Shifting sands reveal 150yo shipwreck in Auckland

Stormy weather has unearthed a 150-year-old secret of the sea: a 19th Century shipwreck.

It's been preserved beneath the sand for decades - but now it's been uncovered on South Head beach in north-west Auckland, the race is on to protect it from vandals.

"It's great - I mean, it's very rare to find something that's as intact as this," says Auckland Council archaeologist Robert Brassey.

"A lot of wrecks are exposed to wetting and drying and the timbers deteriorate, or if they're underwater the timbers rot away."

Locals say four days of five-metre swells and big tides shifted about 1.5 metres of sand, leading to the fascinating discovery.

The first assessment shows it's a small coastal trading ship, New Zealand-made, built from kauri with pōhutukawa framing.

There are more than 100 known wrecks in the area, but after measuring the dimensions to compare it against a database, they found a match: The Daring, a 31-ton, 17-metre schooner built at Mangawhai in 1863 for Master Phipps of the Kaipara.

It was carrying a cargo of grass seed from Taranaki to Onehunga when it sank just two years later in 1865.

Conditions prevented it crossing the Manukau Bar and it was driven by the gale to the north.  

No lives were lost, as the vessel was beached intact. An attempt was later made to refloat it after moving it about 100 metres - but the conditions deteriorated, and it was driven back up the beach.

Council experts also made another disappointing discovery.

"We've just noticed people have already started removing planking from it, which is illegal - this is an archaeological site protected under Heritage New Zealand legislation.

"It's an offence to destroy or modify any part of this ship."

Mr Brassey hopes others will treat it with respect.

"We really rely on the community to value it and look after it."

Now the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is stepping in; it says public access is prohibited as the wreck is on a firing range.

"Our force protection people will be out here providing a security picket and making sure that we protect the vessel, and also keep the members of the public safe," says NZDF spokesman David Bacon.

But this is likely to be a short-term glimpse. When the tide turns and the dunes change, the sand will once again conceal this long-lost secret of the sea.