Sunday, January 17, 2010

Toroa: Unique and Worth Saving

Driving along Auckland's Northwestern Motorway recently, I spotted the hulk of the old ferry, the Toroa...sad-looking now but an icon in her day.
Toroa in better daysSS Toroa was launched in 1925, the last of a fleet of eight double-ended steam-powered ferries carrying commuters across Auckland's Waitemata Harbour to the North Shore. In her heyday (before the Auckland Harbour Bridge opened in 1959) she carried thousands of passengers daily between Devonport and Auckland City until her retirement in 1980. Being double-ended of course, she never had to reverse in or out of a dock, which sped up her trip times. And, with her original machinery intact, she is regarded as the last double-ended wooden steamer of her type in the world.
Toroa port sideYou may not know that one-time NZ Prime Minister, the late Norman Kirk, worked briefly on the Toroa in 1943!
When taken over by the Toroa Preservation Society 20 years ago, she had deteriorated badly. Then she sank alongside a wharf during a storm and lost much of her top deck. It would've been wonderful had a generous council supported the society's work, but records show how often that work was set back, hindered, jeopardised...until now, the Toroa languishes in Henderson beside the motorway.
The society dreams of full restoration, to have her steaming again on the harbour one day. This depends so much on public generosity and, with so many other charities vying for public dollars, the society is not exactly inundated with donations. Although there're national maritime history considerations, the Toroa's support base probably consists primarily of mature nostalgic Aucklanders who like boats, and have spare money they haven't yet donated to the Maritime Museum: a rather small target.
SS Toroa as she sits todayAnd yet it would be woeful for this young country if we lost another piece of what little history we have, simply for lack of finances.
The Toroa Preservation Society has been pouring the love into the hulk for over two decades: is there a generous large company or corporate to get the ball really rollin'? Meanwhile enjoy this nostalgic '70s NZ National Film Unit clip, showing the Toroa and its sistership, the Kestrel...
PS: 20 Dec.2010 - Kestrel is now back in more.

2 comments: said...

The Toroa is hardly 'languishing'. Despite not much change being visible from the motorway, inside there is enormous progress in the restoration of the steel framing of this composite-construction ship. OPEN DAY Sunday 2nd May 2010 -- come and see. (Go to
There has been very substantial funding from the Lottery Grants Board and the ASB Community Trust and TTCF Northern. Of course, sponsorship and support into the future are essential and always welcome.
A small correction: Makora and Toroa between them carried 20,000 passengers a day on the City-Devonport run.
The enthusiasm of Philbee is appreciated.

Philbee, said...

To the Toroa Team:
I appreciate your comments and providing that correction.
I do hope my "outsider's view" raises awareness of your work a bit.
Best wishes for the future - thanks for saving our past!