Stead St Wharf

The Stead Street Wharf redevelopment is an enduring reminder of Invercargill’s maritime and railroad history.

This site, originally surrounded by the New River Estuary, was a threshold for many facets of Southland’s emerging economy.

It was 1860 when the Otago Provincial Government built the first jetty at the end of Tweed Street to serve the newly established township. The subsequent discovery of gold in the Wakatipu district saw Invercargill’s population climb from 3,455 to 9,545 between 1862 and 1863. In that year a variety of jetty improvements (including warehouses, tramrails and roads) were needed to cope with incoming goods from over 200 vessels.

The gold rush was short-lived. That, combined with constantly changing estuary conditions, dictated a gradual change in focus. Emphasis shifted from the estuary’s potential as a shipping harbour to its recreational opportunity. Dreams of a thriving port came to an end in 1930 when final closure of the Port Craig timber mill eliminated the only remaining source of cargo. 1939 saw the last port visit by a commercial vessel, leaving use of the jetty channel to pleasure-craft moorings.

The Invercargill jetty heralded the introduction of New Zealand’s first steam-powered locomotive, the Lady Barkly. To demonstrate how this 8 tonne curiosity ran on a wooden tramway, the locomotive was successfully trialled in 1863 on more than 300 metres of track along the jetty. Southland Provincial Councillors were impressed and authorised a loan for a wooden railway to Winton. Eventually track maintenance proved too costly and the line was closed in 1867.

A replica of the original wooden track with a gauge 4’8" has been installed in the paved pedestrian area at the redeveloped wharf.

A replica fishing cutter was officially "launched" on the reserve next to the Stead Street Wharf on March 5, 2008. The replica cutter has been named Southern Light. From the 1890s to the 1940s these boats were common in Invercargill estuary and were usually built on beaches from local timber. Cutters were versatile sailing vessels, used for fishing, oystering and carrying cargo and farm produce.

Stead Street Wharf is on the eastern bank of the New River Estuary, just 1.5km from Invercargill’s city centre. Follow signs to Otatara and the airport.

The wharf continues its tradition of providing a variety of opportunities for outdoor pursuits. These include a small beach, picnicking and fishing. A slipway for boat launching is available, subject to the tide. Interpretive panels with captivating photographs of the wharf’s history offer a glimpse of the original entry to Invercargill. Visitors should note that the nearest public toilets are in the city.

Walking track
The nearby Invercargill Estuary Walkway provides a 4.7km walking/cycling track through the estuary margins and former landfill site.