Where Have all the Steam Ferries Gone?

Posted by Website Admin on 20 September 2013 | Comments

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S.S. Toroa in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Graham Stewart

The paddle steamer Emu was the first steam ferry on the Waitemata, running from the Auckland wharves to Flagstaff (later Devonport) on the North Shore in 1860. The Emu unfortunately was wrecked on rocks off Motutapu Island after only a few months service.  A number of companies built and operated ferries   but the major growth in services began in 1881 with the formation of the Devonport Steam Ferry Co. These early steam ferries were paddle steamers and served the growing need to transport people and goods across the Waitemata Harbour.

13525937 Old ferry 3

Fergusson Limited Industra Series Postcard

By the turn of the century the paddle steamers were becoming worn out and inadequate and new ferries were designed for the Devonport Steam Ferry Co.
In 1902, a double-ended screw steam ferry entered service – the Condor, built in Scotland and assembled in Auckland. Condor was originally single-decked, designed on an American model to carry passengers and vehicles. She was later converted to a two-decked passenger ferry on the pattern of the Albatross of 1904, the first of a fleet of Auckland-built double-enders.
sir george grey 4 2
 View looking toward the Ferry Building, Auckland Ferry Terminus

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-2935

These larger and more efficient steam ferries served the needs of commuters through the first and second war years until 1959, when, with the opening of the Auckland Harbour bridge, the ferry service contracts were cancelled.  Vehicular ferries, the first four wooden hulled and steam-powered, also operated across the Waitemata harbour until the service ceased in 1959.

From 1904, eight double-ended steam passenger ferries and four steam-powered vehicular ferries were built for service on the Waitemata Harbour. All the vehicular steam ferries were scrapped shortly after the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1959. Some of the passenger ferries remained in service, but over the years the steamers were decommissioned one by one.

In 1980, Toroa, the last working steam ferry on the Waitemata, was taken out of service. In 1981, sister ships Makora, Takapuna, and The Peregrine, along with the diesel-powered vehicular ferry Korea, were broken up and buried in the reclamation which is now one of the car parks at Westhaven Marina. A sad end for four vessels that altogether had given the North Shore more than 140 years service. Kestrel, diesel-powered since 1951, continued on the Devonport run until 2002.

Toroa alone of all the double-enders has survived with steam machinery intact, and happily, in restorable condition.  When restored and operating again she will join the few remaining steam vessels in New Zealand to carry passengers – the Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu, the tug Lyttelton at Lyttelton and the tug William C Daldy on the Auckland Harbour -- and will provide the experience and romance of steam travel  to new generations of Aucklanders and visitors.

Double-Ended Screw Passenger Ferries on the Waitemata Harbour

NAME Year builder length ft PaSseNGeRS CREW REMARKS
Albatross 1904 C. Bailey Jnr 123 999 4 Ceased running 1959
Scrapped 1968
Kestrel 1905 C. Bailey Jnr 123 1258 4 Converted to diesel 1951
Converted to restaurant, Tauranga 2003-5
Returned to Auckland 2010. Awaiting restoration
Pupuke 1909 G.T. Niccol 100 738 3 Ceased running 1959
Beached on Ponui Island 1962 and later destroyed
The Peregrine 1912 C. Bailey Jnr 130 1364 4 Ceased running 1959
Broken up 1981
Ngoiro 1913 C. Bailey Jnr 101.8 836 4 Ceased running 1959
Machinery scrapped 1968
Converted to restaurant 1982
Ashore as yacht club & restaurant, Tairua
Makora 1921 C. Bailey Jnr 131 1190 4 Ceased running 1974
Broken up 1981
Engine survives in Waikato
Takapuna 1924 C. Bailey Jnr 130 1265 4 Ceased running 1967
Broken up 1981
Toroa 1925 G.T. Niccol 131 1221 4 Ceased running 1980
Under restoration to authentic, operational condition


Vehicular Ferries on the Waitemata Harbour

Condor 1902 Bow McClachan; assembled  G.T. Niccol 116.1 NA Built as single-deck vehicle/passenger ferry                                                                       Converted to passenger ferry 1906                                                                                  Broken up 1936
The Goshawk 1909 G.T. Niccol 124 35 Ceased running and scrapped 1959
The Sparrowhawk 1911 G.T. Niccol 105 20 Ceased running and scrapped 1959
Mollyhawk 1923 G.T. Niccol 108.75 36 Ceased running and scrapped 1959
Eaglehawk 1926 G.T. Niccol 120.6 36 Ceased running and scrapped 1959
Korea 1937 P. Vos 118 33 The last double-ended ferry built at Auckland, diesel powered
Ceased running 1959
Scrapped 1981; buried in Westhaven reclamation
Alex Alison
(ex-Frances Peat)
1930 Poole & Steele 138 48 Built Sydney, Australia. Operated Auckland 1946 to 1959
Sold to Tasmanian Government 1959; sank in Tasman Sea en route 1960
Ewen W. Alison
(ex-George Peat)
1930 Poole & Steele 138 48 Built Sydney, Australia. Operated Auckland 1946 to 1959. Sold to Tasmanian              Government 1959; renamed Mangana and still operating at Hobart