City Rail Link

See what we've uncovered during construction


City Rail Link has employed an archaeologist to document, and where appropriate preserve, archaeological finds found during the CRL construction.

In this section, we will be documenting those finds and detailing other aspects of our approach to heritage.

“Ancient” tree fragments found in Mt Eden

In March 2019, Jeffie, the CRL machine tunneling around Eden Terrace/Mt Eden encountered what appeared to be an ‘ancient’ tree, at first guess possibly 30,000-40,000 years old.

It was found at 291m at 15m deep as we entered the basalt area, which indicated that it had been knocked over at the edge of a basalt flow and smothered by the lava rather than catch on fire.

It was found under the basalt rather than in it. The tree sections resembled much more wood than petrified rock.

CRL’s Mana Whenua Forum concluded that it was probably part of a whau tree, which is very light and was endemic to Mt Eden (Maungawhau).

Whau was used for floats on nets a bit like cork.

This find is so special, members of the iwi may decide to make something out of the wood.

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Excavation exposes Chief Post Office building foundations

Excavation work in July 2018 exposed the existing foundations of Britomart’s 106-year-old Chief Post Office (CPO) building.

Records are being taken for heritage and posterity reasons before the old foundations are removed and the excavation progresses deeper underground.

The CPO building is now being supported by a new underpinning structure on new foundations.

In August 2018, while excavating the northern trench, contractors Downer NZ and Soletanche Bachy JV found an old pile dated 08/10/1909 (below).

Wharf piles found

In September 2018, excavation works within Lower Queen Street uncovered remnant piles and basalt blocks from the original Queen Street wharf dating to the 1850s.

Multiple wharf piles, some of which had survived in-situ, and one crossbeam were excavated from beneath Lower Queen Street. The depth at which they were exposed varied from between 1-4m below the existing modern ground surface. Some of the piles recovered showed a tapered point that retained the scallop marks produced by shaping with an axe.

Several basalt (bluestone) rocks were also identified to the west of the easternmost line of piles. Only one of these appeared to have remained in-situ. The stone had been shaped into rectangular blocks and the side that was exposed to the ocean was clear through the covering of oyster shells.

In addition, a small assemblage of artefacts comprising two leather shoes, two stoneware bottles, a short length of rope and a wrought iron hand shovel were also recovered from the reclamation fill surrounding the wharf piles.

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Old tram tracks and wires found

In January 2016, a section of Auckland's old tramway was revealed during CRL construction work in Victoria Street West as shown in images below.

Working through layers of power and telecommunications services, construction workers came across an unexpected piece of Auckland’s transport history – a section of the city’s old tramway network in Victoria Street West that connected back to Customs Street.

“These services are always very dense at the corners of intersections where most are located, so you can never be certain what you’ll find underground,” says Mark Anderson, utilities engineer with the Connectus Consortium, undertaking the work.

“Even though we used ground penetrating radar and searched through the city’s service records, we didn’t expect to uncover the old tramway network.”

Auckland's electric trams ran from 1902 to 1956. Running from downtown at the Waitemata Harbour and across to Onehunga on the Manukau Harbour, they were then the world's only coast to coast tramway system.

Post-WWII, the decision was made not to put more money into the tram network. Instead Auckland was to follow Los Angeles by being dominated by motorways and the decision made to rip up the tramlines and use buses.

What we are also finding under the streets

During the early reclamation of the Waitemata Harbour, household rubbish and building debris were thrown in (along with the fill from the 1859 demolition of nearby Smales Point).

This household rubbish is the likely source of bottles uncovered during the excavation.

These historical artefacts were found in May 2017 behind the former Chief Post office building. The artefacts included three partial/complete glass bottles and two partial stoneware bottles from an area of homogenous mixed grey clay fill 4m below the existing road level. The artefacts were not grouped together but were within the same general area.

The five vessels pictured above are (left to right):

  • The top of a two-toned salt-glazed stoneware beer bottle from the 19th century. It is a two-tone salt glazed stoneware beer bottle with no embossing evident. It's a typical 19th century historic bottle.

  • A topless aerated stoneware water bottle with a dark blown glaze, embossed with the words 'Victorian Selters Water Balloon' surrounding the monogram 'JM.' The Ballan mineral water spring located in Ballan, Victoria, Australia, appears to have been first identified during the early 19th century. The Victorian Selters Water was reportedly introduced to the Australian public by Messrs. Joske and Morton during the summer of 1867-68.

  • A green 'Bordeaux' shape wine bottle, commonly found on 19th to early 20th century historic sites in New Zealand.

  • An aqua Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce bottle with glass stopper and cork surround intact. The lip is applied (not machineade) and the base embossed with the maker's mark 'A.C.B & Co.' Lea & Perrins was first produced in about 1840 and this particular bottle dates from the c1850s-1877.

  • A topless aqua 'Hamilton Torpedo' style aerated water bottle. Hamilton torpedo bottles were first patented by William Hamilton in 1814. Hamilton designed the torpedo patent to solve the problem of the corks in aerated water bottles drying out and shrinking which allowed the gas inside the bottle to escape.

With the new design, the bottles could be laid only on their sides and the corks subsequently remained wet- sealing in the gas that kept water aerated. Torpedo patent bottles continued to be manufactured until c.1870s when new aerated water bottles arrived on the market. These could be successfully stored upright while retaining their effervescence.

The Hamilton Torpedo bottle is embossed with J. Grey Auckland. John Grey bought the aerated water manufacturing company at Eden Crescent, Auckland from Charles Sutton in 1874. In 1880, Grey's sons joined the business and the trading name was changed to John Grey & Sons. This bottle therefore dates to between 1874 and 1880.

Similar bottles also found

In November 2017, similar bottles were recovered by contractors from reclamation fill beneath the Chief Post Office during excavation for the installation of diaphragm wall. The artefacts were found at a depth of 2m below the existing ground level.

The artefacts comprised nine bottles, none of which are complete. Eight of the bottles have been identified as aerated water bottles and the remaining one was unable to be confidently identified. All of the bottles date to the late 19th century, with most falling into the decade of the 1880s - which fits well with the date of reclamation of this area being 1879-1886.

Stoneware and earthenware ceramic

In April 2017, two stoneware preserve bottles and a sherd of earthenware ceramic from an Ashet or serving platter with the decorative Willow Pattern design were recovered from a services trench dug in Galway Street. These types of items commonly date back to the mid to late 1800s and are estimated to be at least 150 years old.

Horse shoe and ginger bottle

Workers installing a manhole and back flow valve as part of utility works on Fort Street found a large rear horse shoe and this hand-thrown stoneware ginger bottle about three metres underground.

Because the maker’s mark – Fowler – was stamped on the bottle, the project archaeologist was able to trace the artefact back to Enoch Fowler, who arrived in Sydney in 1836 as a free settler from Tyrone, Ireland, and made ginger beer bottles and kitchenware.

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Found around the Chief Post Office construction site

Downer NZ and Soletanche Bachy JV workers Raj and Noel. In September 2018, they uncovered a complete stoneware mineral water bottle from the 1880s. It was produced in the west German Duchy of Nassau, famous for its mineral springs. Ray and Noel found it in reclamation fill, about five metres under modern ground level.

19th century artefacts found

Fourteen historical artefacts have been recovered during CRL excavations under Lower Queen Street and Britomart’s Chief Post Office (CPO) building around September 2018.

A French stoneware ink bottle was found four metres beneath the ground within the footprint of CRL’s northern tunnel alignment under the CPO. A cache of other artefacts, comprising stoneware, glass, metal and leather, were also found in reclamation fill about three to four metres under Lower Queen Street in front of the CPO.

The French bottle, produced by Antoine & Sons, was a particularly exciting find. The Paris-based House of Antoine manufactured writing inks from 1840. They were best known as makers of copying ink, which was first marketed as ‘Encres Japonaise’ in 1853. An advertisement in the Southern Cross newspaper on 14 July 1874 states that 12 cases of various inks, including ‘Antoine’s Violette Noire French Copying Ink’, had just arrived in New Zealand.

Other interesting finds included a large and complete salt-glazed stoneware master ink bottle with pouring spout, an intact blacking jar for leather polish, a Hogben patent aerated water bottle and a man’s leather shoe.

Earlier finds

In February 2018, these interesting archaeological finds were found during excavations around the Chief Post Office construction site.

The artefacts comprise a small assemblage of complete or mostly complete glass bottles. They include one topless salad oil bottle, one complete condiment/food bottle and one complete medicinal bottle.

  • A 91mm-high clear rectangular perfume bottle, embossed with the name Rimmel, dated from the mid to late 19th century. The House of Rimmel is a French perfumery based in London. The company was established in 1834, specialising in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, bath oils and pomades. Rimmel is still in business today.

  • A 174mm-high complete aqua green cylindrical condiment/food bottle with the foil still intact around the neck, dated mid to late 19th century.

  • A decorative 186mm-high aqua-coloured salad oil bottle, dated 1845 to 1910. An identical bottle was recovered in Christchurch with an intact label showing ‘George Whybrow’s Sublime Salad Oil.'

  • A rectangular 177mm-high cobalt blue medicinal bottle with the side panels embossed with ‘The Mexican’ and ‘Hair Renewer’ and the base with a cross.

The manufacturing technique of the Mexican hair renewer bottle dates it to the late 19th century.

Mexican Hair Renewer was advertised from as early as 1873 until 1920.

Also located was this 450mm-high wooden stake, mostly likely made from an Australian hardwood and used for boxing or similar. The stake has been shaped into a point at the base and has evidence of being sawed off at the top.

The stake appears to have suffered some decay towards the top which suggests exposure to moisture.

CRL archaeologists believe it was likely used in the construction of the CPO, which was completed in 1912. The dimensions are: height 450mm, width 90mm and depth 40mm.

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What we are finding under the Chief Post Office

In March 2018, a rare historic artefact found 1.5 metres below ground beneath the CPO was a torpedo-shaped bottle from the mid to late 19th century.

It bears the name Pochajee Framjee & Co- a company of shopkeepers and wine merchants in Bombay, India in 1842. 

It is considered a rare find in New Zealand.

The ink bottle with a pouring lip is from 1848 to the 1880s.

Stephens ink manufactory operated from 1832 to the mid-20th century and was based at Aldersgate Street London from 1848 to 1880s. As seen below, there is a makers' imprint on the lower body of the bottle saying 'Stephens/Aldersgates/London'.

The bottle and other items were recovered by contractors from reclamation fill beneath the CPO during works close to the south-eastern corner of the building at a depth of c.1.5m below the existing ground surface.

Other recoverable items included a complete stoneware master ink bottle and two broken bottles. All the bottles date to the mid-late 19th century, which fits well with the date of reclamation of this area being 1879-1886.

The bottle still contained a small amount of blue ink which was retained.

Also found were the remains of a wooden scrubbing brush. 

There were no bristles remaining. Two iron wood screws were evident at either end. The wire that wove the bristles onto the brush was still present.

Preserving the Britomart Transport Centre (former Chief Post Office)

The Britomart Station building was Auckland’s historic Chief Post Office (CPO) before being re-purposed as a train station.

It's a Category 1 listed heritage building.

Converting Britomart station from a dead-end to a through-station has provided an opportunity to contribute to cultural sustainability.

The project is conserving the built heritage of the historic Chief Post Office (CPO) as well as literally digging into the area's past.

Construction teams are working meticulously, in association with Heritage NZ, to make sure the heritage aspects of the interior are not impacted by the work needed to modify the building from a dead-end to a through station.

Most of Britomart was underwater until the 1870s. It is now on reclaimed land in the middle of what was once Commercial Bay. 

EARLY DAYS: Commercial Bay and Shortland Street in 1841 (Image: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-9089)

HERITAGE: The CPO building (now the Britomart Transport Centre) was opened in 1912 (Photo: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1533)

During the CRL construction, the original features of the Chief Post Office building, such as the pillars, ceiling and skylights, were protectively wrapped, and the entire building monitored by the cyclops system to ensure no excessive movement occured as the building was underpinned and the tunnels built.

NZ Herald 5 July 1948

Preserving and fixing the historic CPO clock

The historic clock of the former Chief Post Office building was removed to be fixed by a specialist clock repairer in Auckland.

The clock was not an original feature of the CPO.

Costing 321 pounds and 10 shillings, the dual-faced Magneta clock was added to the Lower Queen Street facade on 4 July 1938. The Auckland Star newspaper at the time heralded it as a "handsome addition to Auckland's timepiecess" and said it would be seen quite a distance in Queen Street.

The NZ Herald published this photo of the clock being installed.


National Library records show that the clock didn't work initially "owing to the hands being out of balance and to the failure of the mechanism to synchronise with that of numerous other small clocks on the same electrically controlled system throughout the CPO building."

Unfortunately over the years, the clock didn't prove to be the most reliable of time-keepers, often displaying the wrong time or stopping working altogether. In recent years, this was much to the frustration of people rushing to catch a train at the Britomart Transport Centre.

That is to change. Now that the clock has been removed for an internal makeover (right), the clock will be safely stored and then reinstated at the completion of the CRL construction works at Britomart Station.

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Found during the Albert Street excavation

Early excavations on Albert Street unearthed some of Auckland’s early utilities, providing a glimpse into how infrastructure was built in the past.

The answer, it seems, is with brick.

DISCOVERED: Disused brick barrel drain in the CRL construction shaft in Victoria Street looking southeast. (Photo: Clough & Associates Ltd.)

The most interesting piece of infrastructure unearthed is a disused brick barrel drain found while excavating the construction shaft on Victoria Street to bore a new stormwater main.

When a cross-section was cut it was found that the drain had been constructed using two layers of brick to form an inverted egg shape measuring 500mm wide by 730mm tall. This shape was favoured by Victorian drainlayers as it is strong, self-cleaning (because of the relatively high flow speed at low volumes), and requires a smaller excavation width than a circular drain, which was important when being dug by hand!

Perhaps unsurprisingly it appears that the amount of excavation which was undertaken to construct the drain appears to be the least amount possible, with only 50mm of disturbed earth on either side. This is an approach modern drainlayers could do well to emulate as it reduces the amount of diesel, and associated greenhouse gases, needed to excavate and transport spoil and backfill.

Judging by the type of bricks used, and its location, the archaeologist believes the drain was probably installed around the same time as the Albert Street main drain and therefore dates after 1864/65. This would put its construction around 25 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the European settlement of Auckland, a time when the city’s population was approximately 12,000.