Learn the importance of maritime navigation throughout New Zealand's history by visiting DOC-managed maritime heritage sites.

The maritime theme has been a significant part of New Zealand history from the time the first Polynesian canoe voyagers arrived. Canoes were a significant transport mode of the Māori. Coastal shipping - sail then steam, was the backbone of colonial transport. Its monopoly was only eroded as trunk railway routes opened. For example, until as recently as 1908, the standard Auckland to Wellington journey involved an overnight ship journey via New Plymouth.

Navigation is an important aspect of the maritime story, and the importance to Māori of navigation marks is illustrated by the Kupe’s Sail site near Wellington. The New Zealand Shipwrecks book lists 1500 wrecks from 1840 to 1940. Lighthouses were a major initiative to improve navigation safety, despite their high costs. Cape Brett is an example of an original lighthouse installation still largely intact.



  • Landing site of Moekakara waka Whakatuwhenua, Cape Rodney/Okakari Point c.14th century
  • Mansion House Jetty, Kawau Island, 1840 (present wharf 1875)
  • Pokohinu/Burgess Island Lighthouse and WWII Remains 1905
  • Rangitoto Ships’ graveyard, Boulder Bay, Rangitoto, 1887-1947
  • Rewa hulk, Moturekareka Island, 1930
  • S.S. Wairarapa Graves, Onepoto Bay, Great Barrier Island, 1894
  • Tiritiri Matangi Lighthouse precinct, 1864
  • Whangaparapara sawmill site, Great Barrier Island 1909-1914


East Coast/Hawke’s Bay

  • Whangaokena (East) Island, 1898


  • Tokaanu Wharf, 1880



  • Te Awaiti Whaling Sites, 1827
  • Old Kaikoura Wharf
  • Perano Whaling Station Picture Theatre, 1923

West Coast

  • Buller Kawatiri, Charleston Historic Area, Constant Bay, 1866
  • Lake Mahinapua Paddle Steamer, 1883
  • Cape Foulwind Walkway



  • Endeavour Wreck site, Tamatea/Dusky Sound, 1795
  • G.S.S. Stella Hull, North Port, Chalky Inlet, 1976
  • North Port Freezer Base, Chalky Inlet, 1925
  • Puysegur Point Road, Preservation Inlet, 1877
  • Puysegur Point Cemetery, Preservation Inlet, 1895
  • Puysegur Point Landing Shed, Preservation Inlet, 1940
  • Port Craig Wharf, 1920s
  • Port Pegasus Fishing Base, Stewart Island, 1897
  • Port Pegasus shipbuilding base, Stewart Island, 1825
  • Port William Settlement Site, Stewart Island, 1870
  • S.S. Tararua Wreck Site, Waipapa, 1881

Subantarctic islands

Further reading

  • McLean, Gavin (1991). Shipwrecks and maritime disasters.
  • McLean, Gavin (2001). Captain's log, New Zealand's maritime history.
  • Beaglehole, Helen, (2004). Lighting the Coast.

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