Waterfront reclamation

Much of Wellington waterfront is reclaimed land.

Map showing original shoreline and reclaimed land.
The wharves are some distance from the original 1840 shoreline

Land was scarce in Wellington from the beginning, when 1,100 town-acre lots were pegged out in 1840, with few spaces for public buildings or parks, and public access to the harbour restricted to the northern end of the town. In the early years small reclamations were carried out and these were private concerns, as were the first wharves. But the need for further expansion out into the harbour was soon realised

It was in the 1850s that the first sizeable reclamations took place, starting with a 360'x100' extension below Willis Street in 1852 built by C R Carter (who did much of the early reclamation and seawall work) at a cost of £1,036. By the end of the 1870s some 70 acres of land had been reclaimed by the Government, provincial and city councils by using spoil from the hills behind Lambton Quay and from Wadestown Hill. The new seawalls ran almost in a straight line from the bottom of Willis Street to Pipitea Point. 

The first deep-water wharves were constructed in the area which became Queens Wharf, the first pile being driven in 1862, but most of the Te Aro foreshore and its wharves remained privately owned.

From 1880 (when Wellington Harbour Board was formed) to the turn of the century saw some major developments, including reclamation north of Pipitea Point for railways. Land south of Queens Wharf in the Te Aro area was extended seaward with reclamations carried out by the Council, removing the last vestiges of private ownership of the foreshore. By the end of the 19th century, the 1840 shoreline had disappeared.

The following 30 years saw further reclamations for Railways and Harbour Board purposes, more wharves, the building of a seawall at Oriental Bay and a boat harbour at Clyde Quay.

The next and final phase of reclamation in Lambton Harbour took place in the 1960s and 1970s, when new methods of cargo handling − containerisation and roll-on/roll-off cargoes − required more land next to ships berths. Reclamation was carried out on both side of Queens Wharf and, most significantly, the container terminal was created by a large reclamation at Thorndon (the first container ship berthed on 19 June 1971). Today the terminal has 24.3ha of back-up space capable of holding some 6,284 containers.

To trace the original shoreline in Lambton Harbour, the Historic Places Trust has placed 14 plaques around the city, from the site of Pipitea Point (south side of Davis Street and Thorndon Quay, in the Railways shunting yards) along Lambton Quay, through Mercer Street, Lower Cuba Street, Wakefield Street to Oriental Parade at the northern corner of Herd Street. 

Old Shoreline Trail (1.37MB PDF)