New Zealand Historic Places Trust

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

Rangitoto at sunrise

Rangitoto at sunrise


New Zealand Archaeological Association 2012 Conference Fieldtrip

New Zealand Archaeological Association 2012 Conference Field Trip

The conference this year is being held in Oamaru in New Zealand’s South Island.  Two bus loads of archaeologists went on the field trip today – coincidentally the Day of Archaeology – it is a feature of every annual conference run by the Association.

There is information about the Association and the conference including a programme here:

The conference programme and abstracts can be downloaded here.


Inspecting the Awamoko shelter site

Inspecting the Awamoko shelter site


Oamaru is renowned in New Zealand for its architecture. It had early wealth from its fine agricultural land, first in exporting grain but later from other crops, and pastoral farming. The wealth of the town in the late 1800s was reflected in its classical architecture. The buildings utilised a local white limestone – Oamaru stone, which was valued for building here and elsewhere in Australia and New Zealand


One of the buildings in Oamaru

The area is also rich in prehistoric sites. Early Maori sites occur at river and estuary mouths. They commonly have the bones of New Zealand giant extinct birds, moa, but also other birds, marine mammals and fish exploited by the first residents.

The most notable prehistoric sites in the area are the rock art sites that occur in overhang shelters and caves along the valleys in, and at the margins of the limestone. These date from the whole of Maori occupation and into the contact period where settler items also appear.

Out field trip visited a number of these sites, on a cold clear day, where there was fresh snow on the adjacent hills. We were guided by Maori manawhenua (people of the land) Ngai Tahu who have an active programme in preserving and studying these sites. Brian Allingham who works with them and has long studied them talked at each of the five sites visited as did Amanda Symon, curator of the Ngai Tahu Maori Rock Art Trust. They requested that any website use of images has their approval. As a consequence it is only the social views that appear here, but there are many images on the web – see the links.

The images we saw in the sites we went to included a spiral carved into the rock and drawings of people, dogs and animal forms. At other sites there are pictures of birds, canoes and many decorative elements.

Entering a decorated shelter

The Te Ana rock art museum in Timaru is a great place to start a visit to the area  It is run by the Maori manawhenua, Ngai Tahu.

Some more information on rock art can be found here and here and here and here.
A google search for images can be made here

Amanda Symon - one of our guides

Amanda Symon – one of our guides

Shelter near Duntroon

The buses near Duntroon

Walking between sites in the limestone outcrops

Snow on the Southern Alps foothills


The last stop on the trip was at Otekaieke. This is a grand estate house built in the Scottish manorial style by an immigrant Scot, Robert Campbell. He imported Scots craftsmen to assist in its construction. It is one of a number of like estates in the South Island built on wool wealth. Huge sheep runs were the locations of all these estates. It was only occupied as a house for a few years before Campbell died young, followed shortly after by his widow. They had no descendants. It was subsequently part of the series of estates broken up around 1900 under Government pressure to create more land for small farmers. The home and site was later a boy’s reformatory school but went out of that use and is now privately owned. The gardens are now much degraded and the site cluttered with a diverse range of more modern buildings dating from the school use.


Otekaieke – Robert Campbell’s great estate


The New Zealand Historic Places Trust register entries for the house and the associated stables can be seen here:

There is more about the station history  here.

A fuller set of pictures from the trip can be seen here on facebook.

The site locations are here on Google Maps