The port of Bluff


The Port of Bluff is operated by South Port New Zealand Limited, successors to the Southland Harbour Board. It is located on a natural harbour some 5.500 hectares in area overlooked by Bluff Hill, 264 metres high. Because of the island-like appearance of the hill from seaward, and the white convolvulus which still grows on it, local Maori called Bluff. Motu Pohue. Early European names were Port McQuarrie and Campbelltown, locals, however persisted in calling the town Bluff and the name was eventually officially recognised.

On 27 December 1822 the little sloop ‘Snapper’ became the first deep sea vessel to enter the port. She came in search of flax but was soon followed by whalers and sealers. James Spencer established a trading post in Bluff in 1824 to supply visiting ships, becoming Bluffs first European resident and as a result Bluff is now considered to be the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in New Zealand.

Captain Stirling later founded a whaling station near the point which now bears his name. This was to become the site of the port’s first pilotage service and traces of it may still be found in the small cove north of the Stirling Point lighthouse, itself a later addition dating from 1912. By then Bluff was a thriving port, construction of the Town Wharf having commenced in 1863. In the same year the railway to Invercargill was begun but due to financial constraints was not completed until 1867, thus failing to be the country’s first. Bluff’s now demolished railway station was once the world’s most southerly. A major expansion of port facilities in Bluff began in 1952 when the decision was made to reclaim an area of shallow sandbanks and proceed with construction of what is now the Island Harbour. Officially opened on 3 December 1960, reclamation continued until 1982 when number eight berth was completed. Facilities on the Island Harbour include tallow storage, grain silos, loader for wood chips and other bulk cargoes, extensive cool stores and a ‘Syncrolift ship-lift which, with a capacity of over 1,000 tonnes, is New Zealand’s biggest.

Dominating the eastern side of the harbour is Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, opened in 1971, which produces over a quarter of a million tones of aluminium each year. Tiwai wharf was built to service the smelter, the approach bridge to the wharf, at 1.2 kilometres, being one of New Zealand’s longest. The small derelict jetty nearby served the old quarantine station and hospital.

Annual cargo throughput at Bluff is about 1.7 million tones. Imports include alumina and other raw materials for the smelter, petroleum products, fertilizer and paper pulp while exports comprise aluminium, meat, wool, tallow, forest products ranging from logs to furniture, fish and grain. The largest ship, in terms of gross tonnage, to have entered Bluff is the wood chip carrier ‘Forest Way’ at 39,296 tons and vessels up to 260 metres long are handled regularly, Shipping movements are assisted by the port’s Voit-Schneider tugs ‘Monowai’ and Hauroko’ of 30 and 35 tonnes bollard pull respectively.