Mapua's Changing Tides

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Mapua's changing tides

On a Sunday afternoon in the summer down at the Mapua Wharf, with teenagers and kids leaping off the wharf and parents enjoying a coffee at a nearby café, it is very difficult to imagine anything different. The sheds, in which there are now buzzing retail outlets, and the wharf, that has now a reputation for family fun, were once busy in a very different kind. The wharf began as an exporting point for apples, other fruit and flax and it shaped the development of Mapua.

The Beginning and the Wharf's Purpose

The first wharf in the vicinity of Mapua was situated at the end of Bronte Road. It was known at the time as Bronte Landing. Scows would make their way into to the Waimea estuary and flax fibre was taken back into Nelson. Not  long after, the wharf was relocated with the jetty being moved closer to the entrance into Mapua, known as the Western Entrance. 

Mapua from the air. Nelson Photo News, August 19, 1961.
Click image to enlarge

In 1912 it was announced that a shed was to be installed for the safe-keeping of produce. In 1913 the jetty needed to be upgraded to allow for the growing export of fruit from around the area. The estimated cost was £69 -11-6.  This started the era of Mapua as a fruit shipping port, beginning with regular shipments of up to a ton of strawberries a week. Mapua celebrated the building of the wharf  and the success of the business that it was bringing to the small area of Mapua.

As there was no luxury of "roll on roll off"1 Mr Weyergang, the wharfinger at the time, ordered a small winch and a boom in order to get things on and off the boats.

A more substantial wharf was built in 1915 and with that came requests for a road joining Mapua to Appleby and to Motueka. The  minister said "why should the Tasman people get something no-one else got?"2.

However, whoever made the decision about the installation of a road was on the locals' side and they were later notified that they had six hundred pounds for a road to the Moutere and one thousand pounds for a road to Appleby. The only catch being that it had to be completed in a very short time. They tried to begin the construction of the road, but there were a few things that held up progress, one being weather. It was said at the time "a start on the work is anticipated as soon as the weather clears up"3. It became apparent that the addition of the new road was going to bring a lot of business to Mapua and the surrounding areas.

The Rise and Fall of The Mapua Wharf and surrounding areas

As the wharf became an export area for the burgeoning apple industry's produce more people came to Mapua, and more amenities and services to support them.  Social occasions began to occur and shops opened.

Social dances began happening annually in the packing sheds, with music supplied by the Mahana Orchestra. An old horse named Dick would pull around a sack of oats to polish the floor to make it suitable for dancing. The whole district would come to these "events of the year" , which would carry on until well into the morning.

Schooling in the early years of Mapua's "founding" had never happened, as there were not enough children around for a school to be worthwhile. However in 1915 five children of school age meant a school could commence in the sitting room of Mr Higgs' home. It was not long until it relocated to Mr J. Senior's barn. Mrs Weyergang did say "from the rafters straw from the starlings' nests used to drift down and sometimes other little oddments, unnameable and disliked by all the other little girls"4. In 1917 Mapua School started with a roll of 19 pupils which was pleasantly surprising for those running the school, as it showed it was worthwhile.

In July 1921, 33,865 cases had passed over the wharf since the beginning of the year, showing a remarkable increase of business around Tasman. The same year the first store opened in Mapua located in the same place as it is now. By 1948 export numbers had grown massively, with 550,000 cases passing over the wharf in the apple season.

In 1922 a newly built wharf officially opened on the 3rd of February. This led to the Nelson Port having very little participation in the exporting of fruit from the Nelson Region, as they were able to get bigger ships into Mapua.  A telephone connection was established at Mapua,  with the Nelson Harbour Board paying a 1/3 of the cost which was also made available within a few months of the wharf's 1922 opening.

Mapua's community was growing rapidly. An old packing shed seemed like a very good location for a gathering place for the population. It opened as a community hall on June 26th 1931. It had many rooms which were used for meetings, mostly for the fruitgrowers of the region. The coolstore served as the Community Hall until 1945, when the hall in Aranui Road  was erected. Meetings were held there quite often, one of these being a meeting that was to ascertain the desire for electricity within the community . 100% were in favour.

However all this was reasonably short lived, as the Waterside Workers strike hit New Zealand in 1951. It created a state of emergency nationwide and signalled the end of the wharf as a fruit shipping port. Six months of apple exports were lost at Mapua. Port Nelson resumed loadings first and soon picked up the Mapua trade, with its better facilities. It was a tragedy for Mapua. Shipping was the centre of the community. The Wharf had provided many jobs which were lost. Orchardists were forced  to use alternative transport, taking produce to Nelson by road. By 1957 it became obvious Mapua was past its ‘heyday' as a shipping port.

Mapua Wharf. Tasman District Council
Click image to enlarge

After Commercial Shipping

In 1987 the Nelson Harbour Board was planning to pull the wharf down. A  group of locals rallied together to try and keep the wharf. They went to the Nelson Harbour Board to ask what could be done and it was suggested that they form a boat club. They got a 14 year lease on the wharf, including the surrounding sheds. However the "law changed and ownership was passed to the Tasman District Council".5 The boat club became responsible for the upkeep of the wharf deck, while the council maintained the substructure. The club had to raise funds for the upkeep of the wharf by charging launching and mooring and club membership fees.

The wharf is now a thriving tourist centre; it has a combination of restaraunts, boutiques and galleries. In the middle of summer Mapua is busy with cars, people staying at the Mapua Leisure Park and various Bed and Breakfasts nearby. In 2002 a photo museum by George Wallace was opened in the boat club building. This was in response to the new threats to the future of the wharf, with proposed changes to the leasing arrangements and the possibility that the wharf may be pulled down.

John Ward, as the president of the Mapua Boat Club in 2002,  created a survey that asked people what they would like to see happen to the wharf. These were left outside the boatclub building. It was not long before 1000 of these surveys were returned, with over 99% of people in favour of it staying as it was. Mapua Boat Club, that same year, became the "Guardians of the Wharf" which they incorporated into their name.

NatureSmoke, a business started by Dennis Crawford, is believed by many to have pulled Mapua out of the ‘deep end'. Naturesmoke was a buzzing little business and the success of it showed that there was a way for Mapua to still grow and develop. The Smokehouse restaraunt began soon after, attracting even more people. The Smokehouse became very well known around the country, "it was even put on postcards, showing off the building and the surrounding wharf and views, this attracted a lot of attention. Friends who came from as far away as Auckland would want to dine there when they visited"6 Susi Blackmore said.

For many years there was just a café culture in Mapua, but it has only been in ‘the last few years' 7 that Mapua has really taken off, with boutiques opening, and for a few years ‘Mapua Magic', a tourism business offering experiences such as jet boat trips around the estuary.

Since the closing of the wharf as an export centre, no other commercial vessel has ever crossed that sand bar. The Aroh  was the last commercial vessel inside the ‘Western Entrance'. Instead the estuary is now filled with recreational boats, children sea biscuiting and water skiing and people fishing.

The Wharf is now the absolute focal point of Mapua because of the boat club. Iola McPherson said " My heartfelt thanks go to those who gave us back the only piece left of historic Mapua..."8 and it is so true.

When you are next in Mapua, have a look at the wharf and the clubrooms. The deck may have been changed and that room may have been renovated, but they remind us of an important piece of the Nelson region's history.

Bryony Blackmore, Nelson College for Girls, 2011

Sources used in this story

  1. Ward, John, Interview, 11/6/2011
  2. Wells, B.  (1990) The Fruits of Labour, A History of the Moutere Hills Area Served by the Port of Mapua Nelson, N.Z.: B L Wells
  3. Mapua (1913, November 21) The Colonist 
  4. Wells
  5. Ward
  6. Blackmore, Susi, Interview, 19/6/2011
  7. Blackmore
  8. Neal, Tracy (2006), Mapua Wharf, Hub of a Community Nelson, N.Z.:, Tasman District Council.

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  • Just wanted to check that you meant 'tonnes' in this article not 'tons' as it would have been then. Ed. It would have been tons and have amended. Thankyou

    Posted by Adi Tait, ()

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Further sources - Mapua's Changing Tides

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Interviews

  • Ward, John, Mapua, 11.06.2011
  • Blackmore, Susi, Mapua, 19.06.2011

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  • Mapua Boat Club Gallery, Mapua Wharf, 19.06.2011

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