abandoned vessels

Rangitoto Island Abandoned Vessels and Baches—Archaeology Fieldwork 2014, NZ

My name is Kurt Bennett and I am currently completing my Masters of Maritime Archaeology degree at Flinders University, South Australia. My thesis research investigates salvage and re-use of abandoned vessel material on Rangitoto Island, New Zealand. Specifically, I am looking into how the material has been used to aid the construction of the islands’ baches (holiday homes). Having grown up on the North Shore, Auckland, I have many childhood memories of visiting the island, including hiking the summit, exploring the lava caves and fishing at the Beacon. My research now brings me back to understand cultural interaction with abandoned vessels and to promote maritime cultural heritage on the island. This also includes documenting a disappearing historical resource (the Rangitoto Island bach) before it is too late.

On Rangitoto Island

On Rangitoto Island

The archaeological investigation is being carried out on the abandoned vessels and baches between the 8th and 20th July 2014. There are 13 known vessels that were abandoned between 1890 and 1947 in Boulder Bay (also known as Wreck Bay), located on the northern side of Rangitoto. The types of vessels range from wooden barques and schooners to an iron-hulled coastal steamer. Methods of abandonment include being beached along the shoreline, burnt or dismantled.

The baches on the island were first constructed c.1910. Leases and construction was halted in 1937 following introduction of new building laws. In the same year leases were renewed for a further 20 years. In 1957, 99 leases for existing baches were renewed, but with restrictions. The baches could not be altered, sold, exchanged or rented. During the 1970s and 1980s many baches were subsequently demolished as many owners passed away. In 1990, 34 leases were renewed for a further 33 years and demolition was temporarily halted while the Department of Conservation carried out an architectural and historical study. In 1997 the New Zealand Historic Places Trust registered the baches as historic areas. The baches are of historical significance that reflects a period of personal freedom in New Zealand’s history. This investigation aims to survey all beached vessel remains and all 140 bach sites. The surveys are non-disturbance and non-intrusive.

Ngapuhi stern at Wreck Bay

Ngapuhi stern at Wreck Bay

On the Day of Archaeology 2014, I began the first day of fieldwork, having been delayed for two days due to bad weather which resulted in the ferry being cancelled. I caught up with one of the Islands’ rangers, John Duggan, who kindly gave me a ride to Beacon End (McKenzie Bay). I allowed 2 hours to walk one way from the Islington Bay wharf so a ride was a big help.The ferry departed at 0915 and arrived at Islington Bay around 1025. Once I was dropped off at Beacon End I proceeded to start from the south and work my way back up north. The first bach site played hide and seek and was not found until 1115. It was the site of S. Luxford according to the map.

One of the baches at Beacon End

One of the baches at Beacon End

There was no bach left but its footprint in the scrub can still be seen. Amazingly there were still remnants of beehives and evidence that the island at one time contributed to the honey industry—Pohutukawa honey! The second and last site for the day was the Eagles family bach. The bach was amazing and in such an idyllic spot. You could tell it was a happy place full of lasting memories. This was the last site to be visited due to allowing the 2 hours for the trek back to catch the ferry. No ship material was seen on that day, but not to worry as I have over 100 sites still to visit. Also, Rangitoto is deceivingly large, I managed to clock up 13.5km walking today. Not bad for 5 hours of work!

The Day of Archaeology was just the first day of fieldwork for this project. If you would like to follow the rest of the project, please see our blog at http://rangitotoarchaeology14.wordpress.com.

Rangitoto at sunrise

Rangitoto at sunrise