New Zealand Coastal Shipping  


Kaiapoi is a town of 9,255 people (2001 Census) situated on the banks of the Kaiapoi River and is a tributary of the Waimakariri River, a substantial river which has its origins deep in the Southern Alps of New Zealand's South Island. This flows out into the Pacific Ocean on the east coast and has a Bar at the entrance which frequently alters in depth and position. This restricted the Port to high-tide operation only and to vessels of approximately 7-foot draught. The wharf at Kaiapoi was 2 1/2 miles from the entrance.

Although the name of the first vessel to make the trip up the river has not been recorded (not that I can find anyway), a regular monthly service was first started by a George Day of Sumner between Heathcote and Kaiapoi in 1852 with his Flirt. However this page is not concerned with the early history, just the last period in which the Port operated commercially from 1958 to 1967.

In 1958, the Kaiapoi Borough Council which had taken over the interests of the Waimakariri Harbour Board when it was abolished in 1946, was persuaded to re-open the Port due to congestion at Lyttelton. Discussions were held with the Collingwood Shipping Company of Nelson and they were prepared to commit two vessels to the trade to Wellington. Before the Port could re-open, some repairs were necessary to the wharf as it had been over twenty years since it had last been used commercially. This was estimated to cost 980 pounds, but when the final account was presented, the total cost had leaped to 1,593 pounds. The riverbed was also dredged in the vicinity of the wharf so that ships could sit evenly at low tide.

The wharf at Kaiapoi in April 2004
Photo: © D. Shepherd

At 7.15am on Sunday 16 November 1958, the 124-ton Paroto safely crossed the Bar and berthed at the wharf at 8.15am. She was watched with interest by hundreds of people who lined the banks of the river and the shoreline. Despite the many spectators on the wharf and the Official Welcome, the first truckload of cargo was on its way to Christchurch by 8.45am. Cargo was quickly exchanged and the ship departed the following Wednesday on the tide at 10.15am. Next came the 158-ton Ranginui on 20 November. She came in half-laden from Lyttelton and topped off with barley, flour, foodstuffs and building materials before sailing for Wellington on the 22nd.

The two ships quickly settled into service offering a twice-weekly service to Wellington. When the Ranginui went for survey and major engine repairs in January 1959, she was replaced by the 150-ton Picton owned by the Southern Cross Shipping Co., a company with close ties to the Holm Shipping Co. Picton had a deeper draught than the other ships at approximately 9 feet, which meant that she was not entirely suited to the trade, a fact that was emphasised when she went aground at the entrance on 11 July 1959. She grounded again in 1961, from 12 - 18 May and it was serious enough to warrant her being towed to Lyttelton by the Lyttelton Harbour Board pilot launch Wairangi for repairs on the 31 May. Picton only made one more visit after that - in October 1961.

Ranginui at Kaiapoi in Inter-Island Shipping Company colours
Photo: © S. Reed

The Collingwood Shipping Company was taken over by the Inter-Island Shipping Company in 1960, with Ranginui and Paroto transferred to their ownership in October 1960. Trade continued to build up and by early 1961 extra tonnage was required. This came in the form of the Taupata a ship of 268grt and 117' 6" in length, which was the largest ship to enter the Port in this period. She made her first visit on 18 March 1961.

Competition for the Inter-Island Company also arrived in 1961, when the Kaiapoi Shipping Company was formed. This was a Company born of major Kaiapoi merchant C.Morgan Williams & Son and their first ship the Toa of 215grt arrived for the first time on 16 April 1961.

With two companies now operating into the Port, it became a very busy place. 1961 saw 123 arrivals, 1962 - 155 arrivals and 1963 - 157 arrivals. Based on a purely arrival and departure basis this put Kaiapoi almost on a par with Onehunga (one of the busiest coastal ports in the country) and ahead of the likes of Oamaru and Westport. When put on a net tonnage and tonnage of cargo handled basis, the picture changed quite dramatically!

The Kaiapoi Shipping Company bought a second ship in early 1962 - the Tuhoe - from Eckfords of Blenheim. She was towed from the Wairau Bay where she had been laid up to Lyttelton by the N.S.S.Co's Poranui. In a sorry state, she even suffered the indignity of grass growing out of her decks! However, a spell on the Lyttelton slipway did wonders and Tuhoe made her first arrival at Kaiapoi on 26 April 1962, trading at first to Wellington, before starting a service to Napier and Gisborne in September 1962.

The Inter-Island Shipping Company also bought another ship in 1962 (was this a counter-punch?) - the Waiotahi from A.G.Frankham Ltd., of Auckland. Another large ship for the river at 208grt and 107' in length, she made her first call on 9 August 1962.

Waiotahi with the Tuhoe and Toa at Kaiapoi circa 1963
Photo: © D. Reed

The busiest year was 1963 when 35,253 tons of cargo was handled in 157 ships. Here is the arrival/departure list for August of that year:

Ship                          Arrived/Departed            Notes
Paroto                              Aug 3   1345
Toa                        1530   2 Aug 3   1400        ex Lyttelton
Ranginui                   1500   3 Aug 6   1615
Tuhoe                      1515   3 Aug 6   1630
Kohi                       1545   3 Aug 11  0900            99grt
Paroto                     1000  11 Aug 14  1045
Toa                        1015  12 Aug 14  1050
Ranginui                   1140  14 Aug 15  1245
Kohi                       1325  15 Aug 17  1300
Paroto                     1400  17 Aug 20  1705
Toa                        1450  18 Aug 21  0620
Ranginui                   1745  20 Aug 24  0730
Tuhoe                      0740  21 Aug 23  0830
Kohi                       0930  24 Aug 27  0945
Paroto                     1000  25 Aug 27  1030
Toa                        1130  28 Aug 30  1140
Waiotahi                   1230  30 Aug 31  1245       ex Lytt. No cargo
Ranginui                   1245  30 Aug
Tuhoe                      1400  31 Aug

In November 1963, the Kaiapoi Shipping Company went into liquidation. The Tuhoe had arrived on 27 October and was laid up, with Toa following on the 20 November. The Tuhoe was converted into a line fishing vessel, sailed on the 16 November and spent the next six months fishing off the Chatham Islands, before putting into Wellington with a serious leak. She was declared unseaworthy, escorted to Kaiapoi and laid up. The Toa was issued with a writ for 1,464 pounds by the Borough Council, but this was lifted shortly afterwards to enable her to be used as a fishing vessel. I am unsure of her exact movements, but she was in Kaiapoi for the last time between 25 September and 25 October 1967 arriving from and departing for Lyttelton.

Port of Kaiapoi circa 1965. From left: Ranginui, Paroto, (working cargo) Toa, Tuhoe (laid up)
Photo: © D. Reed

Two major improvements were made to the Port in 1964. With so many ships using the river, the Kaiapoi Borough Council had a pilot boat built for them by Stark's of Lyttelton. This was leased to the Inter-Island Shipping Company as they were responsible for the safe navigation of all ships in and out of the Port. Named Kaiapoi, she was 30ft long with a draught of 3ft and powered by a 20hp diesel engine. After piloting the Toa out of the Port on 25 October 1967, she foundered on the Bar, but was salvaged by the Lyttelton pilot launch Wairangi and repaired at Lyttelton.

The other improvement was the provision of a new Cargo Shed. With the imminent completion of the Christchurch - Lyttelton Road Tunnel and the upcoming introduction of roll-on/roll-off vessels to the Steamer Express Service to Wellington, it was felt that to enable Kaiapoi to compete, it was important to have a safe and secure building for cargo to be stored awaiting delivery or shipment. This enabled road transport to be run full both ways and the Inter-Island Company provided a forklift to speed up handling.

Throughout 1964 and 1965, Paroto, Ranginui and Waiotahi maintained a regular service to Wellington. Although the introduction of the Rail ferry Aramoana to the Wellington - Picton run in 1962 affected the amount of cargo offering, the introduction of the second ship Aranui in 1966 had a dramatic effect on all coastal cargo services.

Another severe blow was the loss of the Paroto on 3 August 1966. Southbound from Wellington to Kaiapoi with 90 tons of cargo, she ran aground in thick fog on Point Gibson at the southern end of Gore Bay. Her crew of six were able to land safely and it was initially hoped that if her cargo could be landed with the help of a breeches buoy, it may be possible to refloat her. Two days after going ashore though, she began to break up and became a total loss.

Newspaper clipping from the Christchurch Star 3 August 1966
Courtesy of S. Reed

Towards the end of 1966, the amount of cargo offering was beginning to fall and on 22 December, the Waiotahi was laid up leaving just the Ranginui in service. In February 1967, the Ranginui laid up after her arrival from Wellington on 18 February and the Waiotahi replaced her, sailing on the 20 February. Also in February, Kaiapoi had its only visit by a Naval vessel when the launch Pegasus arrived at 0600 on the 11th, sailing at 1730 the same day.

Waiotahi carried on, but by the middle of the year was also including Lyttelton in her itinerary and on some occasions arriving empty. She brought in her last cargo from Wellington on 29 October 1967 and sailed empty on 1 November for Waitapu in Golden Bay where she loaded butter. This was landed in Kaiapoi on the 6 November after which Waiotahi was laid up.

Although the Rail ferries had contributed to the Port's demise, it was the cost of handling the ships that put the Port out of business. It cost 11 shillings 6 pence per ton to load cargo at Kaiapoi, but 46 shillings per ton to unload it in Wellington. The Borough Council had attempted to come to a special arrangement with the Wellington Harbour Board over the charges, but this failed.

The Port's nine-year revival had not been unprofitable. The Mayor (Mr H.O. Hills) outlined the position thus: "Approximately $114,000 of buildings and property is owned freehold by the board and cash reserves, in the current and building reserve accounts, amount to approximately $3,600, plus the value of the pilot launch and overdue wharfages. As all harbour improvements have been paid for out of revenue and there are no loans, the harbour's assets are more than $139,000".

The Port was declared officially closed in 1969, but the Kaiapoi Borough Council preferred the words "suspended, pending further business".

The Tuhoe remains in Kaiapoi and has been running regular cruises on the River since 1983 after her restoration by the Tuhoe Preservation Society.

Tuhoe departing Kaiapoi wharf on one of her regular cruises
Photo: © S. Reed


An occupational hazard for ships regularly working the Port was stranding on the Waimakariri Bar at the entrance to the River. This is a list I have compiled from various sources but may not be complete

  • 1958: None
  • 1959: Paroto 1 - 4 May, Picton 11 July
  • 1960: None, although Paroto bumped on the Bar outbound 14 December
  • 1961: Picton 12 - 18 May, Taupata 12 - 14 December
  • 1962: None, although Paroto pooped while crossing Bar inbound 31 January. Lifeboat damaged.
  • 1963: Waiotahi 28 June? Tuhoe 29 June - 1 July
  • 1964: None
  • 1965: Ranginui 22 - 25 July
  • 1966: None
  • 1967: None

  • Waiotahi aground at the River Mouth, July 1966
    Photo: © S. Reed

    UPDATE: I am grateful to S. Reed for the following extra information on Strandings.

  • 1965 (date unknown): Waiotahi was refloated after several attempts following beaching for minor repairs
  • 6 July 1966: Waiotahi stranded on a mudbank in the Waimakariri River (possibly the occasion when the Captain attempted to return to Kaiapoi due to foggy conditions)
  • 1966: One week after the above, Waiotahi stranded while inbound from Wellington with 150 tons of cargo

  • A seaman's graffiti! Still there after 40-odd years. January 2004
    Photo: © D. Shepherd

    Back to Top