Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Whau Canal proposal, early 1883

(From Weekly News, 17 February 1883)

Of late the project of cutting the Whau Canal, and thus giving water communication between the Manukau and the Waitemata harbours has come into prominence through the correspondence columns of the Press. Could ready access between the two harbours be thus given to the coastal, intercolonial, and foreign shipping, it would be a matter of the highest importance. The tramway of canal reserve, as marked on the plan of the Whau district for many years past, starts from the western side of Green or Fisherman’s Bay on the Manukau Shore, where there is five fathoms of water, skirts the foot of the Titirangi ranges, and thence down the Whau valley, passing to the eastward of Whau North township, and thence to the head of the Whau Creek. Capt. Drury, of H.M.S. Pandora, twenty-five years ago, estimated the cost of the work at a million sterling. That involved a cutting of a third of a mile through the hill, where the Manukau blockhouse is situate, and which rises over 800 feet above the sea level. This is the only serious engineering difficulty on the route; but this line necessitates following the course of the Whau creek (the detour of which lengthens the line by two miles), or cutting a fresh channel across the bends.

Settlers in the Whau district who are thoroughly conversant with the proposed canal line have recently pointed out that there existed another route, which might prove cheaper, and has at least the merit of being much shorter and direct, the distance from deep water on the Manukau side, at Green Bay, to deep water on the Waitemata side, at a point opposite Kauri Point, being only four miles. In the new line also it is proposed to cut the hill on which the Manukau block-house stands, and which seems to be composed of soft sandstone, but instead of skirting the Titirangi range, to go straight down the Whau valley, passing eastward of the Whau North township, and through the Rosebank estate to the sea, where a channel would have to be dredged out for a mile from the present foreshore, when the deep water channel which passes Kauri Point would be reached. On the Manukau side the excavations would enable Green Bay to be reclaimed very easily, giving to the Whau South township a considerable area of flat land conveniently situated to the deep water frontage; and on the Waitemata side similar reclamations could be made of several hundred acres of the shallow reaches on either side of the proposed dredged out channel. We understand that the Whau (Avondale) Highway Board are so impressed with the future importance of the Waitemata foreshore of their district that they are desirous of having it conveyed to them as an endowment.

It is stated that no difficulty would arise in getting the necessary concession of land from the owners of the various properties through which the proposed new canal line would go, as the work, when executed, would increase the value of property adjacent. Some people are of opinion that the scheme is premature, but at least there can be no harm in discussing it from every point of view. What was the dream of yesterday is not infrequently in this go-ahead age the fact of to-day and history to-morrow. When the Panama Canal has been completed, and its effect upon New Zealand and Australian commerce fully ascertained, no doubt the leading engineers will look round to see in what other direction the route between England and Australasia can be shortened, and then the saving to vessels of the 500 miles caused by the detour round the North Cape will become a matter for serious consideration.

There is one matter to which the attention of the Government has been directed, and it is one which it will have to face sooner or later – the opening up of the Whau (Avondale) Manukau-road connecting the former township with the Government township laid out at South Whau. There are two works on the route laid out which are quite beyond the limited means of the District Highway Board – a bridge over the gully at the south-east corner of Mr. John Buchanan’s property, and the other a bridge over Stoney Creek. The cost of these works is estimated at £400, and it is stated by resident settlers well qualified to pronounce an opinion on the subject, the Government would be duly recouped the expenditure by the increased value given to the sections in the South Whau township, and to Government land adjacent. These works done, the Board feels itself able to undertake the duty of forming the rest of the road, and making it available for wheeled traffic. Owing to the gully being unbridged, a detour of about a mile and a half has to be made with vehicles, which could and ought to be avoided, as the surveyed line is a straight and direct one.

Several attempts have been made to get the Government to take the matter in hand, on the very lowest ground, that of self-interest, but the stereotyped reply, “That there are no funds available for the purpose,” has hitherto prevented any practical steps being taken. Were these South Whau township lands, 574 acres in area, and those of North Whau township, 72 acres in extent, in private hands, the matter would not require five minutes consideration, as the landowner would be well aware that these proposed improvements, while of necessity benefiting the district, would at the same time double the value of his property. The South Whau township is admirably situated, in having deep water frontage to the Manukau harbour, the importance of which will be appreciated more and more as our commerce with the South increases, and the importance of saving a tide becomes a matter of consideration with the interprovincial steamers. Already the Highway District Board, seeing the possibilities of the future, have applied to the Government to set aside a portion of the township as a pleasure and recreation reserve, and the Government have recognised the propriety of such a request. In the days to come it will assuredly be a centre of population from its excellent geographical position, and it is well to take time by the forelock.

At present South Whau looks, as many of our now thriving townships have done, an expanse of fern. The blockhouse, a relic of the Waikato war of 1863, stands in ruins on the crest of the hill (with its loop-holed embrasures and half filled trenches), dominating the country for miles round, and at the time of our visit the other day, only the haunt of nomadic gumdiggers, who prowl over the adjacent Crown lands for gum. Nothing of a warlike character now remains to remind one of the dark days of civil war, but the bottles (empty) of “Three Dagger” and “Battle axe” strewn in the trenches. Down on the margin of the pretty little bay at the foot of the cliff (Green or Fisherman’s Bay), coming into vogue now as a popular resort of picnic parties, lives the “oldest inhabitant” of the locality, a Belge, rejoicing in the cosmopolitan name of Smith. Formerly he had a mate, who died somewhat suddenly of some complaint, but Smith still clings in solitary loneliness to the old Robinson Crusoe life, in the little cove, two formidable mastiffs who have “a deal of openness when they smile,” doing duty for the man Friday. Here, fishing and gumdigging, the old man wiles away his remaining years. If his assets are few, his wants are fewer. The bursting up of a bank has no terrors for him, as it never upsets his balance. Some day civilisation and progress will get into the charming little bay, and Smith, the representative of Arcadian simplicity, will be requested to “move on.”


  1. You have been very very busy. This is seriously looking very very awesome Ice. See you've put the links up for the websites. You're getting some fans too I see. I like this post on the canal. Heck the estimated cost for the time was massive. Probably would have bankrupted a heap of investors if the canal project had ever gone ahead.

  2. Many thanks, Elation. Good to hear from you again.