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Hikitia - Wellington’s Floating Crane, A Brief History


Hikitia - Wellington’s Floating Crane

A Brief History

In Her 97th Year of Service to Wellington & NZ

Based on a History written by Geoff Bennett in 1990s, last Update of this bulletin 16 April 2024.


Tuesday 21 December 2023 was the 96th anniversary of the arrival in Wellington of the historic floating crane HikitiaShe was launched at Paisley, Glasgow from Fleming & Fergusson slipway on 15/4/1926.

Hikitia was built by Fleming and Ferguson of Paisley, Scotland, in 1926.  She measures 160.1' (48.58m) in overall length with a beam of 52.35' (15.88m) and a moulded depth of 11.35' (3.44m).


Twin screws are driven by compound surface condensing direct drive engines which were supplied with steam by a coal fired Scotch boiler with two furnaces.  A similar but oil-fired boiler replaced the original boiler in 1963.  In 1980 this was also removed, and the present two small modern package boilers were installed.


The crane was built by Sir William Arrol and Co. of Glasgow.  It was designed to lift 80 tons at 50' radius but bettered this on test by 25%.  The crane can lift 60 tons at 65' and 15 tons at 75'.  The speed of the lift is 80 tons at 4' per minute, 40 tons at 8' per minute, 25 tons at 12' per minute and 15 tons at 24' per minute.  The crane weighs 310 tons and at a radius of 65' the maximum height of the hook above the water is 95'.


Following trials, Hikitia left Glasgow on 29 September 1926 under Captain J Fullerton for Ponta Delgado in the Azores, 1445miles. She arrived on 9 October.  After bunkering, she left for Colon and the Panama Canal, passing through on 2 November.  Out in the Pacific, Hikitia encountered strong head winds and rough seas, which caused the vessel to pitch heavily.  The next 48 hours were anxious and stressful for the crew with the superstructure straining and some deck plates beginning to crack but then conditions improved, and repairs were made.  The ship reached Papeete harbour on 1 December and took on stores and coal, sailing next morning for New Zealand.  The final part of the voyage was not without incident, as on 13 December Hikitia ran into a submerged object and several days were spent battling rough seas and strong winds.


The log of the Hikitia's delivery voyage has been preserved in the archives of the Museum of Wellington, on Queen's Wharf. The master said Hikitia was a good sea handling vessel. Hikitia arrived in Wellington Harbour on 21 December 1926 after a voyage of 83 days.  It has been generally accepted that Hikitia's delivery voyage represents a record distance sailed by a vessel of this type with its jib up.


She began work almost immediately and for 96 years has been a familiar sight on the harbour, taken for granted and unheralded.  She has worked on all types of construction projects including wharf construction and was much involved in handling war materiel for Wellington in WW2.  Her main role was in lifting heavy cargo onto, and off, ships.  She spent some time helping to demolish the wreck of the Wahine:


Depositing bridge of the Wahine on Fryatt Quay 12 November 1968.


Hikitia's last job for the Wellington Port Company was the removal of piles near the position of the old Floating Dock.


In 1989 the old vessel was put up for tender and ship lovers imagined Hikitia would be for the knacker's yard and that she would be lost forever. But this did not happen.  Two enthusiastic couples Bob and Mary Box, and John and Joy Ackrill bought her on 12 April 1990, for preservation. On 30 July 1992, after much hard work by volunteers, Hikitia carried out an 88ton test lift.  This was the final legal requirement for survey, and she was then available for commercial lifts to 80 tons. In 2004 she lifted at test lift of 100tonne.


Since 1992, she has continued her role in private ownership, then in a Trust in 2006, as Wellington’s floating crane and has carried out over 300 lifts, plus other jobs.  These include:


Removing cranes from Glasgow Wharf and Aotea Quay; the last of the Aotea Quay cranes has now been re-erected on Queen’s Wharf.

Lifting and turning pontoons for the Lynx linkspan for painting, and subsequently placing in the water.

Lifting various ferry gangways at Rail Ferry Terminal.

Putting Suilven’s linkspan in place and helping with modifications for the Kent.

Acting as launching platform and control centre for several fireworks displays.

Putting Top Cat’s linkspan in place.

Lifting Global Challenge yachts onto wharf for servicing in 1997, and again in 2001 and 2005.

Salvaging fishing boat Vanguard after she sank at her berth.

Lifting WestpacTrust ferry onto wharf for survey.

Shifting Fishermen’s Co-operative icehouse from Waterloo Quay to Glasgow Wharf.

Lifting Breum (an old Danish wooden fishing trawler now serving as a yacht) onto King’s Wharf for renovation, and later putting her back in the water.

Acting as breakwater for start-line of Dragon-Boat races.

Lifting machinery from Maui platform.

Moving railway engines, bound for Australia, into position in a ship’s hold.

Unloading three large transformers brought in from Australia.

Replacing Barrett Reef marker buoy.

Removing a large anchor, and chain, from the harbour bed near the ferry terminal and replacing it in the water at Taranaki Street Wharf pending preservation.

Lifting stern of tug Levanter for propeller replacement.

Salvaging Maria Luisa after she was run down by Sydney Express.

September 2004 a test lift of 100tonnes was successfully carried out

25 Nov 2006 saw a 75tonne lift of a barge on to Aotea Quay.

Two lifts of a 25tonne crane were done at Kaiwharawhara in early 2007.

Two 34tonne lifts were done at the North Queens Wharf development in May 2007.

A 22tonne ice tower was relocated between wharves at Lyttelton on 20 Oct 2009 during Docking

3 piles were removed at Ports Lyttelton

Relocation of a 29m high tower crane in 34 separate lifts on Clyde Quay Wharf for LT McGuinness Ltd in April 2013


Hikitia is one of the key reasons the Global Challenge yacht fleet came three times to Wellington.

She is part of Wellington's maritime heritage and has earned respect for her years of service to the port and the uniqueness of her construction and machinery. She continues to provide a unique waterborne lifting facility. She uplifts the ambience and interest of the waterfront and is an Ark of knowledge for ship working skills.


On 16 March 2006 ownership was transferred to the Maritime Heritage Trust of Wellington. Current Trustees include Peter McKnight [chairman], Peter Clarke, Alan Smith, and Malcolm McGregor. The goal of the Trust is to refurbish and maintain the ship as a working vessel to demonstrate the purpose for which it was built and to help earn its keep at the same time. The Ackrills remain involved and they, and with 14 to 21 other helpers, are on board most Saturdays carrying out ongoing maintenance and are working toward the goal of getting the ship to be truly self-sufficient and fully operational by her 100th anniversary. New volunteers are always made most welcome!


The ship was dry docked in 35 days in 2009 at Lyttelton allowing full hull and mechanical repairs. This was the first time in 28 years the ship had been out of the water. Extra money was found to waterblast and paint the crane structure and deck and to repair the deck belting and to make up an initial shortfall of funding. Total cost had exceeded $780,000 by November 2009. Funders for the refurbishment and operating expenses included Lotteries Grants Board, Community Trust of Wellington, Lion Foundation, Wellington City Council, Pelorus Trust, Pub Charity, CentrePort Limited and significant private donations. A few photos from the “Southern Adventure” can be seen below:


Hikitia under tow off Kaikouras on 4 June 2009

Hikitia under tow off Kaikouras on 4 June 2009

Hikitia in Lyttelton dock June 2009  with the 1907 tug SS Lyttelton
Hikitia in Lyttelton dock June 2009 with the 1907 tug SS Lyttelton
Hikitia Returning to Wellington  under tow on 5 November 2009 Photo Vic Young
Hikitia Returning to Wellington under tow on 5 November 2009
Photo Vic Young


Since return of the ship on 5 November 2009 the reinstatement of the steam bilge pump, the fire-fighting system, the refurbishment of the Gear Room at the base of the crane, the reinstatement of rudder boxes and steering mechanisms along with retubing of both boilers and structural support for all counterweights have all been completed plus well over half of the crane structure has been refurbished allowing the sign off of a certificate stating “the ship has been returned to a condition suitable for operating at its rated capacity”. Refurbishment of many other areas including all electrics and the fuel systems are continuing. In 2018 the 428m long 38mm diameter crane wire was replaced. In 2019 a new deck at Driver’s Cab level was installed. In 2020, despite Covid19, many major works were completed including two repairs on the high jib, installation of a two-level bilge alarms, bow stem and all fairleads have been rebuilt, the steam condenser repaired, and over 70% of the bilge areas cleaned, thickness tested and painted with three coats. A new deck at top of the Crane tower and a 24tonne test lift survey was completed in November 2021.


In 2008 Hikitia won the Heritage & Environment category of the Wellington Airport Community Awards, in 2010 Hikitia was Runner Up in the heritage section of the inaugural Encore Awards and in December 2011 IPENZ recognised the importance of Hikitia’s part in New Zealand’s engineering heritage by unveiling a bronze plaque on Hikitia. In 2019 an award from Volunteer Wellington presented by former Mayor Justin Lester recognises effective use of many volunteers.

Hikitia is the home of NZ’s only metals conservation Lab. which is owned and run by the Maritime Archaeological Assn Inc. [MAANZ] and conserves objects from shipwrecks and other heritage sources. We know of no other conservation Lab on an historic vessel in the world.


The ship is now in its 97th year of service to Wellington having arrived on 21 Dec 1926.


Hikitia is working toward full regulatory compliance to carry out lifts


Hikitia is the only working floating crane in Australasia of any age, the oldest working crane of any type in New Zealand and is believed to be the oldest working floating, self-propelled crane-ship in the world. It was one of a unique pair of historic ships in the world made from the same set of drawings. The other was the crane Rapaki at NZ Maritime Museum at Auckland that sadly was broken up in January 2019. Some major parts from Rapaki have been gifted to Hikitia and installed.


For more information contact: Malcolm McGregor,


Hikitia - Wellington’s Floating Crane, A Brief History

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