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Wreck of the "Gairloch", near Oakura Beach, North Taranaki

The 345-ton SS Gairloch was a steel, twin-screw triple-masted steamer, built in Glasgow in 1884 especially for the Waitara trade. With room for 20 passengers and a ladies' cabin for 10, she was capable of carrying 100 bullocks, or 340 tons of cargo. During her relatively short ‘career’ the Gairloch plied the western North Island coastal route, transporting cargo between ports such as Onehunga, Raglan, Kawhia, New Plymouth, Opunake and Wanganui.

Unfortunately the Gairloch didn’t have a great track record when it came to safely navigating her way into and out of port. Her first stranding came just three years after she was built when she ran aground at the Waitara River mouth in 1887. That was just the beginning; she was to subsequently ground there four more times. In the Manukau Harbour she collided with another ship, and, in yet another incident, lost a propeller when she hit rocks after her rudder chains jammed. Jammed rudder chains also led to her being beached at the Wanganui River mouth in 1890.

On the calm, moonless night of 5 January 1903 the Gairloch finally ran aground for the last time. Sailing from Onehunga to Wanganui with a cargo of sugar, flour, cement, pipes and two carriages, she had only narrowly avoided a collision with her sister ship, the Ngapuhi, off New Plymouth just an hour before she hit rocks on the Timaru Reef near Oakura. Despite “thick” weather there was only a slight swell and light winds, and all crew members managed to make it shore safely following the grounding.

Over the following days and weeks most of the Gairloch’s cargo and fittings were successfully salvaged before she finally began to break up. Today, just over a century later, little remains. The most prominent part of the wreck is the starboard bow section in this photograph, surrounded by fragments of rusting steel and deeply weathered planks, slowly but relentlessly being reclaimed by the sea.


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