Tolaga Bay Wharf

Wharf Road, TOLAGA BAY

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The striking Tolaga Bay Wharf was an impressive feat of engineering when built by the Tolaga Bay Harbour Board between 1926 and 1929 and has outstanding technological significance. Conceived in an era when road access to the district from Gisborne was poor, the wharf was required to replace the unsatisfactory situation of farmers being reliant on a small wharf situated within a tidal river that was prone to silting. Lightering services could only handle small loads with each trip and greater efficiency was needed. At its first meeting in 1920 the Tolaga Bay Harbour Board decided to investigate the possibility of a wharf that extended out to a depth suitable for the small coastal steamers to berth. The wharf's design was finalised in 1924 but modified again in 1925 and again during construction. The ambitiousness of the project was evident in the need to raise a considerable loan, involving an Act of Parliament to allow this to proceed. The wharf was designed by renowned engineer Cyrus J.R. Williams, engineer to the Lyttelton Harbour Board from 1902 until 1927. His work included reclamation works and wharf at Lyttelton, reports on the Nelson, Napier, Gisborne and Waikokopu ports and involvement on Royal Commissions. The wharf was built by Frederick Goodman, a concrete construction contractor whose work included four bridges in Auckland and three in Gisborne, plus other harbour works in Gisborne and Dunedin. He and Cyrus Williams both worked on the improvements to the Earnscleugh Bridge. Tolaga Bay Wharf is believed to be the longest reinforced concrete wharf and jetty in an open roadstead in the southern hemisphere and when built it was considered daring to have attempted such a structure in an open dynamic marine situation rather than within a protected harbour. Several technical and design details ensured the structure was sufficiently stable and strong enough to withstand storms and large swells. The wharf served the rural community for nearly 40 years as the main route for incoming supplies, machinery, fuel, fertilizer and grain seed and for export of produce such as fattened and store livestock, maize and butter. In this it played a major economic role in the development of the local agricultural industry. After its closure, brought about primarily by the increasingly uneconomic operation after roads were improved and trucks suitable for heavy freight introduced, the wharf continued in use for commercial fishing boats, as a source of kai moana, recreational fishing and other recreational activities. Tolaga Bay Wharf has become a popular tourist attraction because of its length, its stark strong design and its setting. The wharf has been in poor condition for many years, but since 2001 has been undergoing restoration, a staged process as funding becomes available. Public support for its preservation has been considerable, with additional financial support from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, the New Zealand Lotteries Board, private benefactors and the Gisborne District Council.

Tolaga Bay Wharf. Image courtesy of | Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl | 23/03/2018 | Shellie Evans
Tolaga Bay Wharf. Image courtesy of | Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl | 23/03/2018 | Shellie Evans
Tolaga Bay Wharf. Image courtesy of | Daniel Garland | 28/01/2014 | Daniel Garland



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

4th April 1984

Date of Effect

4th April 1984

City/District Council

Outside LA Boundaries


Gisborne Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the whole of the structure known as the Tolaga Bay Wharf and its fittings and fixtures, which extends to the north-east from the land parcel described as Pt Sec 1 Blk XII Uawa SD (marked 'A' on SO 8464), Gisborne Land District and across the beach front and into Tolaga Bay (refer to map in Appendix 1 of the review report for further information).

Legal description

Pt Sec 1 Blk XII Uawa SD marked 'A' on SO 8464, (NZ Gazette 1990, p.4033-4), Gisborne Land District.

Location Description

At southeast end of Tolaga Bay foreshore, at north end of Wharf Road

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