Auckland’s TWO harbours!

To the east of Auckland City, there is the WAITEMATA HARBOUR, and to the west of Auckland, there is the MANUKAU HARBOUR.

The Waitemata is literally translated to mean; wai: waters, te: the, mata: obsidian, flint, quartz. i.e. “waters smooth as obsidian” and is popularly called “sparkling waters”. This harbour is an ancient drowned valley system (of the Miocene Age, some 15-25 million years ago). There are many islands at the entrance to this harbour, (including Rangitoto Island, the conical-shaped extinct volcano, which lies about 4km from Auckland!). Although Captain James Cook made note of these islands in 1769, he sailed past the harbour without venturing inland. It wasn’t until 1820 when an American officer named Clark bordered the vessel ‘Prince Regent’ and took a journey from the Bay of Islands (in Northland), down the east coastline to Auckland. He disembarked on Motukorea (Browns) Island from where he made his way up to the head, then crossed to the west coast which he followed back up to Northland again. (This journey took 25 days).

The first large sailing ship to have come into the harbour was the French ship Astrolabe. Commanded by Jules Sebastian Cesar Dumont d’Urville on 25 February 1827. D’Urville explored the inner harbour in a whaleboat, setting foot on the North Shore (near the present-day Devonport Naval Base).

The Waitemata Harbour has become the predominant harbour for Auckland due to it being a safer and calmer harbour compared to the Manukau Harbour’s waters. During the early 1900’s the foreshores of the Waitemata were a bustling industry of ships and trade. There was a lot of loading of the native Kauri timber done from here, logs coming from the Waitakere Ranges. At Saint Mary’s Bay, (which has now been reclaimed to form the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge), there was Auckland’s two largest Kauri saw mills. These were; The Kauri Timber Company, and Goldie’s Saw Milling Company. Some of the timber for these mills was sourced from an area of land at Muriwai, owned by Sir Edwin Mitchelson, (and the original owner of Coast to Coast Tour’s farm).

Today, the harbour is the venue for the largest single day regatta in the world, on Auckland City’s anniversary day, 29th January each year. More than 900 yachts and launches compete in many racing events, on this region’s public holiday. It is no wonder that Auckland has coined the name “City of Sails”! At this harbour’s outer shore spans the Auckland Harbour Bridge, (opened in 1959). Across to the upper harbour is another bridge linking Hobsonville on the west to Greenhithe on the east. Traffic flows around Auckland are always hampered during rush hours due to the narrowness of the Auckland landmass; (as Auckland is an isthmus).

view of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour (from Waitakere Ranges)

PHOTO: Rangitoto Island (Left), Auckland Harbour Bridge (Centre), Auckland City (Right)


Take the Coast to Coast West Auckland Wilderness Tour for exceptional sightseeing

The Manukau is literally translated to mean; manu: bird, kau: wading (or swimming). Even though this is a relatively shallow harbour, (hence its name), it is a large harbour, and boasts being the second largest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere! This harbour opens up into the Tasman sea, through a narrow (and treacherous) channel. Because it is the shortest distance between New Zealand and Australia, it was the most popular route of sea-travel, but due to the shifting sand bars resulting in shipwrecks, (with many lives lost), a longer, more safer route is now favoured; that of going around the top of the North Island and down the east coast to Auckland.

According to Maori history, the ancestral canoe Tainui was the first of the great canoes to reach the Manukau when it was hauled over the Tamaki isthmus from the Waitemata Harbour in the 14th Century. Many Maori made their villages around the shores as this was a valuable fishing ground for shellfish and flounder. It is probable that the first European to see the Manukau was the missionary the Reverend Samuel Marsden, who described the harbour in some detail when he crossed the Auckland isthmus in 1820.

When the NZ Wars broke out in 1863 there were supporters of the Maori “King Movement” who were living around the southern shores of the Manukau. These supporters were suspected of attempting an attack on Auckland, so the Auckland Coastguards, (later the Auckland Naval Artillery), chased the occupants and took possession of 21 large canoes, (presumably the transport for the attack). A further expedition some months later found more canoes, but the prize find was the 25 metre historic wake taua (war canoe), Toki-a-Tapiri (the axe of Tapiri) which is now exhibited as the centre piece in the Maori Hall of the Auckland Museum.

Later in history, this harbour was also used for timber trade.

It is amazing how different Auckland’s two harbours are, and we are very fortunate to be in such close proximity to enjoy them both!