In late 1840 Auckland was settled as the colony's capital, chosen for its central location and its natural harbour. Despite the harbour being sited at Official Bay and Commercial Bay on large tidal mudflats with unsatisfactory wharf facilities, the township quickly established itself as a hub of a growing overseas and coastal maritime trade.
In 1853, after the Constitution Act came into force, control of the Waitemata passed from the Governor to the Auckland Provincial Council. For the next 18 years while it controlled the port, the Provincial Council made some necessary improvements: constructing the first Queen Street Wharf, which was used mainly by overseas vessels; a quay along Customs Street for coastal and small ships, and a breakwater from Britomart Point.
The Auckland Harbour Board Act 1871, passed by the Provincial Council, established a board to administer the port. The inaugural board, which held its first meeting on 1 June 1871, elected Captain William Crush Daldy as its chairman. Immediate on the board's agenda was the pressing demands for better wharf facilities and over the next 20 years, substantial reclamation work was undertaken around Mechanics Bay, Customs Street, Point Britomart, and Hobson Street, permitting the construction of a railway wharf and improving dockyards. Work was also undertaken at Devonport and the Calliope Dock, when it opened in 1888, was the largest drydock in the Southern Hemisphere.
By 1912 the port had expanded further: an imposing feature was the impressive Queen Street wharf projecting out into the harbour. Work around the docks was labour intensive, however the first electric cranes to assist cargo handling were installed and a new Ferry Building was commissioned to service the growing inter-harbour ferry services.
Passenger services to ports such as London, Sydney, and San Francisco had been in place since the nineteenth-century, but by the mid-1930s large passenger liners were visiting the port regularly.
The Second World War ceased the tourist trade altogether, but after America joined the war in 1941, part of the Pacific fleet was based in Auckland, necessitating further expansion of port storage facilities and land reclamation. The volume of goods and ships increased massively. During 1943 104 warships and 284 transports visited Auckland (many converted passenger liners), and to cope with the workload the port began working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Passenger services and cargo-handling again dominated port life in the post-war period, and in 1961 the Harbour Board completed the Import and Freyberg Wharves as well as the new overseas passenger terminal on Princess Wharf. In the late 1960s, recognising the inevitability of containerisation, the Board quickly built the deep-sea Fergusson Container Terminal (later renamed Axis Fergusson) at the eastern end of the commercial port. Opened in 1971, the first container vessel arrived in 1973.
Further structural changes occurred in 1988, when the Government passed the Port Companies Act, which provided for the formation of companies to carry out and control ownership of port-related commercial activities, and set out requirements for the accountability and ownership of such companies. Ports of Auckland Ltd bought the Auckland Harbour Board's land and assets and commenced business in October 1988. In its first years of operation, the company made substantial organisational changes, significantly reduced its workforce, fundamentally altered its working practices, and increased productivity.
As of 2005, the Port of Auckland is still New Zealand's largest and busiest port, providing container, conventional, and passenger shipping facilities, however it is dramatically different from that started in 1871: nothing of the original timber wharves constructed prior to 1903 remains. Instead, a more expansive and capital intensive facility, (Australasia's third largest container terminal), handles 33 percent of the country's exports by value and 68 percent of imports by value with container-handling representing about 80 percent of the company's business. Ports of Auckland also operates the Manukau Harbour port of Onehunga, a base for coastal and Pacific services.
Handling cargo in 1917.
Aerial view of the Port 2005
The modern container port.