Wakapuaka Cable Station
There is very little to see here. In fact, in 1976, when the former Historic Places Trust honoured the centennial of New Zealand’s cable connection to the world, it plonked one of its Normandy Beach pillbox-style markers down a little distance from the station ruins, on the shingle spit connecting Pepin Island to Cable Bay.
Never mind, this place is important. Undersea cables were one of the high-tech achievements of the assertively pro-scientific Victorian age. New Zealand’s first snaked across Cook Strait in 1866. Ten years later, with New South Wales, Victorian and New Zealand government approval, the Eastern Extension Australasia & China Telegraph Co. cable ships Hibernia and Edinburgh appeared off this bay to link New Zealand to Britain via La Perouse, Botany Bay, Sydney. They had crossed the Tasman in an unusually gentle 11 days at an average speed of 6.5 knots (12 km/hr). The first messages went out on 21 February, just three days after the cable was spliced. Nelson had been chosen because the South Island’s business traffic was heavier than the North’s; a landline connected the station to Nelson city. It cost a lot to send a cable, but newspapers and businesses appreciated near-instant global communication instead of having to wait months for replies to letters. Colonial newspapers quickly dropped the phrase, ‘Home papers please copy’.
Twenty-five staff and their dependants lived here – Eastern Company operators, Post Office telegraphers and a Press Association reporter. The village included tennis courts and a billiard room. In time, however, newer cable routes took over much of Cable Bay’s business. Telegraph staff left in 1909 and it was not such a blow when fire destroyed the main buildings in 1914. Wellington became the new Sydney cable terminus in 1917. After the station closed several buildings were demolished or recycled.