The story of the Rangitoto Wharf.
1890 - In the beginning
The Rangitoto Wharf was the first project for the Rangitoto Domain Board to undertake after it had been assigned the responsibility of providing public facilities on the Reserve in 1890. Initially the Board was hampered by lack of funds but when it was agreed that the quarry lease fees should be used for the purpose, the island was opened up.
In September the tender for the wharf was let to a Mr. A White for £122-28-0. The Devonport Steam Co. agreed to levy a landing tax of 1p per adult and 1/2p per child on the condition that it be "wholly expended on the Island and to our mutual satisfaction" for the public facilities.
The Mayor of Devonport Mr. J Macky opened the Pioneer Track and Wharf to the public on November 3 1897 with an appropriate ceremony. A large official party including the Mayor made the ascent to the flagstaff that had been erected on the summit. After the speeches and three cheers for Her Majesty Queen Victoria there were three more cheers for "Old Rangi". The ferry service provided non-stop transport and it estimated that 2,500 people visited Rangitoto that day.
Pursuant to Section 6 of the Defence Emergency Regulations 1939, it is hereby notified that Rangitoto Main Wharf and adjoining Western Portion of Rangitoto Island is closed to the Public.
Auckland Harbour Board Superintendent and Engineer reports to the AHB that this "timber wharf, built nearly fifty years ago is in a dilapidated condition and will require either complete re-building or demolition at an early date". He pointed out that the AHB derives no revenue from the wharf and that it served the small community of bachholders and picnickers. He reinforces his argument with the fact that the baches are to be demolished entirely by 1957. In December Reg Noble wrote to the Domain Board pleading that the wharf not be demolished as suggested by the Auckland Harbour Board.
A letter in March from the Rangitoto Cottage Owners Association signed by Mr. J. Norman says;
It is now in such a condition that it is definitely unsafe and dangerous and we are of the opinion that the present structure be replaced by a modern wharf. We as cottage owners have at all times made every endeavour to assist your Board in providing attractive facilities for the general public and suggest a wharf in preference to a launch landing as the future of Rangitoto warrants accommodation for a ferry service as it had done in the past.
The Devonport Borough Council called a meeting of all local councils to suggest that the entire Borough's of the Auckland contribute to the maintenance of Rangitoto and the building of a new wharf by way of an annual levy at 1/2/- per head. The new wharf was estimated to cost £6000 - £8000. The others do not agree.
In June the Rangitoto Island Welfare and Improvement League, secretary Mr. A G Greene wrote to the Board concerned about the state of the wharf and offering that each member contribute 10/- per head towards a wharf fund. (Records don't indicate whether this offer was accepted.)
In Reg Noble's annual report to the Rangitoto Island Domain Board he writes;
The most urgent work necessary at present is of course the Wharf at Rangitoto, just how it holds up is beyond me and I must again draw your Board's attention to the urgent need of something to be done about it. Supervision on arrival and departure of the public takes place without which I feel it might collapse.
1955 - The day the wharf collapsed
A warm summers day, a little overcast and a slight swell, but nothing to worry about. Every one was gathered on the road at the end of the wharf waiting for the call from Reg Noble to come across. A strange way to board the boat but on that day but it was necessary.
Reg Noble grabbed at a falling woman and dragged her back to safety.
The Rangitoto Wharf (as it was known in those days to distinguish it from Islington Bay Wharf) was badly in need of repair; in fact the powers that be were in the process of starting to do just that. Boards were stacked 5 and 6 high on each side of the wharf ready to start re-decking when the piles had all been replaced, and there was a small "lane" for those that didn't mind the challenge of walking along a very precarious wharf to board the Launch to Auckland.
The Launch berthed, Reg gave his signal, the rope was raised and everyone started to walk across the wharf to go back to the big city. Suddenly there was an ominous cracking sound and people started clutching onto what ever they could, and scrambling back up to the upper deck and back on to the road.
Miraculously no one was hurt or even wet.
The wharf had collapsed on the seaward side.
Of cause every one was late back to the city that day but I think that everyone "enjoyed" themselves and as far as I know, no one complained.
I can't remember if we were able to use the wharf again until it was repaired but would you believe it, in 1982 - just 27 years later the wharf was again closed as being dangerous.
A Boy Scout, Reg Noble, Bill Mills, & Reg Burton erected a jerry-built walkway out of the new decking boards and assisted every one back to the boat.
Photos and memories from the Burton family and excerpts from Trust archives.