The Port Otago is the port for the City of Dunedin, New Zealand. Located in the Otago region of South Island about 293 kilometers southwest of the Port of Lyttelton, Port Chalmers is the main port for the Port Otago; however, a container facility is located at the Dunedin Wharves just north of Port Chalmers. The entrance to Otago Harbour is located in the bay between Taiaroa Head and Heyward Point. Port Chalmers is 9.6 kilometers inside the Harbor.
Otago Region is a relatively-unpopulated area with wonderful scenery and a generally rural feel. Dunedin is the largest city in the Port Otago region and its industrial and education center. The major economic activities in the Otago Region are raising sheep, farming, and serving tourists. Port Otago’s Port Chalmers is a suburb of and the main port for Dunedin, although many Dunedin residents still think of it as a separate town. Located about 15 kilometers northeast of Dunedin’s city center, Port Chalmers is home to about three thousand souls. In 2006, over 118 thousand people lived in the City of Dunedin and the Port Otago.
Before Europeans established the Port Otago’s City of Dunedin or Port Chalmers, the Maori people lived in the area of today’s Port Otago. In 1780, what the Maori called Koputai was at the southern end of the Ngai Tahu territory.
In 1839, the Weller brothers from the modern Otakou on the other side of the harbor set up a saw pit at Sawyers Bay, the present site of Port Otago’s Port Chalmers. The next year, a schooner was being built at the site. In 1840, French whalers bought the whole western shore of Otago Harbour from the Maori chieftain. The first Christian worship service was held at Koputai in 1842.
In 1844, the Deborah anchored in the bay, and its captain joined Frederick Tuckett in choosing a block of land to build a Scottish New Edinburgh settlement. They picked Koputai to be a deep-water port they named Port Chalmers. The Maori sold the “Otago block” to the Otago Association, and the first settlers began to arrive in today’s Port Otago.
Port Otago’s Port Chalmers continued to grow as an international port city serving the Otago region. By the 1860s, the port was connected to the City of Dunedin by lighter and by a steep road. In 1873, New Zealand’s first narrow gauge railway, the Port Chalmers Branch, opened and, by 1879, was incorporated into the national rail network with a link to Christchurch and Invercargill. The Port Chalmers Branch added a rail connection between Port Chalmers and Dunedin.
In 1881, Port Otago’s Victoria Ship Channel opened, and ocean-going vessels could pass through the harbor to Dunedin. When the Dunedin sailed out of Port Chalmers in 1882, New Zealand’s refrigerated meat trade was born at Port Otago. During the rest of the 19th Century, servicing ships and a new building industry developed, and nearby Carey’s Bay became a fishing port.
The growth of Port Chalmers paralleled the growth of Dunedin and the Port Otago Region, yet a rivalry began over whether Dunedin or Port Chalmers would handle shipping. In 1928, the Norwegian ship C.A. Larsen was the biggest vessel ever serviced in the Port Otago Dock at Port Chalmers.
In 1965, a new modern highway from Port Chalmers to Dunedin was completed, and passenger services between the two ended by 1967. In 1971, Port Chalmers was selected as the first container terminal in South Island, making the Port Otago an important international seaport. Container traffic has grown steadily, as has a new timber trade. Because the labor requirements for these industries were relatively small, Port Chalmers began to lose population.
In 1988, the Port Otago Harbour Board that had been established in 1874 was replaced by Port Otago Limited, a quasi-autonomous local government organization. The following year, the borough of Port Chalmers and its surrounding district were absorbed into the City of Dunedin.
In the latter 20th Century, Port Chalmers and Carey’s Bay attracted an artists’ colony, changing the town’s traditional industrial character. In the 1990s, cruise ships began to call at the Port Otago’s Port Chalmers, adding another post-industrial facet to the town’s personality.