The Blockhouse Bay sea wall
Before the early 1930s Blockhouse Bay, being typical of the Manukau Harbour, was a muddy tidal exit for two streams. On 23 April 1930 Mr. P. Turner convened the first meeting of the Blockhouse Bay Improvement Association, with a committee of eleven interested local residents. Its first aims were to protect the foreshore and improve the reserves. The Auckland City Council was approached about building a seawall to protect the reserve area from erosion from the sea which was taking place, and improve the reserve. The Association was prepared to contribute £200.00 ($400.00) — at the time a large amount of money — towards the cost of the project.
The City Council of the day was supportive of the project and by February 1931 had allocated £800.00 ($1600.00) in funds, and was prepared to start the work when the Auckland Harbour Board gave their approval. Delay in the approval coming from the Harbour Board and a new City Council not sympathetic to the project, meant that the start of the project was shelved.
In 1932 a Government Relief Labour Scheme was started, to build the Blockhouse Bay Seawall. Labour for the Scheme was recruited from the men of the district, out of work because of the depression. Most of the families in the area would have contributed one or more members to the labour pool building the wall.
“The work consists of a retaining wall of bluestone blocks with concrete mortar from the eastern alignment of Wynyard Street, (Blockhouse Bay Road) to near the extremity of Te Whau Point; a distance of nearly 1100 feet (365 m) running in a bold sweep generally following the shoreline. The area behind this wall containing 1 acre 0 roods 30 perches (approx.0.75 hectares) to be filled with approximately 8000 cubic yards to the top of the wall, from 1.5m to 1.7m above beach level.”
The City Engineer was to supervise the project and Mr Joseph Jackson was appointed as the ‘ganger’ (foreman) on the job, to work under him. Mr. Jackson had experience in the development of Eden Park and building the gates at Craigavon Park. His next job after the beach wall was the reconstruction of Blockhouse Bay Road from the turning bay above the beach to the New North Road at Avondale.
The bluestone (basalt) rock was quarried on Puketutu Island. It was then brought to Blockhouse Bay by two steel barges. The piles of rock were dumped in the middle of the bay behind what is now the beach between the toilets and the playground. By photographs it appears that there were many barge loads.
Once the wall started to cross the flat, the foundation was sand and mud which presented problems with foundations and muddy water. A coffer dam of sand-filled, 44-gallon drums, was placed inside the alignment of the wall to stop the muddy water from the creek contaminating the wall and mortar. Planks placed on the top of the coffer dam became a platform to wheelbarrow the blocks and mortar to where they were to be placed, without getting in the mud.
After large drain pipes were laid to take the water from the two creeks and stormwater from the road and the surrounding catchments, the filling started. Fill was at first gained by re-contouring the hillside and cliffs on the western side of the bay, and the point at the bottom of Blockhouse Bay Road.
The bulk of the 8000 yards of fill required came from the development of Esplanade Road on the east side of the creek. This was a large realignment and re-contouring of the road reserve up to the top of the hill. A reticulating rail system was established to enable clay to be brought down to the waterfront. The full trucks on rails pulled the empty ones up on an endless rope. Not withstanding all this fill, still more was required, and this extra filling came mainly from the cutting at the top of Blockhouse Bay Road.
The rock work is of a high standard of construction and finish, with a sealed path on the top of the wall. There are three sets of rock steps to the beach. One of these sets of steps has been nearly covered by the sand that has been placed in the corner of the wall to make a small beach. The City Council has plans to place more sand to extend the area of beach.
The wall terminated in a concrete ramp parallel to the cliff, allowing small dinghies to be launched below half tide. This ramp was covered in 1960 when the Yacht Club extended the wall out to the end of Te Whau Point, and built a ramp at a more effective angle. There is a ramp on the reserve at the bottom of the street, accessing water at half tide.
The finished project is a credit to the men that worked on it and to the direction of Joe Jackson, the ganger. Most of the men were inexperienced and were working on the scheme because there was no other work available to them. Because of the poor pay they were frequently under-nourished and seldom brought lunch to work. The ladies of the area often supplied food and home-cooking to the workers. Mrs Thom, who had the grocery/tearooms near the bottom of Blockhouse Bay Road, often supplied the cakes and scones unsold from yesterday’s cooking. Many of the men came to work in unsuitable work gear as they had none other. Surrounding families supplied cast-off clothing to help out.
Once the reclamation was grassed and the paths laid, Blockhouse Bay became a popular swimming and sunbathing beach. The area laying nicely to the east and north is sheltered from the cold west and southerly winds by Te Whau Point.