The remains of a ship which ran aground 153 years ago have been discovered on an Auckland beach.

The skeleton of the Daring, a 17m two-masted schooner, has been exposed at the entrance to Kaipara Harbour on NZ Defence Force land at South Head and has already attracted much attention with people making the trip out just to get a glimpse of it.

The trading ship was built at Mangawhai in 1863 and driven ashore by gales in 1865.

It had been carrying a cargo of grass seed from Taranaki to Onehunga under the direction of Captain Phipps. It beached largely intact and none of the crew or the two passengers on board were lost.

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But since it became visible yesterday, scavengers and souvenir hunters had already removed several deck planks and a section of railing.

Auckland Council's Principal Specialist in Cultural Heritage and maritime history expert Robert Brassey was horrified people would damage such a "remarkably" well preserved wreck.

"It's an astounding discovery," he said.

"It's extremely rare for a wreck of this age to have survived in such good condition; it is a significant part of our maritime heritage. However what's even more astounding is that someone has been selfish enough to have damaged the ship within days of it being exposed by scavenging timber off it."

The Daring, which ran aground 153 years ago, has been discovered on New Zealand Defence Force land north of Muriwai. Photo / Steven Robertson
The Daring, which ran aground 153 years ago, has been discovered on New Zealand Defence Force land north of Muriwai. Photo / Steven Robertson

As to why Daring is so well-preserved, it appeared to have been buried in sand since it was driven ashore, providing constant protection from waves, wetting/drying processes and fungal growth that normally caused wrecks to deteriorate, he said.

According to Brassey, the ship popped up on the beach due to unusual tidal conditions.

"There have been elevated high tides recently which explains why such a substantial wreck that has been buried for many years has become exposed like this. It may well get covered up again."

The ship is protected both by its age and status as an archaeological site and because of where it has been uncovered.

The wreck is on a section of foreshore controlled by the New Zealand Defence Force which is part of the Kaipara Air Weapons Range. The range is strictly off-limits to the public at all times, including when there is no military activity.

Heritage New Zealand Auckland area manager Beverley Parslow said permission needed to be granted by the organisation before anyone could modify or damage the ship.

"This wreck is part of the nation's history and needs to be recorded in the first instance without being tampered with. Its full story can then be told for all New Zealanders to appreciate and learn from. That story is not as complete with parts of the wreck missing due to fossickers taking items that do not belong to them."

Photo / Taylor Johnston
Photo / Taylor Johnston