed to delays. To decide how to remedy the problem a Harbour Board was appointed to consider options.
Deepening the river channel and using larger lighters were disregarded due to the heavy ongoing costs involved, so the construction of a wharf was seen as the most viable option.
Work started in January 1926, undertaken by F.H. Goodman as the main contractor. Metal was shipped from Napier for the reinforcing and rails, but local timber and aggregate was used. By November 1929 the wharf was complete and the accompanying shipping shed operational.
Wool was collected from farms and brought to the shed, where it was loaded onto hand tracks and mobile cranes for transportation to the waiting ships. 3,000 bales per year were exported. 15,000 – 20,000 head of livestock were shipped each year and could be held in the substantial pastured areas nearby. Previously they had been taken on a 2-3 day journey to a larger port, often losing condition and the ability to stand up to a long sea voyage.
The wharf also aided the supply of incoming goods to the region, which included petrol, fertiliser and beer. It served the busy shipping route on the coast before the construction of the road to Gisborne. The road metal used in the construction of the main highway from Hicks Bay to Gisborne was brought ashore at the wharf. After the road’s construction the use of shipping as a transport medium declined, thus the wharf ironically led to its own demise.
During construction, beach sand was used in the concrete. The high salt content has caused the infiltrating water to become acidic, eating into the reinforcing rods. As they rusted, they expanded and split the concrete, causing it to falls off in chunks. The wharf was progressively closed during the 60s and 70s. Estimates of around $10 million have been quoted to save this historic landmark and a community initiative is underway to try and raise funds.
North Island ▷ Out East ▷ Tolaga Bay
Can you contribute? If you've experienced Tolaga Bay Wharf then please and write a review.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍