17 Nov 2016

Long-lost maritime history uncovered in Taranaki

8:43 pm on 17 November 2016

Heavy spring swells have revealed a piece of maritime history in Taranaki.

Spring swells have uncovered a ship wreck in Taranaki.

Spring swells have uncovered a ship wreck in Taranaki. Photo: Jenny Russell-McKenzie

The framework of the schooner Falcon, which beached at Opunake Beach in 1870, is now peaking out from the sand at low tide.

Opunake Beach Holiday Park owner Jenny Russell-McKenzie said she became aware of the wreck at the weekend.

"I'd actually seen it and thought there was something out there and was about to go and investigate when one of the older locals gave me a ring.

"He's Ian Smith and he alerted me to it and told me it was an old shipwreck but he wasn't quite sure which one it was."

Ms Russell-McKenzie said just a few wooden ribs and metal fastenings of the wreck were visible, but that had been enough to get the whole community buzzing.

"The local community has been quite fascinated and there's been a lot of people coming down and having a look.

"But there are a lot of shipwrecks around Taranaki from way back when, so it's not been so much shock as fascination that something's been there for such a long time and just slowly become uncovered now."

Spring swells have uncovered a ship in Taranaki.

Spring swells have uncovered a ship in Taranaki. Photo: Jenny Russell-McKenzie

With her interest piqued, Ms Russell-McKenzie took to Facebook to see if she could find out more about the wreck.

Mollie Olliver from the Aotea Utanganui Museum of Patea was one of those who replied.

"It took quite a while to find it but eventually I came up with it being the Falcon schooner, which was stranded at Opunake Bay on March 23, 1870 and that appeared to be the only ship wrecked on the sand in the bay there."

The 42-tonne 62-foot wooden schooner was built at Coromandel in May, 1864.

Ms Olliver said the Falcon, with Captain J T Cicely at the helm, had sailed from New Plymouth to deliver a cargo of timber.

"Yeah I think it was putting into Opunake and it was heading for Opunake Bay, and the wind was from the southwest and it just sort of blew it in and it obviously never recovered, and it got blown up on the beach."

The Puke Ariki Museum in New Plymouth also got in touch with Ms Russell-McKenzie.

Its manager, Kelvin Day, was able to add to the story.

"These boats are designed to come ashore. They're schooners so beaching them wasn't too much of a problem but the following day they apparently found that there had been some damage done to the hull and there was even more water in it and it was at that point it was decided it was basically a wreck and it was sold."

Margaret de Jardine's book Shipwrecks on and off the Taranaki Coast says more than 200 boats have run aground on the Taranaki coast, and although some were refloated, most were wrecked.

Mr Day said the shifting nature of Taranaki's sandy beaches meant from time to time wrecks were revealed.

And there was one he was keeping an eye out for.

"The one I'm particularly interested in is the Harriet, which was wrecked in 1834 near Rahotu and it certainly in the later years of the 1800s occasionally showed itself again and then got covered up.

"And of course we've got the anchor outside the old Rahotu Hotel from that vessel, and I think it was salvaged in the 1960s."

In the meantime, people wanting to see the Falcon need to get in quick - as before long it is expected to be reburied under the sand.