The historic Tolaga Bay Wharf, on the North Island's East Coast north of Gisborne, was rededicated last week, during an event to mark the Transit of Venus.
The ferro-concrete landmark had been gradually deteriorating and faced demolition in the late 1990s, before a group of locals set up the Save The Wharf Charitable Trust, attracting donations from all over the world and putting Tolaga Bay on the tourist map.
Built between 1926-1929 when road access from Gisborne was poor, the wharf was needed by farmers who relied on a small wharf on a continuously silting tidal river. Costing a huge £60,331, it was an impressive feat of engineering and considered daring to be built on an open coastline, rather than in a protected harbour. Extending 660m to a depth where small coastal steamers could berth, it's the longest reinforced concrete wharf and jetty in the Sthrn Hemisphere.
The wharf served the rural district for nearly 40 years as the main route in for supplies, machinery, fuel, fertiliser and grain seed, and to export livestock, butter and maize. It played a major role in the development of local agriculture. Ironically it also brought about its own demise, being the arrival point for building materials needed to open up the district's roads.
After its closure, the wharf was used for commercial fishing boats, recreational fishing and other activities, but languished under successive local authorities until the locals acted to save it. It's been undergoing restoration since 2001, with considerable public support.
Tolaga Bay Wharf is now one of the most popular tourist attractions on the East Coast because of its length, stark strong design and setting, and is probably NZ's most-photographed wharf! In 2009, the NZ Historic Places Trust listed it Cat.I, as a place of outstanding historical significance: "The wharf is a key feature of NZ's industrial heritage and played an integral part in the social and economic development of the East Coast."
Many star-gazers gathered in Tolaga Bay last week to see the Transit of Venus. Why there? Well, in 1769 explorer Capt.James Cook went on a scientific mission to Tahiti to observe the Transit (these observations helped scientists calculate the Sun’s distance from Earth. From that, they could work out the size of the then-known solar system). Cook continued his voyage in search of the fabled Great Sthrn Continent and bumped into NZ. His Tolaga Bay landfall was the first ongoing positive exchange between Maori and Europeans. Tolaga Bay adopted the transit of Venus as a symbol of the beginning of NZ’s heritage. If you missed it, the next Transit's in 105 years!
[I have a recollection involving Tolaga Bay, laxative chocolate and a Bloody Mary...but I'll save that for another time!!!]