The Mahanga Bay Wharf site survey has been completed and a report published. The following 1993 account by MAANZ Founding President David Churchill describes the buildup to the project and the aims that were set out. It took some years to complete this project but it stands as a tribute to the many MAANZ members and friends who committed time to it.
The site of a dismantled wharf in Mahanga Bay in Wellington Harbour was the site of the Association's first survey. This site was proposed as I had dived there before and knew that there were some remains of the wharf, bottles and a variety of other artefacts which could be recovered to give us some experience in conservation techniques. The wharf lies in the centre of a sheltered bay with a depth of around 8m at high tide. This would enable us to dive in almost any weather and gain experience in underwater survey techniques.
It was not until archival research of this site was begun that it was realised that the wharf may have been built around 1885 to 1886 . This period coincides with the construction of Fort Ballance which was constructed as part of Wellington Harbour's defences. (Public Work Files, PW231 118 and PW 2316, National Archives, Wellington)
Fort Ballance is located on an isolated part of the coast and, at the time of construction, road access was very poor. It is my belief that the wharf was built prior to the fort, to supply building materials for the fort's construction and later supply the fort with arms, munitions and general supplies. The plans and contracts for the wharf were apparently destroyed and the earliest date we have found that mentions the wharf is 31 October 1887.This report states that a vessel named Despatch damaged the wharf while trying to berth.
Other dates located are:
By 1962 the wharf had fallen into a bad state of repair. Various complaints were made as to the safety of the wharf and it was not until a two-year-old boy fell through the dilapidated decking that the decision was made to dismantle the wharf. This was done by the Navy and the Army Department using 610 m of Cortex and bulk explosives. The demolition was completed on 16 October 1962.
As the wharf was in use in 1887, this brings the site of the wharf under the protection of the Historic Places Trust. With this in mind, a preliminary report was submitted to the Historic Places Trust, Department of Conservation, Wellington Regional Council and Raymond Ahipene-Mercer who represents the descendant of the last Maori occupants of the area, to obtain permission to undertake an underwater survey. The site has not yet been given an Historic Places Trust classification, but we have gained permission to undertake an underwater survey. From photographs of the wharf, we have been able to estimate the size of the area to be surveyed. This will be an area of 25 metres by 25 metres. A baseline will be set from the remains of the wharf buttress and with the method known as 'trilateration' we aim to locate each of the stumps of the piles. With these measurements we will then have an accurate dimension for the wharf.
Summary of the Mahanga Bay Wharf survey
Once New Zealanders can see the result of our efforts, I am sure that we will gain their interest and support and more divers will join our Association which will enable us to establish subgroups throughout the county. We will then be in a position to control and direct maritime archaeology in New Zealand, factors Mr. Jim McKinlay, Senior Archaeologist for the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, said are lacking.