Historic 1934 photo of the Patea wharves. Poor photo but the only one known that shows the port as it was.

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stormbirdy on June 26, 2008

I am unable to claim any credit for this photo nor attribute it to any person. It is reproduced from a paper copy that has been in our family for many years.

Six vessels in Patea 6 November, 1934. Left to right at general cargo wharf m.v. 'Fairburn'(partly obscured), s.s. 'Kapuni'. Left to right at cheese loading wharf: s.s. 'Hawera', m.v. 'Foxton', m.v. 'Inaha'. Crane jib of the Harbour Board’s grab dredge 'Wallace', berthed on the opposite bank of the river, is just visible below the photographer. Counting the dredge there are 6 ships berthed. Patea was quite a busy little port until the late 1950's when the cheese grader was moved to New Plymouth. This removed the main source of cargo and the port closed. Patea had a narrow and difficult bar at the river mouth and over the years about 16 ships were wrecked while either attempting to enter or depart the river. Up until WW2 the port also saw moderate tonnages of general cargo but this all but dried up after the war. The small white fronted building seen above the saw-toothed roofed store behind the wharf was the office of the South Taranaki Shipping Company who maintained three ships in the cheese trade until the port closed. Note that the ship on the far right of the photo is being loaded so that she is slightly down by the head. This ship is the 'Inaha'. This was a usual loading ploy in Patea to reduce the vessel's overall draught for coping with the sand bar at the river mouth. Note also the old 4 wheel railway wagons alongside the sheds at the general cargo wharf.Behind the wharf can be seen the railway station and yard.

Up until the early 1960’s Patea was arguably the world’s largest cheese exporting port? This may sound unlikely especially as during the 110 years life of the port only one large overseas cargo ship ever called there ( NZ Shipping Co’s. “Otarama” in Jan. 1900) and she was loaded, not with dairy produce but 1200 bales of wool transferred to her by lighter while anchored in the roadstead off the port. Patea, however, is central to what is arguably the world’s most intensively farmed dairy region from where cheese is still the primary end product. (Kiwi dairies in Hawera, which is serviced by the daily heavy milk tanker trains, continues the grand tradition in being the biggest dairy factory in the world (2008) Patea, in the early days, had the advantage of being situated at the mouth of the only sensibly navigable river in South Taranaki so was ideally suited for the transport of produce. Although not officially proclaimed as a port until 1871 Patea had its beginnings as early as 1864 servicing both the surrounding settlements and the military forces. A cheese grading store was built on the river by a co-operative, The West Coast Refrigerating Company, in 1901 and the Harbour Board agreed to build another wharf alongside this store. This facility eventually grew to command all cheese destined for export from a huge catchment extending as far south as Orua Downs and Taikorea, (near SH1 and just north of Himatangi) as far north as Rata, (about 17 ks. north of Marton) and the whole of South Taranaki (from north of Opunake to Eltham). The cheese volume grew to such extent over the years that from the 1920’s onwards it required the full commitment of three ships for some 10 months of the year to transport it and often the service needed added capacity which required the chartering of an additional vessel. Although the port once handled large volumes of general cargoes as well as the output of the large freezing works, these gradually died away as railway efficiency increased and most coastal vessels carrying on inter-island trade became too large to use the port and began transshipping cargoes consigned to/from South Taranaki to/from rail at Castlecliff or Wanganui. One should also mention that Castlecliff was also often a terminal port for cheese loading, especially when the grader cool store in Patea became overloaded or when the Patea River bar became unworkable. Despite all this, how could Patea become the largest cheese exporting port in the world when only small coastal ships frequented the port? It happened like this. Eventually, the South Taranaki Shipping Company overcame all competition to the port and entered into a contract with the Cheese Grader Co-op that was to last almost 50 years and thus became the sole cheese carrier from Patea. This cheese was transshipped into the Harbour Board cool store in Wellington to await consignment into overseas ships. Naturally, this involved considerable handling, wharfage dues, many other administrative charges and all the paper shuffling that seems to attach to the movement of export goods. This added considerably to costs. In the early 1920’s, however, the South Taranaki Shipping Company gained an agreement with the overseas shipping lines that enabled export cargoes consigned from Patea to pay the same rate as those shipped from Wellington. Thus cargo destined for export became essentially en route to distant destinations as soon as it was loaded at Patea. The Patea ships now, whenever possible, berthed directly alongside overseas ships in Wellington and unloaded their cheese directly into the big ships holds. The Wellington Harbour Board cool store was only used when direct transshipment was not possible but the cheese stored therein was officially regarded as transit cargo no longer situated in the New Zealand realm. This formula continued for administrative convenience and so Patea became the largest cheese exporting port in the world by contrivance rather than design but, nevertheless, was entitled to assume that mantle.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on January 12, 2008
  • Attribution-No Derivative Works
    by stormbirdy
    • Camera: HP psc2350
    • Taken on 2007/12/18 09:42:53

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