Kaiapoi town – named after the famous Ngāi Tūāhuriri / Ngāi Tahu pā (1700-1830) of the same name a couple of kilometres to the north – lies on the Kaiapoi River, a former branch and now tributary of the mighty Waimakariri River that flows from the Kā Tiritiri-o-te-moana Southern Alps down through the plains to the ocean. It is said that, for centuries, the Waimakariri was a traditional river route for Waitaha and then Ngāi Tahu waka travelling to and from mahinga kai lakes of the Canterbury high country and on over the mountains to Te Tai Poutini West Coast and its treasured pounamu. The Pākehā settlement of Kaiapoi is said to have begun soon after the signing of Kemp’s Deed in the late 1840s, as a ferry stop along what was then the north branch of the Waimakariri.
From 1852 a regular monthly ferry service sailed out to Heathcote, and the Kaiapoi wharf was built in the centre of town to accommodate the growing river traffic. On 31 October 1876 the Waimakariri Harbour Board Act was passed to establish the Port of Kaiapoi as the ‘River Town’ flourished on a growing trade of timber, wool and mutton. It was even thought the town might outgrow its poor cousin some 17 km to the south, little Ōtautahi Christchurch. This was not to be, and by 1946 the Kaiapoi wharf’s best days were well behind it when the Harbour Board was abolished.
A decade later, in 1958, an economic window reopened for the Port of Kaiapoi due to congestion and higher cargo costs on the Lyttelton wharves, and it became profitable to ship general cargo directly from Wellington through to Kaiapoi and then by road to Christchurch. The first such ship to ply this post-war cargo trade was the MV(Motor Vessel) Paroto. Built in 1914 by G.T. Niccol Shipbuilding in Auckland, the then SS Paroto steamed the Northland trade routes for three decades from Matakana to Kerikeri before being sold to Collingwood Shipping Co. of Nelson and refitted with twin 114 bhp diesel engines in 1950. With a crew of six, and at 128 gross tons, she was 27 m in length, with a 7 m beam and just on a 2 m draught. This shallow draught was the maximum for all ocean going ships docking at Kaiapoi as they first had to wait for high tide before braving the sandbar at the mouth of the Waimakariri and then making their way some 4 km upriver to the port.
So it was that early on Sunday 16 November 1958, the MV Paroto traversed the sandbar and became the first cargo ship for 22 years to sail up the Waimakariri and unload at Kaiapoi wharf. On arrival at 8:15 AM she was greeted by hundreds of spectators, with Captain Fitzsimmons and crew officially welcomed by the town burghers led by Mayor Williams. Nonetheless, their Wellington cargo was promptly unloaded and on its way down the road to Christchurch just 30 minutes later. After reloading fuel and cargo she was off again the following Wednesday with the high tide. Several more sea going cargo ships of shallow draught followed the MV Paroto in a decade of busy coastal cargo trade. By the mid 1960s the Paroto, Ranginui and Waiotahi were plying the Canterbury coast to Wellington, with Kaiapoi Port handling over 35,000 tons of cargo in 1963 alone.
The future, however, was already on the way and sadly it did not include Kaiapoi’s coastal cargo ships. New Zealand’s first roll-on/roll-off ferry, the ‘government motor vessel’ GMV Aramoana, had launched in 1962 carrying 180,000 tons of road and rail freight across the strait into Picton in her first year. When her sister ship Aranui launched in 1966 the ‘floating bridge’ connecting the nation’s North and South islands’ road and rail networks signalled the end of the coastal cargo trade. Then tragically, on 3 August 1966 while southbound from Wellington on the way to Kaiapoi and heavy with an 80 ton cargo, the MV Paroto hit rocks in heavy fog and was stranded at Point Gibson near Port Robinson. While the crew safely abandoned ship, the Paroto could not be refloated and two days later she was broken on the rocks.
The loss of the Paroto was a huge blow to Kaiapoi’s river economy, and with its remaining coastal cargo ships struggling against rising competition and wharf costs in Wellington, the last cargo was unloaded on 29 October 1967. After barely a decade, in 1969 the Kaiapoi Borough Council finally declared the end of the coastal cargo ships of Kaiapoi with their Port "suspended, pending further business".
See also Port of Kaiapoi in New Zealand Coastal Shipping – http://www.nzcoastalshipping.c...