The Hikitia is Coming Home

28 October 2009

Following five months of refurbishment at Lyttelton, the floating crane the Hikitia is expected to be welcomed back to Wellington harbour this weekend.

This was the first time the Hikitia has left Wellington since it arrived in 1926 from Paisley in Scotland.

"It's going to be an exciting day," says Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast. "There's been a gap at Taranaki Street Wharf while it's been away, and it will be fantastic to see it back.

"It's not only an important part of our city's heritage, but it's a real achievement for maritime enthusiasts - the Hikitia is the only working crane ship of its kind in the world."

Malcolm McGregor of the Maritime Heritage Trust of Wellington says they have been working up to this day for years.

"We've been actively raising money for a long time. We were delighted to get a Council grant last year for the refurbishment, and fundraising has been much easier since we secured that.

"The last few months have been a real adventure for us - from getting the funding we needed, to towing the ship down to the contractors at Lyttelton to do this refurbishment work."

Work included water blasting, repairing and painting the hull, crane structure and the main deck.

"While the Hikitia was in Lyttelton for a bit of rest, relaxation and a serious makeover, she did a little bit of work for the Lyttelton Port too, while she was there. She relocated a cool store for them last week," says Malcolm.

It is expected that the work that the Hikitia will do while based in Wellington harbour will fund restorative work on a more regular basis. The Maritime Trust is working on a 100-year plan to ensure that the ship is maintained on a regular basis including major scheduled repairs every five or 10 years.

The log of the Hikitia's delivery voyage in 1926 - heading west from Glasgow, past the Azores, the Panama Canal and through the Pacific - is held at Wellington City Archives.

The Hikitia is the twin of Rapaki in Auckland. Both ships were built from the same set of drawings by Sir William Carroll in 1925 and 1926 in Glasgow. While the Hikitia continues as a steam-operated working ship, the Rapaki is now a museum ship.

The spruced-up 83-year-old was initially scheduled to berth at the harbour in its old place next to Te Papa at around 12 noon on Saturday. However, because of a few hiccups in the towing schedule as well as the possibility of tumultuous weather at the weekend, the Hikitia might not arrive until Sunday or Monday.

If you want to be notified of the ship's arrival an hour or so beforehand, email Malcolm McGregor at malcolm.mcgregor@paradise.net.nz before Friday 29 October with your name, organisation and contact details and he'll give you a call on the day.