Dunedin Corduroy Causeway

211 George Street, Dunedin Central, Dunedin 9016

  • Dunedin Corduroy Causeway, Dunedin. Image used with permission.
    Copyright: Dr Peter Petchey. Taken By: Dr Peter Petchey.
  • Dunedin Corduroy Causeway, Dunedin. 2019.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Matthew Schmidt.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 9232 Date Entered 8th April 2021 Date of Effect 29th April 2021


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 4 DP 17196 (RT OT15A/437), Otago Land District and the structure known as Dunedin Corduroy Causeway thereon, and the following chattel: the section of the causeway reinstated in floor of Wall Street Mall for public display.

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 4 DP 17196 (RT OT15A/437), Otago Land District

Location description

E 1406319 N 4917247 (NZTM)


Sometime between 1848 and 1859, a 12 metre-long, 4 metre-wide corduroy causeway was constructed in central Dunedin to bridge an area of boggy ground in what was flax strewn marshland. This rare surviving structure associated with the first decade of European settlement in Dunedin was discovered in June 2008 following the demolition of the former Woolworths building on George Street, prior to the development of the site for the current Wall Street Mall.

Historically Kāi Tahu, who had settled the Otago Peninsula, used the tauraka waka at Ōtepoti (Dunedin city) when they visited the head of the Ōtākou harbour. The soft slope of the foreshore and the tidal flats in the upper harbour where the small stream, Toitū, entered the sea was bisected by a prominent hill Ngā-moana-e-rua (called Bell Hill by colonists), the foot of which lay at the very edge of the high water mark. No permanent kaik or villages were situated in the area of the causeway.

The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway is a track constructed of cut timbers. This technique is known as a ‘corduroy’ which describes the ribbed surface formed by the close-set timbers that are laid across long bearers aligned to the direction of the track. This created a walkway or road that could be used to cross unstable ground relatively simply and quickly with resources at hand. Such track technology dates to European prehistoric times with the earliest known corduroy track found in Germany, dating to 4780 BC. The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway was built across a boggy depression at the foot of the original hillside behind George Street and ran in a northwest–southeast direction at an irregular angle to the line of street. The exposed track extended for 11m and was approximately 4m wide, but ran into unexcavated ground at both ends, so was originally longer. The causeway was constructed entirely from native timbers that were cut with an axe from the local hillside – no saws or nails were used in its construction.

The track was carefully cleaned, recorded and approximately 40% of the timbers were lifted, to begin the lengthy process of preservation. The remaining timbers were left in situ to be preserved by the muddy deposits in which they were found. The Mall was subsequently constructed over the top. The archaeological excavation and recording of the Dunedin Corduroy Causeway was led by Dr Peter Petchey on behalf of Dunedin City Council and the owners of the Wall Street Mall. The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway is of national significance. It is a site of outstanding archaeological and historical value, and significant aesthetic and social value. It provides important evidence of Dunedin’s early settlers’ attempts to utilise local resources to improve their experience of living and working in this new landscape.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway has outstanding historical significance. Having been identified as being constructed in the first decade of European settlement in Ōtepoti, the use of timbers shows evidence of the settlers’ understanding of the qualities of wood types available in the environment, and other artefactual material found in and around the causeway have revealed information about the later business and activities that people who lived in the area were engaged in.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway has special aesthetic significance. While the remains in the ground are unseen, the reinstated portion and photographic record and interpretation of the site capture the rugged simplicity of this utilitarian road. One can imagine workers cutting the timber from the local hillside, laying the bearers and crossbeams across the muddy ground and imagine how those timbers must have felt under the feet of early settlers. The installation at Wall Street Mall brings this to life.

Archaeological Significance or Value

The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway has outstanding archaeological significance at a national level. It has provided evidence of early settlers’ lives and activities that has informed the record of information about early Dunedin. This is the earliest example of a substantial corduroy road in New Zealand. There is also potential for the in situ remains to further enhance our understanding of this early European adaptation to terrain.

Technological Significance or Value

The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway has special technological significance. As a widely used method to deal with unbroken land with no infrastructure, the corduroy technique of creating roads has a long history internationally and continues to be used today in forestry. The importance of the Dunedin Corduroy Causeway is demonstrated in its size, innovations in technique required through the utilisation of undesirable materials, and use in the developing town situated in a boggy area.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

This place reflects significant insight into the conditions experienced by early settlers in Dunedin and how they adapted to their new environment by making use of the local resources to construct a causeway to enable easier passage across the land.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

This place continues to be an outstanding source of information that has contributed to the knowledge of New Zealand history. Its discovery has informed works of scholarship and the Ghosts of Wall Street exhibit at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. The academic papers and interpretation of artefactual material sheds light on the lives of people who inhabited the area around the causeway, and the causeway itself shows us that the settlers were familiar with the best uses of different species of wood for construction. The return of timbers to the Wall Street site in an accessible display with interpretation will continue to share this information to the public.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

There is a special community association and esteem for the place, largely thanks to the work of Toitū Otago Settlers Museum who installed a permanent exhibit based around records of people who lived near the causeway that have been interpreted with artefacts recovered from the site.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

This place has outstanding opportunities to educate the public. Artefacts recovered from and stories inspired by this site have been well received at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum since 2013. Further commitment by the Dunedin City Council will see a preserved section of the causeway returned to site in the Wall Street Mall with complimentary interpretation.

(g) The technical accomplishment, value, or design of the place

This place is an outstanding example of the techniques utilised by early settlers to construct roads with limited resources for the conveyance of people and resources over difficult terrain in the first decade of settlement in Dunedin.

(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from an early period of New Zealand settlement

This place is of outstanding importance through its contribution to knowledge about the first decade of colonial settlement in Dunedin.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

This place is an outstanding example of an early corduroy road in New Zealand, it is a unique remaining example from this period.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area

This place provides a rich source of information about the behaviours and knowledge of early settlers within the wider historical and cultural area of early Dunedin, and their adaptation to the land.

Summary of Significance or Values

The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway is an archaeological site of outstanding significance. An example of temporary road construction from the earliest years of Dunedin’s settlement it is of national significance. Its outstanding historical value, and special technological and aesthetic values identify it as a place that will continue to be an archaeological site and artefact of ongoing educational and cultural value to New Zealanders.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early history

Both iwi history and archaeological evidence show Māori settlement in the Otago region over an extended period, with the communities utilising a wide variety of natural resources from the diverse environment. Archaeological evidence supports the date of earliest settlement around the 12th century.

Today, Kāi Tahu mana whenua is recognised over a large part of Te Wai Pounamu. Kāti Māmoe and Waitaha whakapapa and shared settlement are always acknowledged. Tūpuna such as Waitai, Tukiauau, Whaka-taka-newha, Rakiiamoa, Tarewai, Maru, Te Aparangi, Taoka, Moki II, Kapo, Te Wera, Tu Wiri Roa, Taikawa, and Te Hautapanuiotu are among Kāti Māmoe and Kāi Tahu tūpuna whose feats and memories are embedded in the landscape, bays, tides and whakapapa of Ōtākou Otago. The hapū Kai Te Pahi, Kāti Moki, and Kāti Taoka still maintain their presence and responsibility as kaitiaki in this region.

Historically, Kāi Tahu used the tauraka waka at Ōtepoti (Dunedin city) when they visited the head of the Ōtākou harbour as either the gateway to the route to Kaikārae (Green Island) or when off on other mahinga kai expeditions. The soft slope of the foreshore and the tidal flats in the upper harbour where the small stream, Toitū, entered the sea was bisected by a prominent hill Ngā-moana-e-rua (called Bell Hill by colonists), the foot of which lay at the very edge of the high water mark. No permanent kaik or villages were situated at the mouth of the Toitū, simply because there was no need for it.

While not as densely populated as the North Island, numerous kaik in the Ōtākou region still hosted a good number of Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and later Kāi Tahu peoples. Various bays and beaches around the Taiaroa Heads supported several hundred people with kaik in Karitāne, Waikouaiti and at the mouth of the Mata-au or Clutha hosting a similar number. Pā kāinga on the Ōtākou coast included Māpoutahi (Pūrākaunui), Pukekura (Taiaroa Head), Kōpūtai, Huriawa and Moturata (Taieri Island). Whareakeake, one of several pounamu working sites, attested to another facet of lifestyle for the artisans of the iwi.

While the population numbers are still debated by academics and historians, there is no argument that through epidemics and intertribal warfare, the numbers of Kāi Tahu living in the region had dwindled considerably by the time the Treaty of Waitangi was signed at Ōtakou (Otago Heads) on 13 June 1840.

Early European settlement

The first organised settlement of Dunedin was arranged between the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland and the New Zealand Company which bought land from Kāi Tahu in 1844. The land was surveyed by Charles Kettle and his assistants in 1846, and in 1848 the first two ships of settlers arrived on the John Wickliffe and the Philip Laing. That same year, the Rev. Burns undertook a census and recorded 444 Europeans and 166 Māori residing in the area. Aside from the survey, little development of the city was complete and new settlers were required to construct their own dwellings. The majority of the early settlement was south of Bell Hill (known as Church Hill at the time of settlement) around the current Exchange. The swampy area north of Bell Hill was largely unoccupied. In wet weather roads turned to quagmires, and Dunedin was known locally as "Mud-edin". Complaints were voiced about, "the swamp (with its ‘thick green slime’) on the northern flat” which came in for a considerable amount of attention. One early settler recounted later that as a child she had become lost among the flax bushes somewhere between St Andrew and Hanover Streets. The track way that cut across the Wall Street site was a response to the muddy conditions.

The use of the corduroy technique

Petchey notes that while the Dunedin Corduroy Causeway is a uniquely significant archaeological find in New Zealand, it is not uncommon in the international context. The use of logs to form corduroy tracks and roads have a long history internationally; the technology dates to European prehistoric times with the earliest known corduroy track found in Germany, dating to 4780 BC. Construction of a corduroy road was a relatively simple process, and made use of readily available local materials in order to provide a stable surface to cover an uneven or boggy terrain. In New Zealand, the practice continues to be utilised in the forestry sector; NZ Forestry defines a corduroy road as, “a structured load-bearing surface where logs are laid horizontally and parallel, with no void areas. Corduroy roads are an engineered road construction technique used in places where the substrate is very weak, and where the load must be spread if the road is to be trafficable…”.

Early writers in New Zealand often refer to ‘corduroy’ being an American term and have described the conditions where such a road was either encountered in swampy areas, or where the environment necessitated such a construction. The importance of creating such roads is described by G. Hamilton-Browne, “All this work fell very heavy on us, as the regulars were of but little use in the bush, either as axemen or coverers, but we should have made light of that had it not been for the rain, that not only drenched us but turned the soft loamy bush soil into liquid mud, in which we sank nearly to the knee, and forced us to corduroy the path so as to enable the wretched pack-horses to get any footing, while men, horses, packs, arms and everything soon became plastered and caked with mud.”

Corduroy tracks have been identified in New Zealand in a variety of different locations including in pastoral leases, and in areas exploited for both gold and coal mining. Records suggest the construction of a meter length of road could be achieved by hand in approximately one hour. However an excellent description of the use of trees by Thomas Florence, an experienced woodsman, details the difficulty of creating causeways in New Zealand swamps which have few trees. He opined that trees that were accessible were not suitable for splitting, and because they do not grow straight, are difficult to lay in course. This is evident from the timbers recorded in the Dunedin Corduroy Causeway where less desirable resources were used to create a road over which to transport more suitable construction timbers like tōtara.

Description of the Dunedin Corduroy Causeway

The corduroy causeway was found in June 2008 during what was expected to be the last on-site archaeological work in one of the last areas of the Deka/Wall Street Mall site to be developed. The causeway was discovered 1.3m below the level of George Street in the approximate middle of the town block bounded by George, Filleul, Hanover, and St. Andrews streets (section 42 Block XX Dunedin). It was built across a boggy depression at the foot of the original hillside and ran in a northwest–southeast direction at an angle to the formal road and cadastral land boundaries. The exposed length extended for 11m and was approximately 4 m wide. The causeway ran into unexcavated ground at both ends and so was originally somewhat longer.

The causeway is constructed from a variety of timbers cut from the local bush with longitudinal runners with shorter timbers laid on top. The lowest section of the causeway, at the north-western end, was constructed in deep mud, and had three layers of timbers: several large cross-members, three longitudinal runners, and then the corduroy timbers on top. Timber sizes ranged from 150 mm in diameter for some of the largest base members, down to branches and brushwood along the corduroy. All the timbers were axe-cut, and no nails or other fastenings were used. Some of the runners had notches cut into their top surface to hold the corduroy timbers. Timber identifications were carried out by Dr Rod Wallace (University of Auckland). The most common timber excavated was kānuka (Kunzea ericoides), followed by māpau (Myrsine australis), with tangaru, kōhūhū , putaputawētā (Carpodetus serratus), māhoe (Melicytus ramiflorus) and rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) also present. These species were all part of the forest that the first European settlers to Dunedin found covering the lower hillslopes. The sizes of the timbers ranged from 150mm down to small twigs. Beneath and between some of the logs were harakeke or flax (Phormium tenax) leaves, indicating that the causeway had been laid across flax-covered ground. A 100mm thick layer of fine, silty clay was deposited over the timbers which probably happened soon after its construction.

No artefactual material or evidence of other cultural activity was found beneath the causeway indicating its construction is likely to date to early in the period of European settlement. Overlying these layers was rubble fill. Only a few items date back to the first decade of settlement when that part of the North Dunedin flat remained a swampy morass that the pioneers travelled over with difficulty.

History of the site

Following the gold rush in 1861 Central Dunedin developed rapidly from a muddy wasteland to a bustling commercial and industrial centre with the incremental development of the city infrastructure. People lived amongst the shops and workshops, creating a vibrant if hidden community life in behind the retail frontage of George Street.

The 1857 Dunedin Town Rates Book index records John Curle and David Hutchison as owners and occupiers of Block XX Sec 42 during 1857 and 1858 on which there was a dwelling house and a garden. Curle owned a lot of property in the area and is first mentioned as a tin plate worker. In 1859, Block XX section 42 was owned by George Mathew. There follows a gap in records until 1875, a busy period for the city which expanded rapidly during the gold rush which began in 1861, when Block XX section 42 is recorded as being owned by A. Fulton who had a factory, timber yard, premises and a house, indicating a mix of uses of the area ranging from residential to commercial. A photo from 1879 confirms the timber yard and dwelling. J. Wilke’s lithograph of Dunedin in 1898 shows the open area and structures suggested both in the earlier photo and in DP 1763 in 1905. In 1888 and 1892 section 42 was still an open yard but was owned by A. Cornwall, a butcher. These layers of overfill relate to the changing use of the area over time: an open garden or yard in the 1860s–1870s, a two-story stable by 1888, and then the 1967 site development. Most of the artefacts recovered from the Wall Street site date from the 1860s and 1870s when this area of George Street was first developed with shops, workshops and cottages. The pre 1880 archaeological evidence presents a great deal of glassware, black alcohol bottles (beer and whisky) being the predominant type in the assemblage, along with pickle and condiment bottles.

In 1927 the yard is still evident but now utilised by tradesmen (plumber, painters and a builder). In 1967 Woolworths was built and section 42 became a sealed carpark. It remained so until the excavation and development of the Wall Street Mall in 2008.

Physical Description

Current Description

Of the original 12 x 4 metres of causeway that was excavated, the majority (60%) was too deteriorated to be preserved and remains in situ under a layer of geotextile, beneath the foundations of the Wall Street Mall complex and is a registered archaeological site. The remaining timbers identified for preservation were tagged and were immersed in water before conservation treatment was initiated under the direction of Dily Johns of the Anthropology Department, University of Auckland. The timbers spent a number of years soaking in a solution of polyethylene glycol (PEG) prior to gradual drying. During the intervening years, display options were discussed and designed.

Meanwhile, Toitū Otago Settlers Museum developed the Ghosts of Wall Street exhibition, a “time tunnel” experience that displays a number of artefacts, including a few pieces of the causeway.

The remaining 40% of the causeway will be installed in an excavated space in the floor of Wall Street Mall directly above the location of the excavation site. The area created will be designed to museum conservation standards. The timbers will be set back in their original positions within a stable form and surrounded with inert material to simulate the clay that would have been packed in around the timbers at time of use. Dr Andrea Farminer is reported as saying, "It’s going to look really wet. It won’t be wet, but it’s going to look really wet and boggy." The concourse of the shopping mall will display the timbers in a display case set in the floor The installation will be comprehensively interpreted.

Comparative analysis

There is no adequate comparator with the Dunedin Corduroy Causeway in New Zealand. A William Meluish photo (reprinted by Burton Brothers) of Lower High Street in 1859 shows a corduroy footpath in front of a row of small businesses which provides some indication of what the causeway may have looked like. There are a small number of archaeological sites and Heritage New Zealand listings that include corduroy roads.

Big River Quartz Mine (List No. 7762)

The West Coast’s Big River Road dates to the 1880s and was built of large logs. Some of the logs that formed the corduroy base are still visible along parts of the road. This road is later than the Dunedin Corduroy Causeway but only partially viewable. The style of corduroy road appears to be different, using larger materials more suitable for the conveyance of heavy machinery.

Alpha Mine NZAA No. B46/42

The site on Auckland’s North Shore is reached by climbing up from Te Oneroa to the top of the escarpment behind Long Beach, and then following the old Alpha corduroy sled track. The track dates to 1895 and at the time of assessment could still be found but was very overgrown. While the Alpha corduroy track is extant, it dates later than the Dunedin Corduroy Causeway and was constructed for industrial purposes.

Makatote Tramway (List No. 7668)

The North Makatote Tramway site consists of a branching network of tramlines. There are both wooden and metal rails, as well as a corduroy track in the northwest of the site. Whilst no conclusive comments can be drawn about the sequence of construction, historical documents indicate that the "the whole of the left hand branch and part of the right hand branch towards the eastern extremity" were constructed by the Dinwoodie Timber Company (1934-1939). This site is significantly later than the Dunedin causeway, and like the other comparative sites, is situated in an industrial context, quite different to the Dunedin Corduroy Causeway constructed within a kilometre of the settlement.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1848 - 1859
Construction of the corduroy road

Open yard

Additional building added to site
1888 -
Double storey stable

1967 -
Woolworths site

Demolished - Redevelopment
2007 -
DEKA site demolished for development

2008 -
Archaeological excavation of the corduroy road

Additional building added to site
2009 -
Wall Street Mall completed over archaeological site

2013 -
Pieces of the causeway are installed in Ghosts of Wall Street exhibit at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum

2021 -
Installation of a large section of the causeway, and interpretation in Wall Street Mall

Construction Details


Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

10th March 2021

Report Written By

Sarah Gallagher and Dr Peter Petchey

Information Sources

Petchey, 2009

Petchey, P.G. The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway Archæological Investigations at the Wall Street Mall Site George Street, Dunedin. Report on Archæological Investigations for Dunedin City Council. Archæological site I44/469 Archæological Authority No. 2007/354. https://www.academia.edu/7560945/The_Dunedin_Causeway._Archaeological_Investigations_at_the_Wall_Street_Mall_Site_Dunedin._Archaeological_Site_I44_469

Petchey, 2018

Petchey, Peter. "First Footsteps in a New World City: The Dunedin Corduroy Causeway and Early Settlers’ Adaptation to Their New Home." Historical Archaeology 52.4 (2018): 700-716. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-017-0082-7

Otago Settlers’ News, 2014

'Lost and Found in Mud-edin,' Otago Settlers’ News, March 2014, Issue 120, pp. 1-2. https://otagosettlers.org.nz/dmsdocument/37

Brosnahan, n.d.

Seán Brosnahan – research notes for Toitū Otago Settlers’ Museum Wall Street exhibition [unpublished material].

Other Information

Other Protection Mechanism

Subject to a 2008 court order requiring that the preserved remains of the causeway be returned to its original site for display.

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Southern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.


Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.