Historic towns, New Zealand

Down By the Dockside, Tolaga Bay

With the beginning of summer and the festive season there’s the search for all sorts of gear that’s been stored away for the last year. Why? because it’s time for camping with many whanau/family heading around the coast to their annual damp whoops I mean sunny campsite.

Here is one popular East Coast spot.

Proud to declare I was born an East Coast girl and have a long trail of memories associated with that area. Especially places by the sea and with jumping off wharves as a kid. If I had to name one the most photogenic harbours’ in New Zealand, then it would have to be the historical Tolaga Bay wharf, situated on the East Coast of the North Island. For many, it becomes clear that the wharf outshines her surroundings for photography opportunities. To enjoy this part of the East Coast in the North Island, you need to drive about an hour further around the coast from Gisborne. Once there, stretch your legs and walk the wharf. At 660 metres in length, she sits proudly from the golden sandy shore to the last rocky piece of land, making it no ordinary pier. Locals love the wharf because it’s part of Eastland history and because it’s an excellent place to catch a fish. So says a local fisherman we happened to come across during our visits.


Cook named Ūawa [the original name] Tolaga Bay, possibly misinterpreting a word (te raki) referring to a north wind blowing into the bay. In 1894 it was named Buckley, after Patrick Buckley, the then colonial secretary, but the name was rarely used. The setting for this wharf is one steeped in history and natural beauty. Before modern sealed roads, road transport was impractical, and the massive pier were vital lifelines. It was constructed using Ferro-cement piles. Another reason for the pier was that shipping goods over the Ūawa River bar became increasingly tricky as vessels got more substantial and the river silted owing to forest clearance in the headwaters. The 660-metre-long Tolaga Bay wharf, started in 1926, was completed three years later. Metal for the structure was transported by barge from Napier with supplies of fertiliser, petrol and beer were disembarked at the wharf from boats servicing the coastal reaches. Out went meat, wool and livestock and in came cases petrol, kegs of beer and general merchandise.

A different view of the wharf

However, even with the opening of the Tolaga Bay wharf, improved roading and motor vehicles had begun to compete with coastal shipping. It was ironic that much of the cargo at that time was road-making material, used to construct the road through to Gisborne, soon providing an alternate means of transport. Though she still stands, it was closed to shipping in 1967 though still hold’s the title of being the second-longest in New Zealand. In the early 2000s, its deterioration led to the forming of a ‘Save the Tolaga Bay Wharf’ committee, which raised funds to restore or at least prolong the life of the wharf.

A small coastal town is still active, and in the early 2000s, the township had shops and accommodation. There was a resident doctor at the Ūawa Health Clinic and a coastal motor camp. Tauwhareparae Road linked inland farms with the township. In recent years the wharf has undergone extensive restoration work, which will help to ensure those locals and visitors, can dangle a line for many years to come.

For us, it is always an excellent excuse to stretch our legs and visit a part of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s coastal history.

27 thoughts on “Down By the Dockside, Tolaga Bay”

    1. Thanks Wendy, it has been years since we made that journey. Maybe another one could be achieved by us? Though I think it will be too arduous now for Les as midday his energy starts to decline.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. She’s a beauty and when the sea’s rough it’s dramatic. I know time is running out for many if us to go travelling. At a wild guess, five years before it feels safe to travel long distance.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Gorgeous scenery and photos, Suzanne. Thank you for sharing this with us. I just started hosting the Weekend Coffee Share blog link up on January 8. It’s on every Friday. Everyone is welcome to join in any week. Hope to see you there.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, it is. We were fortunate to have had the time to tour around NZ motorhoming fulltime when it wasn’t as popular as now. More freedom camping and general respect on personal space adhered too.


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