New Zealand Coastal Shipping  


On the evening of 24 November 1959, the coaster Holmglen en route from Oamaru to Wellington, foundered at a point approximately 22 miles south-east of Timaru with the loss of her crew of 15. The cause of her sinking remains a mystery to this day.

In July 1960, Captain J.F. Holm, the Holm Shipping Company's general manager, announced that the contract for a replacement vessel had been placed with N.V.Bodewes Scheepswerven B.V. of Martenshoek, Holland. This was to be the fourth ship built by this Company for Holm's, the others being Holmwood in 1953, Holmglen in 1955 and Holmburn in 1957.

On the 29 June 1961, Holmdale was launched sideways (as ships were at this yard) into an arm of the Winschoter Diep. Sea trials were held off Delfzijl in November after which she sailed for Glasgow and Liverpool to load for the delivery voyage to New Zealand. Under the command of Captain C.A. Keith with E.S. Donne as Chief Engineer, she sailed from Liverpool on 1 December 1961 and arrived in Whangarei on 17 January 1962. After discharge she went to Napier to load for Wellington and then onwards to South Island ports to take up the trade for which she was designed - east coast South Island to west coast North Island ports.

Holmdale on her trials
Photo courtesy of L.M. Johannes

In design, she was similar to the Company's earlier Holmwood with her engines aft and bridge amidships - somewhat unusual but apparently a feature preferred by Captain Holm. A very attractive ship, she embodied the latest in coastal motor ship design and even boasted a radar - a feature then unusual for brand-new coasters in New Zealand. Her accommodation was spacious and modern, her large hatches and extensive cargo handling gear coupled with a fairly high service speed of 12 knots quickly made her popular with both crew and shippers. In 1963, she made the passage from Godley Head (Lyttelton) to Manukau Bar (Onehunga) in 33 hours 57 minutes at an average speed of 12.5 knots.

Although the Holmdale was a success on the coastal trade and also to the Pacific Islands, her main claim to fame and the reason for her longevity was her service to the Chatham Islands where she was the supply ship for some 22 years. The Chatham Islands lie 467 nautical miles east of the South Island of New Zealand and have a population of approximately 800 people spread over two islands - Chatham (the larger) and Pitt.

Her service to the Chathams was initially interspersed with her trading on the N.Z. coast, but when that virtually died in 1974, she was taken on long-term charter by the Department of Internal Affairs (a New Zealand Government Department) to guarantee 10 return trips a year. In between trips she would lie idle at Lyttelton, but she also made annual supply trips to the N.Z. Meteorological Stations on Raoul and Campbell Islands.

Fully loaded for the Chathams
Photo: I.Lovie

The trip from Lyttelton would normally take about 48 hours depending on weather conditions and the only wharf was at Waitangi which was exposed to the prevailing westerlies. This meant that in all but the calmest conditions the ship was always "on the move" while tied up, and it was not unusual for her to vacate the berth and run for shelter on the other side of the Island when the weather cut up rough. Depending on the weather, she could be at Waitangi for anything between four and ten days. Twice a year she would go over to Pitt Island (usually March and December) and anchor off the very quaintly named Flower Pot, utilising a surf boat to work the cargo. This work was also prone to weather delays.

Serving such an isolated community meant that her cargo manifest read like a big shopping list and she carried virtually anything. Trucks, cars, horses, cattle, dogs, bees, fishing boats (up to 30ft), kitchen sinks, petrol, coal and a million and one other things needed by the people of the Chathams. Diesel for the Islands fishing fleet was carried in specially fitted tanks in the way of No.2 hatch and was pumped ashore. Return cargoes consisted mainly of bales of wool, frozen meat and crayfish.

Other cargo work sometimes came her way. In June 1976 Holmdale went to Suva in Fiji and did a couple of coastal runs in November of the same year. In July 1978, a voyage was made to Rarotonga and again in June/July 1985. Aside from these odd excursions she remained on the Chathams trade with extensions to her original charter until September 1990, when the Minister of Internal Affairs announced that Holmdale would be replaced by a Tug and Barge service. Her last crew was paid off on 28 September 1990 and the ship placed on the sale market.

Just before Christmas, Union Shipping NZ Ltd, who by this time were the owners of the ship, announced that Holmdale had been sold to Captain Tom Culhane of Celtic Pacific Shipping Ltd., of Auckland. She was handed over on 10 January 1991, renamed Celtic Kiwi and registered in Avatiu, Cook Islands. His first intentions for the ship were to base her in Papua New Guinea serving Pacific Islands in that area, but this did not materialise and on 25 March 1991 she sailed from Lyttelton for the last time for Auckland, arriving there on 29 March to begin a monthly service to Norfolk Island.

Final departure from Lyttelton. Celtic Kiwi sails for Auckland
Photo: I.Lovie

Captain Culhane was a former Chief Officer on the Holmdale and he was hoping to get another 5 to 10 years service out of her, but unfortunately this was not to be. On 16 October 1991, Celtic Kiwi sailed to Whangarei to load a cargo of cement for delivery to Apia in Samoa, then returned to Auckland on 19 October to top up with cargo for Norfolk Island. She sailed on 25 October loaded right down to her marks - probably the first really full cargo she had carried for years.

On Sunday 27 October at about 1300, Celtic Kiwi developed a 5 degree list to starboard and despite transferring some fuel and ballast from starboard to port, the list slowly increased. By 1400 it was 10 degrees and the port lifeboat was swung out ready for launching. The ship was in constant communication with New Zealand Shore Stations and at 1917 advice was received that the ship had been abandoned. Ships in the area had been kept advised of the situation as it developed and first to arrive on the scene was the yacht Rock Steady which reported at 0045 on the 28th, that she had rescued all 13 crew of the Celtic Kiwi. They were subsequently landed at Opua in the Bay of Islands on the 30th. Celtic Kiwi finally sank in position 31 55S 170 57E. A subsequent inquiry came to the conclusion that the ship had suffered a major rupture to the hull, probably in the forr'd end of No.1 Hold. She was heavily laden at the time and it was thought that the stresses on her 30 year old hull may have been too much.

A sad end for what was the last conventional coaster under the New Zealand flag.

mv Holmdale - Service History

911 tons gross, 1077 deadweight. Dimensions: 218' 1" x 34' 9" x 13'7". Diesel engine by Masch.Kiel A.G.

  • Nov 1961: Completed by N.V.Bodewes Scheepswerven, Martenshoek, Holland, for Holm Shipping Co.
  • Jan 1962: Delivered to New Zealand and entered service.
  • Apr 1967: Sailed from Onehunga for Rarotonga to begin new shipping service between New Zealand and Cook Islands.
  • Mar 1972: Management passed to Union Steam Ship Co. of N.Z. Ltd.
  • 10 May 1972: On passage from Dunedin to Wanganui, she was struck on starboard beam by huge breaking sea at 2138. The spare bower anchor was shifted 5", the Builders name plate was ripped off the forepart of Bridge, the starboard life belt rack on Bridge front was demolished, No.4 port winch cab was bent, and 3 cars on the freezer hatch were damaged by the weight of water.
  • May 1974: The last commercial vessel to use the Port of Oamaru, sailing from there on 14 May.
  • Apr 1975: Taken on long term charter by Department of Internal Affairs to guarantee 10 return trips a year to the Chatham Islands.
  • 1981: Ownership transferred to Union Steam Ship Co. of N.Z. Ltd. Retained her Holm Shipping Company colours.
  • Mar 1982: Became the last conventional coaster under the New Zealand flag with the sale of Anchor-Dorman's Titoki.
  • May 1988: Ownership transferred to Union Shipping New Zealand Ltd.
  • 19 Sept 1990: Arrived at Lyttelton on her last voyage from the Chathams. Crew paid off 28 Sept and ship laid up for sale.
  • 10 January 1991: Handed over to Celtic Pacific Shipping Ltd., Auckland, renamed Celtic Kiwi.
  • Sank 300km northwest of North Cape, New Zealand, on 27 October 1991, after water entered the forward hold whilst on voyage from Auckland to Norfolk Island and Apia.

  • Newspaper clipping of her loss
    Courtesy S. Reed

    mv Holmdale - A Year In Her Life 1974

    Port                                     Arrived/Departed
      Waitangi                                      Jan 2
    Lyttelton                               2053  4 Jan 7  2037
    Gisborne                                      9 Jan 9
    Napier                                       10 Jan 12
    Lyttelton                               1037 14 Jan 18 1517
    Tauranga                                0550 21 Jan 24 1900
    Dunedin                                      27 Jan 29 
    Lyttelton                               1120 30 Jan *7 2008
      Waitangi                                    9 Feb 14
    Lyttelton                               2212 16 Feb 22 1530
    Port Chalmers (Survey)                  1009 23 Feb*14 1400
    Lyttelton                               1505 15 Mar 21 1440
      Waitangi                                   23 Mar 30
    Lyttelton                               1229  1 Apr 3  1937
    Timaru                                        4 Apr 4
    Oamaru                                        4 Apr 6
    Wanganui                                2230  7 Apr 8  2131
    Napier                                  2200  9 Apr 14 0850
    Gisborne                                     14 Apr 18
    Lyttelton                               2055 19 Apr 29 0830
      Waitangi                                    1 May 4
    Lyttelton                               1145  7 May 10 1843
    Timaru                                  0600 11 May 11 1530
    Oamaru                                       11 May 14 1430
    Wanganui                                0427 16 May 16 1710
    Napier                                  1740 17 May 21 1900
    Gisborne                                     22 May 22
    Lyttelton                               0914 24 May *1 1950
      Waitangi                                    3 Jun 7
    Lyttelton                               1106  9 Jun 20 1823
    Oamaru (closed, proceeded to Timaru)
    Timaru (also loaded Oam. cargo)         0515 22 Jun 22 1900
    Onehunga                                     25 Jun *9
      Lautoka                                    14 Jul 15
    Lyttelton                               0602 22 Jul 25 1625
      Waitangi                                   27 Jul 31
    Lyttelton                               1443  2 Aug 3  1844
    Onehunga                                      5 Aug 8
      Suva                                       13 Aug 15
    Lyttelton                               1117 22 Aug 29 1612
      Waitangi                                   31 Aug*10
    Lyttelton                               1022 12 Sep 14 1533
    Onehunga                                     16 Sep 21
      Nukualofa                                  25 Sep
      Apia                                          Sep 30
    Lyttelton                               1220  8 Oct 16 1530
      Waitangi                                   18 Oct 23
    Lyttelton                               1755 25 Oct 31 1648
    Onehunga                                      2 Nov 8
      Suva                                       13 Nov 16
    Lyttelton                               1800 23 Nov *2 0854
      Waitangi                                    4 Dec 8
    Lyttelton                               2104 10 Dec 16 1906
      Waitangi                                   18 Dec
      Pitt Island                 
      Waitangi                                      Dec 24
    Lyttelton                               0610 27 Dec

    A magnificent shot of Holmdale berthed at Lyttelton in the late 1980's
    Photo: N. Tolerton

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