Read Jane's blog Between land and sea: Jetties of Lyttelton Harbour for stories and photos of our jetty (and its jetty cousins past and present in Lyttelton Harbour).

Jane Robertson has eloquently captured the history of local jetties in a forthcoming history of settlements at the head of Lyttelton harbour.

The following segments are from the jetties chapter of her Heads of the Harbour book. The copyright belongs to Jane and any reproduction must be with her permission and acknowledge her as the author. Many thanks to Jane for sharing.

Jetties at the head of the harbour

Wharves and jetties are a good measure of the changing nature of industry and transport at the head of the harbour. Of the approximately seven jetties that were once in use between Teddington and Sandy Bay, only one remains, earthquake damaged and marooned at mid-low tide. The histories of the others are generally opaque and often confusing.


The second of the two earliest jetties in Governors Bay was probably the outcome of an inspection, conducted by Thomas Potts and the Provincial Engineer Edward Dobson in December 1858, to determine the site for a public jetty in Governors Bay. It was decided that “that portion of the beach almost contiguous to Mr Perceval’s garden” would be the best option.1...


Clearly this jetty was unsatisfactory in the longer term because local residents met in March 1874 to decide on the site for another jetty. 


A newspaper report in April 1874 mentioned that “when the new [Governor’s Bay] jetty is finished” it is intended to run a steamer daily between the Bay and Lyttelton. In July tenders were being called for the construction of the jetty and by November the Press was advertising land for sale “situated close to the New Jetty.”2 By January 1877 Agar & Roberts were advertising a twice-daily steam launch run between Lyttelton and Governors Bay at a fare of 4/- return.


By 1910 the future of the short jetty was in doubt. The Lyttelton Harbour Board decided, as an economy measure, to close the ‘upper wharf’ at Governors Bay. 3 A petition opposing closure was signed by most bay residents and a deputation presented the petition to the Harbour Board deputy-chairman.

Arguments in favour of the ‘upper wharf’ included its accessibility by road, making it much handier for visitors and less expensive for commerce than the ‘lower jetty’ at the north-east end of the bay (Perceval’s or Sandy Bay Point). The deputation indicated that residents not only wanted to retain the upper wharf but that they also wanted to lengthen it and dredge an approaching channel. The costs would be covered by a toll levied on visitors using the jetty.

In October 1912 the Harbour Improvement Committee recommended that the upper Governors Bay jetty be extended to enable launches to use it regardless of the state of the tide. An extension to combat harbour silting was built in 1915 and another to produce the ‘long jetty’ we are all familiar with, in 1927. At the time of the 1915 extension, Eddie Radcliffe was going to school in Governors Bay. After school the children would rush down the jetty where there was a trolley on railway lines that transported materials to the construction end. The workmen would allow the children to get into the trolley and push themselves up and down the jetty!4


By the time of its final extension in 1927 the jetty was 230 metres long.

Inspections in 1993 and 1994 revealed cause for concern about its condition. Twenty new piles were driven under the jetty in 1997. The pile driver was mounted on a flat barge made from mussel buoys. At the sea end of the jetty the 10-metre long piles went four metres into the silt. Typically about a third of the work was done by local volunteers in order to keep costs down. By May 1999, $68,814 had been spent to bring it up to scratch.5


As road access improved more farmers opted to transport their produce directly over the hill, since sea transport involved multiple handling – vehicle to the jetty, steamer to Lyttelton, vehicle to the rail and once again from the rail head in Christchurch to the market. Visitors opted to drive over the hill rather than rely on the tide-dependent steamers. And so the remaining jetties became increasingly redundant, until only the long jetty remained, used for walking along and fishing from, but seldom for boating purposes.


1  T.H. Potts to Provincial Secretary, 9/12/1858, Archives New Zealand, CAAR CH287 19936 Box CP 16.

2 Press, Volume XXII, Issue 2888, 21 November 1874, Page 3.

3Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 13885, 9 November 1910, NEWS OF THE DAY, 8.

4 Interview with Murray Radcliffe, 14 August 2014

5 J. Nicol, Harbour Link, Issue 20, May 1999.