The (Norwegian) Whalers’ Base at Paterson Inlet,  Stewart Island, New Zealand.

(A Summary)

© Jim Watt (Jan. 2003), GREAT~PLACES New Zealand, P.O.Box 8711, Havelock North, New Zealand.   (Correspondence welcomed)



BACKGROUND.  Between 1923 and 1933 the Ross Sea Whaling Company of Sandefjord, Norway (Hvalfangeraktieselskapet “Rosshavet”) made nine expeditions to the Ross Sea in Antarctica while using a base in Paterson Inlet.  This venture into the Ross Sea was a natural extension from the South Atlantic where operations were based  on  South Georgia. At South Georgia, Argentinian finance and Norwegian ‘know-how’ were combined in a profitable business.  With the depletion of whale numbers in the South Atlantic, and with good numbers of whales reported by Amunsden in the Ross Sea,  another Norwegian explorer and ‘sea-dog’ Captain Carl Anton Larsen saw an opportunity, and took it.  He initiated a Norwegian-based expedition, and purchased the Brocklebank liner MAHRONDA which had been built in the ship yard of Harland and Wolf at Belfast in 1905, seven years before the TITANIC was built there.  He converted her to the whale-factory SIR JAMES CLARK ROSS.  He also negotiated a license with London to operate in the Ross Sea, obtained five chasers (STAR I to V), and set off on the first expedition.  At the same time The Ross Dependency passed to New Zealand jurisdiction and monitoring of compliance with the license became a New Zealand responsibility.  The fleet therefore called at Stewart Island after the (southern) summer season in the Ross Sea, arriving for the first time in Paterson Inlet on the 4th April 1923.   The chasers were left in Glory Cove for the winter.  In the second year an attempt was made to establish a slip-way on Bravo Island in Paterson Inlet, but from 1926  the Base was located at ‘Price’s’.  Following a glut in the whale-oil market in 1932, whaling activity  shifted away from the Ross Sea.  The Paterson Inlet facility closed, and the Company moved westward to operate, in part, from facilities in South Africa. 


NAME: The site was known at the time as ‘The Base’ or ‘ Price’s’, but  ‘Kaipipi Shipyard’ was the official  name given by the company.   Today it is called ‘The Whaler’s Base’.  Sometimes it is called ‘The Whaling Base’ but this is incorrect as whales were never brought to the site and this name confuses the site’s shipyard function with earlier bay-whaling operations around the southern coast.


THE PURPOSE of the facility was to repair the chasers through the months of the southern winter while the factory ship(s) returned to Europe with the oil taken in the Ross Sea during ‘the season’ (November to February).  The technology of the shipyard was ‘1920’s coal-fired steam’.  A slip-way and workshop were constructed to facilitate maintenance and repairs, but there was no foundry.  When needed, heavy work and  dry-docking were carried out at Port Chalmers.


TODAY THE SITE is frequently visited by tourists to Stewart Island.  Although only accessible by boat, it is a pleasant short walk through the bush from the Miller’s Beach wharf, and all local tour operator’s include The Base in their itineraries. Informative and well-designed display plaques that have been erected by the Department of Conservation give visitors a quick appreciation of  layout and function.   However, regeneration of the bush means that a full appreciation of the facility, and a sense of the ‘busyness’ of the site, are left to the imagination.


RELICS still to be seen at the base include the following.

·          The old rusty workshop boiler on the beach. 

·          The foundations of the slipway and parts of the old roller-path.

·          The badly cracked concrete floor of the workshop.

·          Twelve 9 foot diameter four-bladed propellers are stacked together, damaged by ice in the Ross Sea.

·          Numerous accumulator springs from the chasers’ whale-line system are heaped together.

·          Foundations for the Manager’s House and an adjacent overgrown escalonia hedge.

RELICS elsewhere on Stewart Island include:

·          The Presbyterian Church Hall which started life as the Bunk House at the Base.

·          The relocated Manager’s House remains in permanent use in Rankin Street.

·          A prefabricated Norwegian house stands on Golden Bay Road, brought out as deck cargo for one of the employees.

·          Three 22 foot snekka (launches) are still in treasured possession (ARVID, ELSE, and WINNIE).

·          At Bravo Island is the relocated Cook House, as well as evidence of an abandoned attempt to build the first slip-way.



RELICS at Bluff/ Invercargill include:

·          One of the pram dinghies (Bluff Maritime Museum)

·          The hulk of the chaser  STAR II (TARATAHI) lies on Tikore (Spencer’s) Island and is visible from the main road near Green Point.  (Take binoculars).

·          Whale gun from Star II (Southland Museum, Invercargill). 

·          Workshop lathe in shed at Rakiura Shipping (claimed from Mataura by interest group and returning to Island.  Dec 2002).



Initially the relationship with the locals was cool and distrusting, but this quickly changed.  Shopping in Halfmoon Bay, weekend visits, sharing of the 17th May Celebrations with the local community (including Sports for the local children, fireworks and a dance), film shows, and general hospitality brought warmth and  regard by both parties. 



MANAGERS:   Petter Varild (winter 1924 at Glory Cove; winter of 1925 at Bravo Island);  Ludvig Mikalsen (1926); Sigvald Johansen (1926-1930; in October 1927 joined by wife Emilie and two young sons Arvid and Ernst);  Markus Andersen (1930-31; in October 1929 joined by wife Palma and two young daughters Aud and Else). Odvar Andersen and Herman Olsen (caretakers 1933–36);  Harald Askerud and Karl Johansen (caretakers to August 1939).

BASE STAFF:  Up to 38.  (See Watt (1989), Appendix 2.)  COAL GANG of locals recruited each year.

AGENTS: John Edmond Ltd, Invercargill.  COMPANY PRINCIPALS: Johan Rasmussen and Magnus Konow of Sandefjord.

OFFICIAL REPRESENTATIVES of NZ Government who accompanied expeditions: Captains George Hooper (1923/24); William Whiteford (1926/27); William Stuart (1929/30).

CAPTAINS OF FACTORY SHIPS:  Carl.A.Larsen; Oscar Nilsen, G. Thorstensen.

THOSE WHO STAYED IN NZ: B.Akerqvist; C.Carlson; A.Danielsen; J.Eriksson; G.Gertson; H.Holm; J. Kiland; H.Larsen; E.Nilsen; S. Olsen; E.Sundman; T.Young; Ragnfrid Gloppestad (nurse on C.A.LARSEN 1926-27).  And the following who married Stewart Islanders:  Harald Askerud  / Violet Pollock (1927); Sverre Nicolaysen  / Blanche Martin (1927?); Martin Allum  /  Phyllis Watson (1928?); Karl Johansen  /  Rita Pollock (1931) ; Rolf Petersen / Ola Taylor (1931).

HALFMOON  BAY CEMETERY:  Johanes Hansen of Larvik (5 October 1929); Harald Jakobsen  (22 May 1932); Herman Olsen Elgesem (19 July 1935).





II(2), XIV, XV.

Other ships associated with Kaipipi Shipyard:  barque OTHELLO (hulk);  S.S.TARAWERA (hulk);   M.T. SPINANGER (tanker). Also colliers KARORI, KAITUNA, WAIPORI, OPIHI, KARTIGI, KATOA (most only one visit).  Also the Bollinder launches,  snekka launches (see above), and pram dinghies.



1. Stranding of the C.A. LARSEN on Whero Is at entrance to Paterson Inlet, 21 Febuary 1928.  Came off under own power; taken to shallow water off Ulva Island; patched and refloated;  small loss of oil, majority transferred to the tanker SPINANGER; in April was dry docked at Port Chalmers for repairs. No loss of life.

2. Loss of the PAGODROMA due to hull damage (ice) en route from Ross Sea, about 27 February 1929. No loss of life.    (Note: No Rosshavet ships were ever lost in the ice.)



Hoff, Stein.  1988. Rosshavets base pa Stewart Island.  Pp 55-80 In: Norsk Sjofartsmuseum Arsberetning

1987. ISBN 82-90089-20-1  ISSN 0801-423X .    (Text in Norwegian)

Watt, J.P.C.  1984. The Stranding of the C.A.Larsen.  New Zealand Marine News 33(1) 3-9; and 33(2) 35-

46. (Also issued as a booklet ISBN 0-9597719-0-5, and also included as Chapter 6 in Watt (1989)).

Watt,  J.P.C. 1989.  Stewart Island’s Kaipipi Shipyard and the Ross Sea Whalers.  ISBN 0-9597719-1-3.                                               

Published by author, 41 Chambers Street, Havelock North 4201, New Zealand .  273 pp.  Maps. Illustrated.  (Written from a New Zealand perspective.  Text in English)