The first steamer arrived in Port Albert on December 14, 1866, although the channel had been buoyed some time earlier. A newspaper cutting in an old scrapbook, kept by one of the early pioneers and dated December 28, 1866, described the event. The writer referred to the excited anticipation of the steamer Prince Alfred arriving with visitors aboard. Many people were busily preparing for the coming of friends. The storekeepers were painting and one solitary bachelor was renovating the door and window of his home — perhaps hoping to attract the eye of some fair visitor?
The steamer was expected on Saturday morning’s tide but didn’t appear, much to the disappointment of the large crowd who gathered to welcome her. Saturday evening came but still no steamer and the residents began to worry. However, on Sunday morning she could be seen coming up the river in fine style, casting anchor off the jetty about 9 am. She’d been delayed on the Manukau and Kaipara Heads for 18 hours in heavy fog. About one-third of her 60 passengers were for Port Albert.
On the Monday morning, everyone was very busy shipping and unshipping goods from the steamer. After the hardships of the previous four years, the settlers were determined to support her. She left at noon for other settlements on the Kaipara. The settlers appear to have had their ‘steam up’ too, and everyone who could spare the time decided to make the most of Christmas week by enjoying themselves. The Te Wheau settlers took the lead by having a social party at Brookes, but the weather was unkind, which rather spoiled things. On Tuesday, however, the weather improved so they met again, determined to have fun. Singing, dancing and other amusements were indulged in, the party breaking up at a late hour.
To celebrate the steamer’s arrival, a regatta was held at Port Albert on Boxing Day. After the races, about 30 people gathered at Mr Day’s place for dinner, doing ample justice to the good things provided by their host. Another tea party was arranged for next day, with the visitors and crew of the Prince Alfred as guests, if she was in the river. Tickets were free, the costs to be defrayed by subscription. About 120 people sat down to tea. Unfortunately, the steamer hadn’t returned so many friends were absent.
In the evening, a meeting was held in the chapel where Mr Brookes was called on to preside, and after an opening song, he remarked on the desirability of having the steamer service continued if properly supported by the settlers in the Kaipara districts. John Shepherd agreed with this as did the Rev. Edger, who told them how much he had enjoyed the trip from Onehunga to Port Albert.
From then on the Prince Alfred came monthly and, in the 1870s, when the Kaipara railway opened between Riverhead and Helensville, a weekly steam service was established to Port Albert. Some of the other vessels were the Lily, Kina, Minnie Casey and the Durham. These little ships were the Albertlanders’ vital life-line for many years.