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Historic steam ferry Toroa being authentically restored in West Auckland

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You can’t see it but a transformation is taking place. The historic steam ferry Toroa has sat up beside the Lincoln Road motorway interchange for over a decade, to all outward appearances a wreck that’s not getting any better with the passing of the years.

Even the big bold banner asking that we “Save our steamship” has gone, adding to the feeling that would-be saviours of this once beautiful vessel had bitten off more than they could chew.

Not a bit of it. Deep inside the hull, Toroa is coming back to life. A team of dedicated workers is steadily, determinedly, rediscovering the secrets of how she was built nearly a century ago, and restoring her original glory. They have rebuilt her boilers and related machinery; had new metal frames made in Yorkshire and bent to shape inside the hull and the kauri wheelhouse has been rebuilt using ages-old methods for locking one piece of wood to another without glue, nails or screws. They also used only swamp Kauri.

The (mainly) volunteers have had to teach themselves Victorianage skills and re-invent the tools and techniques used back then. Thanks to their work, in the not too distant future, Toroa, the absolutely irreplaceable last of her kind, will return again to her natural element, fully and authentically restored and one of only a few surviving double-ended steam ferries anywhere in the world.

Toroa was the last of her kind at the beginning of her life and again at the end. Launched in 1925 she was the last-built of a fleet of eight Albatross class, double ended, steam powered ferries that for about half a century were the way most people and all cars crossed the Waitemata Harbour. The class was named for the Albatross, the first in the fleet that was launched in 1904. All vessels in the fleet were lovingly built in Auckland out of Kauri plank over specially made steel frames.

In their heyday they were elegant steamships, all gleaming wood and brass, sailing to the steady beat of engines fed by state of the art, Scottish, triple expansion boilers. One by one these venerable ships were scrapped. The car ferries went first, broken up and burned after the Auckland Harbour Bridge was built. By the 1980s, only Kestrel and Toroa were left. Kestrel launched in 1905 but later converted to diesel power, ended her ferry life in 2002.

She then had a new career as a floating restaurant in Tauranga before being returned to Auckland where she is moored awaiting restoration. But only Toroa remains as a true steamship and when the $2 million plus rebuild is completed, she will again ply the Waitemata. The Trusts Community Foundation is proud to have contributed to the Toroa’s restoration. Among other contributions the 13 tonnes of steel frames specially made in Yorkshire were bought with a grant from the Waitakere Licensing Trust. For further information visit: www.toroa.org.nz

Photo Credits: Photo courtesy of Graham Stewart via www.toroa.org.nz/