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.

Project Description

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:
1888 Vessel named Ellen Ballance damaged the wharf and the Public Works Department (PWD) requested the owners of the vessel to effect the repairs.
1905 PWD signed a contract with McKechnie and company, Wellington contractor for extensions to the wharf.
1917 Electric lighting installed to the wharf.
1924 Request from the Defence Department to the PWD for the installation of a tramline for the safe transfer of munitions from the wharf to the fort.
Up until 1945 extensive works were carried out in the bay and on the wharf.

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.

All artefacts recovered from the site will be taken to the onsite conservation laboratory, where each artefact will be logged, identified, photographed and the 'first-aid' treatment started. On the completion of each day the artefacts will be taken to our conservation laboratory where a full conservation treatment will be started. Each artefact recovered will be treated using the latest conservation techniques. The conservation of the artefacts will be under the supervision of Jack Fry, who, as previously stated, is a MAANZ member and is the retired Conservation Officer of the National Museum Wellington.

Summary of the Mahanga Bay Wharf survey
The principle aims of the survey of the Mahanga Bay wharf site are to gain practical experience in survey and conservation techniques; to measure and date the wharf’s construction., and determine the identity and origin of the timbers used in the construction. Further research has yet to be done in the National Archives and at the Wellington Maritime Museum where they are about to make their archives open to the public. On the completion of the underwater survey we will be writing a comprehensive report which will be made available to the public through libraries and when the artefacts have been conserved they will be put on display.

Although the Maritime Archaeological Association of New Zealand is in its infancy, we have the contacts in New Zealand and Australia through which we will gain experience and be able to contribute to New Zealand's maritime heritage.

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.