Tolaga bay loses its lamp post - officially

By Contributor

Tolaga Bay Wharf was opened in 1929 and is widely regarded as the longest concrete wharf in the Southern Hemisphere. Photo: Ben Cowper/Gisborne Herald

By Matthew Rosenberg, Local Democracy Reporter

A lone lamp post that once kept watch at the end of a historic East Coast wharf is no more, removed for safety reasons despite the council expecting pushback.

Tolaga Bay Wharf has been home to a solar-powered light at the end of its 660m stretch for as long as council staff can remember.

But this week, Gisborne District Council confirmed it coordinated its removal in late March following rapid deterioration which posed a risk to public safety.

The solar light was deteriorating fast and was a safety risk because it was loose and moved around a lot in windy weather, the council said.

While there were hopes to replace it like-for-like, the machinery required to do so would have caused excess pressure on the wharf in a section where it was already in poor condition.

The solar-powered lamp at the end of Tolaga Bay Wharf has been removed and the district council is investigating alternatives. / Liam Clayton, Gisborne Herald.

The solar-powered lamp at the end of Tolaga Bay Wharf has been removed and the district council is investigating alternatives. Photo: Liam Clayton/Gisborne Herald.

The wharf opened in 1929 and is widely regarded as the longest concrete structure of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

A symbol of the region's burgeoning trade at that time, the Heritage New Zealand site is now more commonly home to tourists and people fishing.

The removal of its fabled light was not without some catches of its own, however.

Although the light was first identified as being a safety risk in October, it took another five months for its removal to be coordinated.

In an email dated 26 October, council health and safety manager David Wilkinson said he had recently visited the wharf and noted the light was no longer working, with the post corroding on an angle.

He said he expected there to be strong community pushback were it removed.

In January, the council contacted global engineering consultants WSP to ask about the weight capacity of vehicles that could be driven on the wharf.

Electrinet wanted to use a 1 tonne scissor lift, but were dissuaded on the advice of WSP.

They completed the job by dismantling the pole with two large ladders, cutting it into pieces, and removing it from the wharf with a trolley cart.

The job was completed on 28 March at a cost of just over $3000 to the council.

The council could not find exact information on when the light was installed or for what cost, but said it had been there for "years and years".

With a full replacement not possible for fear it would damage the weakened wharf, the council is looking to install solar-powered lights bolted into the ground.

In February, staff contacted Heritage NZ who said they were not opposed to the idea, but requested more information on the visual impacts the lights could have on the heritage values of the wharf.

Electrinet works manager Toby Pickering confirmed the light pole and hardware had been scrapped after removal because of widespread rust and corrosion.

"Nothing could be saved."

The council has also explained what is happening with a section of wharf near the end which has been cordoned off from the public.

Due to the impact of high seas, forestry slash, and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in June 2020, a number of safety measures have been taken.

Those include fencing off the area at the end of the wharf due to missing piles on the structure underneath.

Temporary wooden rails were also installed along the wharf to reduce the weight load on the structure, and a replacement ladder was put in.

The previous steel access ladder was removed due to damage, with the new one placed on the other side of the pier due to that part being in better condition, and less likely to be affected by slash.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air