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Ian Church, noted historian and published author, led a bus trip to Port Chalmers to share some of its secrets as part of the Layers of Gold – 150 year anniversary celebrations. Today, Port Chalmers is the second biggest logging and container port in New Zealand after Tauranga. It held even greater fame in 1863 when it was the 3rd largest port in Australasia, with up to 9,000 gold miners desperately seeking ‘a little colour’ arriving every day.

The port was first known as the Koputai – ‘the place of high tides’ and was famous for re-floating unattended canoes. The area also has intricate layers of European history; literally, acres of the modern Port were originally dug out as dry docks then reclaimed to make the container terminal.

Tuckett’s Corner on the main street was the site that the Otago Block purchase was signed in 1844, and Frederick Tuckett was the Principle Surveyor for the New Zealand Company in the area. A plaque on the public library (once the Town Hall) also commemorates the landing of the first settlers in 1848. It was these settlers that gave the Port its name in honour of Dr Thomas Chalmers, a noted crusader for and creator off the Free Church in 1843.

The first cargo of frozen meat to leave New Zealand was packed into the SV Dunedin and departed from Port Chalmers in 1882. By 1889, the Port had its own Town Hall, three churches and the signal station was an integral part of shipping communication. Other notable sailings were those of Robert Scott, Ernest Shackelton and Admiral Byrd (all members of good standing at the Port Charles Masonic Lodge) which departed from Dunedin for their voyages to Antarctica.

Careys Bay, tucked around the corner from the Port is home to my favourite pub in the Otago region. David Carey was a lighterman from Waikouaiti and the namesake of the Bay and Carey’s Bay Historic Hotel, which was built in 1874 by Henry Dench - Mayor of Port Chalmers. The Bay has also been home to the Port Chalmers Navel’s, sea cadets, and the inshore fishing fleet has moored here since 1963. The other notable pub in town is the Tunnel Bar which is part of the Port Chalmers Tunnel Hotel. Opened in 1846 this is the longest continually running business in New Zealand.

To enjoy the salty air and higher vantage points I found walking up to both the Scott Memorial (in Lady Thorn Dell) and the signal flagstaff on Origin Point gave me a good workout for the day and some interesting pictures of the Port.

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View from Signal Hill
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View from the Scott Memorial