Otago Harbour is the natural harbour of Dunedin, New Zealand, consisting of a long, much-indented stretch of generally navigable water separating the Otago Peninsula from the mainland. They join at its southwest end, 21 km (13 mi) from the harbour mouth. It is home to Dunedins deep water port facilities on its western shores in the suburb of Port Chalmers.
The harbour was formed from the drowned remnants of a giant shield volcano, centred close to what is now Port Chalmers. The remains of this violent origin can be seen in the basalt of the surrounding hills. The last eruptive phase ended some ten million years ago, leaving the prominent peak of Mount Cargill.
Substantial container port facilities exist at Port Chalmers, 9 km (6 mi) along the western shore from the harbour mouth. A channel along the western side of the harbour is regularly dredged, allowing vessels with a draught of 12.5 m to Port Chalmers, and 8 m all the way to the heart of Dunedin. New Zealand's frozen meat export trade was inaugurated at Port Chalmers in 1882. The dredging of this channel, the Victoria Channel, was a major undertaking for the settlement of Dunedin in the 19th century. The eastern side of the harbour is shallow, with large sandbanks exposed at low tide.
Two islands form a line between Port Chalmers and Portobello in the lower harbour - Goat Island and Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua. A smaller island known as Pudding Island (Titeramoa)  lies close to the Peninsula shore and can be reached dry foot at low tide.
Portobello is home to one of New Zealand's leading marine research establishments, the Portobello Marine Laboratory, a department of the University of Otago. This lies at the harbour's edge on the tip of a small arm of the Otago Peninsula, the Portobello Peninsula.
This is also the site twice projected for New Zealand's second aluminium smelter. The proposals, in the mid 1970s and early 1980s, were abandoned after major public protest. The harbour is tidal, shallow and seldom rough and for that reason is popular for water sports such as yachting and windsurfing.
A significant area at the head of the harbour has been reclaimed since the founding of Dunedin, primarily for industrial use. Smaller portions have also been reclaimed at a number of places around the harbour, including Port Chalmers, Macandrew Bay, and Broad Bay.
As a part of the famous Otago Peninsula, the harbor water is known for various rare wildlife. The area is the home of many species of wading birds. Other bird species which visit the harbour include two species of penguins, Little Penguin and famous Yellow-eyed Penguins. Taiaroa Head, at the tip of the Otago Peninsula, is home to a colony of northern royal albatrosses, the only such close to a city in the world.
Outer peninsula is one of four congregating areas for dusky dolphin, and endangered, endemic Hector's dolphins frequent the water. Southern right whales historically frequented inside the entrance of the harbor, using the shallow, calm water for nursing calves before commercial whaling wiped them out. Their visits to the harbor is very seldom nowadays, and possible future studies may be conducted to examine any approaches to call back whales into the harbor once again.
The existence of the harbour was guessed by Captain Cook when he was off what is now the Dunedin Pacific coast in 1770. It is not known when the first Europeans entered but it was some time 'long before' 1810, according to the Creed manuscript discovered in 2003. George Bass made the Dunedin end of the harbour the north east limit of his proposed fishing monopoly in 1803. The American ship Favorite with its supercargo Daniel Whitney may have called in the summer of 1805 to 1806. Daniel Cooper, master of the London sealer Unity probably did call in the summer of 1808 to 1809 when his Chief Officer, Charles Hooper, probably gave his name to Hooper's Inlet on the Otago Peninsula. William Tucker (1784–1817) was with a gang employed by Robert Campbell, a Sydney merchant, dropped on islands off the Dunedin coast in November 1809 and with another man, Daniel Wilson, was at Otago Harbour on 3 May 1810 when Robert Mason, master of the Brothers, anchored in the harbour and picked him up. This is the first, explicit and identifiable reference to a European ship in the Otago Harbour. The court record containing it, made in 1810, refers to the harbour as 'Port Daniel', a name which stayed in use for some years.
Another English sealer, the Sydney Cove, Captain Charles McLaren, was anchored in the harbour late in 1810 when Te Wahia's theft of a knife, a red shirt and some other articles sparked what has been called "The Sealers' War" - also - the 'War of the Shirt'.
A much disussed affray in that conflict occurred after James Kelly of Hobart anchored the Sophia in the harbour in December 1817 with William Tucker on board. After a visit to nearby Whareakeake (Murdering Beach) where Tucker had been living since 1815 and where he and two other men were now killed Kelly took revenge on Māori on his ship in the harbour, including a chief Korako. He then burnt a harbourside village,'the beautiful City of Otago', probably on Te Rauone Beach and certainly not at Whareakeake as has often been suggested.
A peace was concluded in 1823 and on 17 July of that year John Rodolphus Kent of the Naval cutter Mermaid from New South Wales, while in the Harbour, took 'the liberty of naming it (as it has not hitherto been named) "Port Oxley", in honour of the Surveyor General of the Colony' in fact John Oxley (1783/85?–1828). As noted, it had already been named. In 1826 Thomas Shepherd, one of a party of intending colonists, explored the site of Dunedin and left the oldest surviving pictures of the harbour and nearby coast, now in the Mitchell Library Sydney.
From its origins as a secret sealers' haven Otago Harbour developed into a busy international whaling port after the Weller brothers established their whaling station at Te Umu Kuri, Wellers Rock, at what is now called Otakou in November 1831. The busiest whaling port south of the Bay of Islands, it was also the hub of the largest European population in New Zealand after the Bay of Islands/Hokianga district by the end of 1839. By that time whaling had collapsed and Dumont D'Urville and his officers, visiting in 1840, observed the port had become the centre of a riotous trade in liquor and prostitution. This continued until the Scottish settlers arrived in 1848 and made Port Chalmers and Dunedin the new population centres on the harbour.
The Victoria Channel
While Otago Harbour might have the appearance of an excellent deep-water port, it was not naturally suited to such a role, especially in the early days of settlement when ships needed to dock close to the city. The flat land at the southern end of the harbour and close to the isthmus of Otago Peninsula was ideally suited for a city (and was the site for Dunedin), but the Harbour itself could naturally accommodate deep-drafted ships only as far as Port Chalmers. At Port Chalmers, two islands (Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua and Goat Island) almost bisect the harbour. Beyond them, the harbour is shallow and silty, and mudflats are often visible at low tide.
As the city grew, and particularly with the increase in commerce that developed following the Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s, it became desirable to provide a means for ships to reach the city's wharves. Though a contentious and expensive decision, it was agreed to dredge a channel along the northwestern side of the harbour. The channel was finally opened on 30 December 1881. The initial channel was narrow and shallow, and did not get off to an auspicious start, as the Union Steam Ship Company's SS Penguin, the first ship to use it, was temporarily grounded while using it. The channel was officially named the Victoria Channel by Keith Ramsay, chairman of the Otago Harbour Board.
As finance allowed, the channel was gradually widened and deepened, and by 1907, twice as many ships were using Dunedin's wharves as used Port Chalmers. It was only with the advent of Port Chalmers' container port in the early 1970s that the Victoria Channel again became quiet. The channel is maintained by Port Otago Ltd, who keep it dredged to a depth of eight metres, allowing ships of up to 40,000 tonnes deadweight to travel up the harbour to Dunedin. Much of the channel's larger traffic in the early 21st century is oil transport to Dunedin city and chemicals and fertiliser to and from Ravensbourne's fertiliser works.
Settlements by the harbour include (in order from the mouth of the harbour):
- On the western shore:
- On the eastern shore:
- Harvey, Sarah (9 August 2007). "Otago Port to get into deep water". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
- Coombs, D. S., Dunedin Volcano, Misc. Publ. 37B, pp. 2–28, Geol. Soc. of N. Z., Dunedin, 1987.
- Coombs, D. S., R. A. Cas, Y. Kawachi, C. A. Landis, W. F. Mc-Donough, and A. Reay, Cenozoic volcanism in north, east and central Otago, Bull. R. Soc. N. Z., 23, 278–312, 1986.
- "Otago Harbour Information". Port Otago. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
- "Manufacturing in Dunedin". Otago Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 2008-05-21.[dead link]
- "Research - Acoustics". New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
- James Cook in J.C. Beaglehole (ed), The Journals of Captain James Cook, the Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-1771, London, UK: Cambridge University Press for the Hakluyt Society, 1955, (1968), pp.257-259.
- Quote from the Creed MS its text reproduced in Peter Entwisle,Taka: a Vignette Life of William Tucker 1784-1817, Dunedin, NZ: Port Daniel Press, 2005, pp.128-131, the quote at p.128.
- Robert McNab (ed) Historical Records of New Zealand, 2 vols Wellington, NZ:Government Printer, 1908 & 1914.
- Peter Entwisle, Behold the Moon: the European Occupation of the Dunedin District 1770-1848, Dunedin, NZ: Port Daniel Press, 1998 p.21.
- Peter Entwisle, Taka: A Vignette Life of William Tucker 1784-1817, Dunedin, NZ: Port Daniel Press, 2005, pp.53-66 & pp.110-115 for the relevant court records.
- Peter Entwisle, Taka: a Vignette Life of William Tucker 1784-1817, Dunedin, NZ: Port Daniel Press, 2005, pp.70-71.
- Peter Entwisle, Taka: a Vignette Life of William Tucker 1784-1817, Dunedin, NZ: Port Daniel Press, 2005, pp.94-97, quoting James Kelly in the Hobart Town Courier 12 April 1858.
- John Rodolphus Kent, Journal kept from May to August 1823 on the cutter Mermaid of a voyage to New Zealand waters, manuscript ZA4037, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.
- Thomas Shepherd, [Journal], MS A1966, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.
- Peter Entwisle, Behold the Moon: The European Occupation of the Dunedin District 1770-1848, Dunedin, NZ: Port Daniel Press, 1998, p.83.
- Olive Wright, ed & translator, The Voyage of the Astrolabe 1840, Wellington, NZ: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1955.
- McLean, G. (2002) 100 Historic Places in New Zealand. Auckland: Hodder Moa Beckett. pp. 115–116. ISBN 1-86958-920-3
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