Digging for the Hydrabad shipwreck

Buried under the sand dunes at Waitarere Beach is a gigantic, historic shipwreck.

It's what every boy dreams of finding when they take their plastic spade to the beach and start to dig.

On June 24, 1878 a 224-feet long iron-hulled vessel crashed into the coastline 1km south of the tiny Waitarere Beach community in what the papers of the time described as "a furious hurricane".

None of 35 people on board the Hydrabad were killed, but the 1350-tonne vessel could not be refloated.

Ravaged by fires and rust, she sat in shallow waters out from Waitarere Beach and became a local icon.

In days long before OSH regulations, children played on the vessel and dived off it into the waters below at high tide.

There's even the story of amorous teens using the cabins of the vessel at night.

Today memories of the wreck are splashed all over the town.  There's a monument to it at the surf-lifesaving club.  Murals have been painted on buildings and there's an enormous sign at the entrance to the beach.

Local fisherman still insist that the Hydrabad's mast, which snapped off further out to sea, is responsible for the snagging of many a fish hook.

But the wreck itself has now disappeared. 

Coastal processes mean a constant supply of sand replenishes the dunes at Waitarere, rarely eroding away.

The beach at Waitarere extends by over a metre each year as a result.

135 years later, the sand that sunk the Hydrabad has now swallowed it for good measure.

The wreck lies under the sand, its location marked by an enormous blue post.

Locals tell me that if I want to see even a tiny piece of her, I need to dig.

"It's only just below the surface."

"Just dig down and you'll find it."

When I was a child I once spent three hours in pouring rain on a Banks Peninsula beach, digging up a piece of carpet that had washed ashore.

Unfortunately I no longer have that sort of patience.

I can't find her under the loose sand, and I give up quickly.

Realistically the Hydrabad is gone forever.  It'd cost a more than a bucket to get her out of the sand and preserve her now and the salt and sand damage would probably make it pointless anyway.

It's too late to save her.

But as more and more new houses begin to blast up out of the Waitarere Beach sand, it does seem a little strange that the town's icon sinks further into the dunes.

Do you have memories of the Hydrabad? What do you think about it being swallowed by the sand?

Email Chris and follow his journey on Twitter @chrishydejourno.

Manawatu Standard