Dunedin Mayor Sukhi Turner and Ted Tamati, of Taranaki,
unveil a plaque at Vauxhall, in February 2003,
commemorating Maori prisoners who built the sea wall.
Construction of sea walls on the Otago Peninsula began in
the late 1860s as a dray road between Portobello and Dunedin
moved from high on the hill to the water's edge.
On the other side of the harbour, an example of 1870s-era
walling remains in the old railway causeways near Blanket
Bay, on State Highway 88 to Port Chalmers.
Many early sea walls on Portobello Rd were moved in the
1920s; new walls were built using the old style of
construction and included original materials.
The Peninsula Rd board, which had wide-reaching powers and
even issued dog licences, was responsible for construction
and employed wallers.
The board's minutes show small contracts were often awarded
to local farmers or builders until World War 2, Dunedin-based
independent archaeologist Dr Jill Hamel said.
"They learned from one-another. There was no trimming of
rock, unlike stonemasons who were apprenticed. It was another
"They would use rocks which came to hand. The ad hoc
development meant the walls are incredibly variable.
"No two 100m sections were the same, really. It's modern
construction which has uniformity."
Prisoners - some of them Maori political prisoners of war
transported to Otago in the late 1860s during the wars in
Southern Taranaki - were used to build the Anderson's Bay
Dunedin City Council transportation and operations projects
engineer Evan Matheson said council was committed to
maintaining the walls.
"Council acknowledge it's a fantastic seawall left by city
forefathers, and we are keen to maintain it because of the
obvious aesthetic and historic value, and as a tourist
"There has been a maintenance backlog which was inherited.
We've been in catch-up mode for the last five to six years
but are approaching the stage where the worst sites have been
attended to and now getting to preventative rather reactive
By March, the council will have allocated three contract
packages in the past 12 months, each worth about $200,000.
"Contractors construct up to 40sq m of wall a week with a
small four- to six-man team."
But repairing existing walls is not cheap; recent repairs to
100sq m of wall between Deborah Bay and Carey's Bay cost
between $20,000 and $25,000.
"It is very robust, and we'd expect, with maintenance, to get
100 years-plus out of hand-built walls. The mass placed rock
is not as robust, and not that much cheaper, surprisingly."
The council was now compiling a list of areas to be upgraded,
and surveying areas outside the harbour, such as walls near
Allan's Beach and Papanui Inlet.
•Unearthing harbour's past
As redevelopment work is undertaken around Otago Harbour,
small but significant nuggets of the area's history are often
In 2006, the newly constructed walkway between Magnet St and
Ravensbourne revealed some 19th-century walling.
A member of the public noticed some unusual rock formations
on the harbour edge. The Otago Regional Council asked the
contractors building the walkway to contact the Historic
Places Trust about the find.
The trust employed archaeologist Dr Jill Hamel to investigate
and she discovered the wall was built more than 110 years
Dr Hamel said the retaining wall, or titching, was built
along a causeway in 1892. It is located beside the Ravensdown
The basalt rock retaining wall was thought to have been built
to help form the causeway where the railway line was located.
The line has since been moved away from the shore, because of
erosion. The wall can be seen only at low tide.