February 19, 2021

The changing face of the Main Town Pier

The Main Town Pier is an iconic landmark in Queenstown, largely due to its prominent location and history in Queenstown Bay.

Many won’t know that this structure was built in the 1860’s and has evolved over time to fill the needs of residents of the Wakatipu region. The Main Town Pier was used by paddle steamers that carried people, livestock and supplies from one end of the lake to the other and many places in between, as road access to Kingston was built in the 1930’s and the road to Glenorchy wasn’t completed until 1962.

We are fortunate that Te Papa has a number of historic images from the 1870’s onwards of Queenstown, many include the changing face of the Pier.

Queenstown 1870-1880s, Queenstown, by Burton Brothers studio. Te Papa (O.026448)

Queenstown, circa 1888, Dunedin, by Burton Brothers studio. Te Papa (O.026437)

The below image shows the Ben Lomond paddle steamer pulling in to Queenstown Bay. The Ben Lomond was originally launched as The Jane Williams at Queenstown in 1872. The steamers name was changed to Ben Lomond in 1886. In 1951 she was scuttled near Kingston Bay. The SS Ben Lomond worked with sister ships on the lake, the paddle steamers the Antrim, the Mountaineer and the twin screw steamer Earnslaw, transporting sheep, cattle and passengers around the lake.

SS Ben Lomond Lake Wakatipu, 26 March 1910, by Muir & Moodie studio. Te Papa (B.004324)

The Main Town Pier was twice the length that it is today. It was damaged in the 1958 floods and the then Borough Council removed the damaged half, and the pier has remained the same length ever since.

In 1960, Kawarau Jet Services moved operations from the Frankton Jetty near the Frankton Campground to the Queenstown Main Town Pier. This was at the request of the Council who were keen to benefit from the increasingly popular tourist activity.

Kawarau Jet in Queenstown Bay, with the Bath House in the background.

In 1983 the Underwater Observatory (Underwater World) was added, and forms today’s KJet Booking Office and Time Tripper Underwater Experience. You can see how much shorter the Pier is now, compared to previously.

The Underwater Observatory final touches ahead of opening day 1983.

The Underwater Observatory/Booking office 1989 – 1990.

Main Town Pier 1992 – you can see high lake levels on the left hand jetties.

In 2021, KJet completed significant strengthening work on the Main Town Pier using contractors Stantec and Shotover Engineering. We also required divers Gary Wright and Dennis to install beams and strengtheners under water.

Steel beams and strengthening cross bars were added to two sections at the end of the structure as shown in the below photos. There are four businesses that operate from the Pier nowadays, KJet and company Time Tripper (purchased by KJet in 1998), Paraflights and Hydro Attack also have a jetty located on the Pier.

Strengthening of the Main Town Pier February 2021: Installation of steel beams.

Strengtheners installed above and below the water.

Fasteners for the strengtheners.

New Paraflights Jetty.

Additional beams and strengtheners under the Main Town Pier.