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Container shipping

Page 1 – Introduction

1971 – Columbus discovers the new world

On 19 June 1971 the first all-container ship to visit New Zealand, Columbus New Zealand, berthed at Wellington’s new Thorndon Container Terminal. In eight days on the coast, the German-owned Columbus Line vessel also called at Auckland and Port Chalmers.

That schedule turned heads. According to the Waterfront Industry Commission’s number-crunchers, in 1971 the average ship on the same run spent a frustrating 34.63 days in Kiwi ports. Worse, it wasted 10.53 of those days anchored in the stream waiting for a berth, awaiting labour or held up by bad weather. All that time the ship incurred harbour dues, electricity and water charges and labour costs while earning nothing for the shipping line.

During their stays the first four container ships worked about 9000 tonnes of cargo per voyage – 2000 more than conventional ships – and called at just two ports instead of four or five.

Fewer ports, more cargo, four times as fast – it was a revolution. But that was only the beginning. These simple steel boxes have changed our transport industry, our ports and how we work and shop.

How to cite this page

Container shipping, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated