History - Punting perils

By: Lyn Johnston

From the 1860s, punts were the workhorses of the Kaipara. Their flat bottom design was ideal for negotiating the harbour’s shallow, muddy inlets. Every family had at least one to transport people, goods, livestock and building materials, and even a headstone for the local cemetery, to and from stores and markets. Unpredictable winds and strong currents meant not all trips went smoothly, however.

Punts were ideal for negotiating the Kaipara Harbour’s shallow inlets.
Punts were ideal for negotiating the Kaipara Harbour’s shallow inlets.

In February 1893, Harold Marsh wrote … Last Wednesday Mr (Vivian) Hargreaves came over for the post borer, we told him it was broken, but he said he thought Mr Gibbons could mend it.  He and John Hill came over in the boat, and they landed at the wharf.  The wind was in the NW and it got up pretty stiff while they were here. They had a job to get out into the open, even when I was helping them with the punt, I nearly got swamped coming ashore for it was about half full of water as we had not bothered to bail her out.

They took the first tack up the creek, and my word, it did lay them over, though they had three reefs in the mainsail and just as they had ‘gone about’ and before she had gathered way on the next tack, the wind heeled her over and down she went to the bottom. Luckily I had bailed out the punt while they were getting the sails up, so we were not very long, considering the wind, in getting out to them;  they could easily have swum ashore, about 200 yds, but Mr Hargreaves knew we would go to them so they hung on to the boom and were treading water when we got to them.

Harold and his father brought the men ashore and got them some dry clothes. After tea, when the tide had gone down, they secured their boat and borrowed Marsh’s punt to cross the Oruawharo River and get home to Oneriri.

Harold concluded …You may guess it was blowing hard for the boat they had left anchored out, dragged its anchor and came across to Fitz’s Point (now Atiu Point); they fetched the boat a day or two afterwards.

Lyn Johnston, Albertland Museum


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