On 1 May 1860 an 80-foot long paddle steamer, Emu, started to offer a regular ferry service between Devonport and the CBD. Prior to that time, North Shore residents were reliant on an open sailing ferry boat to get to the city, which had to be rowed by the passengers when winds were light.
The Emu‘s service in the Waitematā harbour was unfortunately short-lived. On 20 October 1860, she was hired by Motutapu Island owner Robert Graham to take a party of Parliamentarians to his home on the island for a picnic. Fifty-five people turned out for the event and had an exciting day, feasting on ‘turkey, chicken, duck, ham, tongues, beef, tarts and pies’ and playing a variety of games including throwing stones at bottles, running races and leap frog.
On the way home disaster struck when the ferry came to pick up a group who had walked back to the southern end of the island near Islington Bay. As the ferry neared land a squall hit and the vessel came to a juddering halt. Water rushed into the bilges and it was clear that Emu had hit a rock. Luckily there were no casualties but the ferry was a complete wreck.
The rock on which the steamer hit, the bay where the disaster occurred and the nearby point have all been named in memory of Auckland’s first ferry (Emu Rock, Emu Bay and Emu Point respectively).
The rich maritime history of the Hauraki Gulf can be seen in the numerous wrecks still littered around its shores. Perhaps the most famous wreck lies off Moturekareka Island (close to Kawau Island). Here the ribs of the ‘Rewa’ a 3000 tonne, four-masted barque can be seen sheltering the bay. The wreck was bought by Charlie Hansen in 1930 and he had it towed to Moturekareka by an Auckland Harbour Board tug. Reports indicate that the prime purpose Hansen had in mind was to provide a breakwater for his beach but he may also have intended to use the vessel for accommodation and for a cabaret.
According to a 1930 report in the Evening Post, a Mr G Bennett was installed as caretaker of the vessel and he slept onboard. On 2 July at:
“about 2 o’clock in the morning, the barque started to list slightly and there were mysterious rumblings and the sound of falling materials almost continually throughout the night. At about 5 o’clock there was a crash. The bow-line parted with a loud report, and the barque heeled over to her port.”
Bennett scrambled ashore under torchlight and the stranded vessel was left with a 45 degree list.
Charlie Hansen used material from the ship’s superstructure to build a shack on the top of the hill on Moturekareka. He also let visiting yachties, such as Johnny Wray, take pieces. Wray describes his visit to Moturekareka in his book South Sea Vagabonds:
‘To anyone nautically minded his house was a perfect delight. It was built largely from gear salvaged from the ship ‘in his front garden’, as he called it. Lifebelts, binnacles, wheels, flags, shrouds, ropes, rails; in fact everything dear to the heart of a sailor was built into that little home. There was a library there that must have contained every nautical book ever published, a library that would be the heart’s desire of any true sea-lover. A perfect home for an old sailor.’
A Celebration of Our Association with this Remarkable Place