The Paddle Steamer Waimarie was designed and built in 1899 by Yarrow & Co. Shipbuilders at Poplar, London and transported in kitset form to Whanganui.
Originally named Aotea she was operated by the Whanganui Settlers River Steamship Co until 1902, when she was sold to Alexander Hatrick and renamed ‘Waimarie’ meaning good fortune – peaceful waters. By which time the Whanganui River was operating as an international tourists’ mecca. Alexander Hatrick boasted a 12-strong fleet of riverboats operating under the name ‘Hatrick & Co.’ that provided access from the coast to Taumarunui.
Side paddle vessels were used on the Whanganui River as there were many shallow rocky rapids and log littered areas preventing the use of propulsion units lower than a ship’s hull.
Having the broadest beam of all the work boats Waimarie navigated some 239 rapids to carry a wide variety of cargo and mail, but also ferried passengers on scenic excursions to Hipango Park, followed rowing races and sailed under the moonlight to South Beach for guests.
She was nicknamed the ‘queen of the river’ and attracted tourists from all over the world to do ‘one of the worlds greatest river journeys’.
Our grand lady continuing operating until 1952 when an accident left her listing badly and before she could be rescued, floods filled her hull with silt. Left to this demise the Waimarie remained sunken and in despair for the following forty years, abandoned but not forgotten.
In 1992 enthusiasts established a community heritage project to salvage, restore and operate the Paddle Steamer Waimarie once again. Many thought they were mad but the process of acquiring funds, sponsorships, materials, volunteer labour and professional expertise to reach their goal had begun. Tapu (a sacred protection) was lifted on the 4th of January 1993.
Once extracted from her watery resting place, all sorts of salvage treasures came to light including the starboard navigation light, lamp and whistle. The Waimarie’s restoration became Whanganui’s official Millennium Project following seven years of incredibly hard work, passion and determination. The success of the project reflects the inherent generosity and commitment of Whanganui’s citizens as over 67,000 volunteer hours contributed to the project and every problem found a solution.
At 11:45pm on New Year’s Eve, 1999, the Paddle Steamer Waimarie was blessed with a final karakia (prayer) and re-commissioned for her new life on the Whanganui River on 1 January 2000, as New Zealand’s only authentic paddle steamer.
Invited guests boarded the paddleboat for the midnight millennium voyage followed by crowds of well-wishers and admirers cheering and waving from the river banks. Whanganui’s own ‘queen of the river’ had been brought back to life 100 years after her original build.
In her first year of operation, the Paddle Steamer Waimarie carried over 25,000 passengers.