MotuekaOnline logo

[ Return ]

A History of Riwaka Wharf and Shipping

Posted April, 2010
Written by H. N. Murray, this article was published in the Nelson Historical Society Journal, Vol 2, Issue 6, April 1973, and has been reproduced and abridged here thanks to the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre (NZETC -

At Riwaka wharf some early history of shipping in the district is of interest. The small port served the local community for a hundred years, and included some operations concerned with the initial landings at Astrolabe Roads of the Expedition vessels in October, 1841.

The landing was effected on or about 4th October, 1841, and it is recorded that Kaiteriteri Cove was visited on 9th October, 1841. A plaque erected near a spring marks the spot where water casks were replenished, and search for land continued.

When the anchors were dropped, no person aboard the vessels had any experience or knowledge of a haven, coastline or land required for the named Nelson Settlement, which disposes of the claim that a pilot was engaged to guide them to it. A search for land commenced in dense forest at Astrolabe Roads when extremely strenuous journeys were undertaken by Frederick Tuckett, Surveyor, and Samuel Stephens, Assistant, much of it being due to false reports of land by other searchers. The search continued south and undoubtedly included Sandy Bay and other places by the use of the ship's boat where tidal water assisted them far inland.

At Kaiteriteri Cove extensive expeditions were carried out, and a survey commenced. Long journeys were again undertaken by Frederick Tuckett and Samuel Stephens who travelled many miles over several days and returned in an exhausted condition, and with clothing destroyed. Land was not found.

A foot-trail linked Kaiteriteri Cove with a Maori pa at the mouth of Riwaka River and a palisaded one at the top of the hill above it. It is assumed the hill was climbed to gain a wide outlook over the land and shoreline.

The pa was reported to be a small group of huts, and is attributed to Captain Wakefield's notes. It was his duty to verify the existence of land and harbour when reported to him. During his sojourn at Astrolabe Roads, it is beyond doubt that Captain Arthur Wakefield was on shore for long periods and at many places.

The Riwaka and Motueka Rivers were navigable by the ship's boat for probably three miles. The areas would be searched, and it is certain the valleys were explored many miles from the Cove or the shore. While the search proceeded, the vessels remained at anchor in Astrolabe Roads for four weeks and the head of Blind Bay was not visited.

A change in the search plan took place when Captain Wakefield sent James Cross (a Deal Pilot he had enrolled for the Expedition) in the ship's boat to search on the eastern side of the bay. From an early report on the incident, it is clear that the reputed pilot-F. G. Moore-was not on board the boat.

In a day or two James Cross located the haven and observed that the land surrounding it was more suitable and more extensive for settlement. (Tentative date 25th October, 1841).

On reporting back to Captain Wakefield, an immediate decision was made to establish the Nelson Settlement at the location of the haven. In the confused conditions which had existed, the integrity and resourcefulness of the surveyors-Frederick Tuckett and Samuel Stephens-were justly rewarded by that decision.

Kaiteriteri Cove was vacated immediately. The ships were prepared for the journey to the eastern shore where they arrived 1st to 5th November, 1841.

The surveyors began the tedious task of planning and survey of Nelson Settlement on land which was totally inadequate to provide for all commitments. The land near Riwaka and Motueka rivers was included in the survey plans. The first survey party, in charge of Samuel Stephens, landed at the mouth of the Riwaka river at the site of the Maori pa they had observed several months earlier. At that point, the first base line was established for the Riwaka Survey, also the first housing built, and the first jetty or wharf for handling of stores and produce. The date of arrival was May 2nd, 1842.

From these extraordinary events evolved the trade, ships and wharves over a century of service to the people of the district. Brief information is added to show the nature and value of the service.

Riwaka has had five serviceable wharves - one at the monument on north side; two at Green Tree Point; two on the present location on the south side of the channel. Approximate years of establishment were 1842, 1853, 1870, 1895 and 1956 when the concrete wall was built, mostly by residents.

Up to 1905, Riwaka Road Board controlled the wharf under administration of Waimea County. Cargo was handled by owners and a group of standby workers. Wharfage rates at 9d. per ton and 9d. per bale were threequarters of the charge at Motueka.

From 1905, Riwaka wharf was included in the Motueka Harbour Board District under the Motueka Harbour Board Act where boundaries and conditions of maintenance were set out.

Wharfage rates remained until 1916 when the general tonnage rate was raised from 9d. to 1/- by a new by-law which included shipping dues at one penny per ton on registered tonnage of vessels coming to the wharf.

Vessels recorded at Riwaka (after 1900) included the following: S.S. "Lady Barkly"-43 tons; S.S. "Elsie"-20 tons; S.S. "Koi"-53 tons. Sailing vessels: "Result", "Gannet", "Venture", "Vindex", "Asa", "Transit", "Lily", "Planet", "Old Jack", "Maid of Italy", "Orakei". Wharfage dues on these vessels were approximately 1/- per visit. From 1915 the auxiliary ketch "Pearl Kasper," 53 tons-later fitted with a heavier engine-took most of the trade by providing more reliable service during 23 years serving Riwaka.

The cutter "Planet" was built in 1859 (Auckland), and last recorded visit to Riwaka was 1903. The S.S. "Lady Barkly" was a regular trader, and with the "Planet" conducted an exceptional shuttle service with the main terminal at Nelson between 1870 and 1910.

The cutter "Maid of Italy" (14 tons) was sailed from Auckland and recorded in local waters 1875-6. Recorded at Riwaka September 1924 as having been in service for fifty years.

The small ships provided seamen with exceptional knowledge of the sea.

>> Email a comment on this article, possibly to be added to the page.

[ Return ]