Is this New Zealand’s largest historic place?
September 01, 2023 | Stories

By Rosemary Baird

Walkers and cyclists in Ōtepoti Dunedin will have a better understanding of the heritage underfoot (or wheel), thanks to the contributions of our Otago team.  

ŌTEPOTI DUNEDIN: Named Te Aka-Ōtākou (The Otago Vine), a shared pathway for pedestrians and cyclists runs serpentine-like from Port Chalmers to beyond Portobello along the Otago Harbour Seawalls. The name was gifted by Tahu Pōtiki, former Chair of Te Rūnanga o Ōtakou. A new 600m section of the Port Chalmers shared pathway has recently opened in Blanket Bay. 

The Otago Harbour Seawalls are recorded as an archaeological site and are recognised as a Category 1 historic place (List No. 4726). The new boardwalk path through the Blanket Bay portion allows the seawalls to be seen and appreciated by users and offers protection by separating the path from the historically significant wall. 

Those using the pathway will enjoy the new interpretation panels that have been created by Aukaha consultants to share stories of significant sites to mana whenua. For the new Blanket Bay section of the shared pathway, Waka Kotahi invited us to contribute a panel highlighting the connection between the historic seawalls and colonial transport routes.

View of the boardwalk, which is lit up at night, courtesy of Waka Kotahi
A section of the preserved historic harbour wall, courtesy of Waka Kotahi

The seawall and embankment forming the western side of Blanket Bay was constructed as part of the c. 1870-72 Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway line. It was started by a private contractor, George Proudfoot, who sold it to the Provincial Council. This railway line carried the first goods train from Port Chalmers to Dunedin on 18 September 1872, carrying beer from Burke’s Brewery to Dunedin. As the first to run on the 3-feet 6-inch gauge in the colony, this line and its bubbly cargo marked the beginning of the present New Zealand railway system. 

The hand-built railway walls are constructed of locally quarried volcanic rocks breccia and basalt. The rocks were used extensively for building foundations and kerbs from the 1880s onwards. 

From 1938-48, further sections to the seawalls were added as part of a government work scheme.  

“The seawalls are an important part of the historic landscape of the Otago harbour,” says Otago/Southland Area Manager Sarah Gallagher. “They are a massive example of vernacular stonework; the hand-built drystone revetments measure 37 km in length and average 2 m in height. We think this could make them the largest historic place in New Zealand that we have recognised on the List.” 

The 600m-plus boardwalk at Blanket Bay gives pedestrians and cyclists the chance to see an original section of this stonework, which is hidden in many other areas due to the need for retaining walls. 

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Conservation Advisor, Susie Farminer, attended the opening of the of shared path section St Leonards to Port Chalmers on Saturday 26 August. “It was fantastic to see all the work and planning that has gone into this incredible community asset acknowledged,” says Susie.

New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero
Otago Harbour Seawalls
Te Aka-Ōtākou

Rosemary Baird 
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