Colonial times

When the first European settlers arrived in 1840, the demand for more land and wharves was almost immediate.

Historic image of Te Aro Flats - now Wellington waterfront.

Historic image of Te Aro Flats - now Wellington waterfront


The first New Zealand Company settlers actually didn’t care much for Wellington itself when they first set foot in New Zealand, and settled in Petone instead. But shallow anchorage, rough tides and the exposed nature of the site saw them start to move down to Lambton Harbour.

Lambton Harbour was deeper and had fewer hazards than the Petone shoreline. The potential for wharfage was recognised, with the only problem being the lack of usable land.

Reclamation and essential infrastructure was needed to help shape it into one of New Zealand’s most important ports, and from then until the 1970s, most of the goods and people that came and went from Wellington did so via the harbour.

Port Nicholson is said to have been named by Captain James Herd who sailed into the Harbour of Tara in 1826 and left it with its first European name, calling it after Sydney’s Harbourmaster Captain John Nicholson.

Lambton Harbour is thought to have been named by Colonel Wakefield in 1839 in honour of the Earl of Durham whose family was called Lambton.  The Earl was the Governor of the New Zealand Company, which brought the first settlers to our shores. An alternative source could have been the cutter Lambton, commanded by Captain Barnett, who produced one of the earliest charts of the harbour in 1826.