A dolphin-spotting catamaran has run aground on a Bay of Islands reef known since it claimed a missionary sailing ship 195 years ago.

The Fullers GreatSights vessel Dolphin Explorer hit Brampton Reef — a rocky shoal off the Waitangi shore — around 4.30pm on Saturday. It is believed to have been following a pod of dolphins.

Passengers were safely removed from the vessel which was freed on the incoming tide about two hours later by the Albatross, a Russell-based tug.

The Dolphin Explorer was yesterday tied up at Opua wharf with another vessel being used for dolphin-spotting trips.

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Fullers GreatSights Bay of Islands general manager Charles Parker said the 47 passengers on board were transferred to the Tutunui and then to a larger vessel, Te Maki. At no time were the passengers or crew in any danger, he said.

''We understand the damage is isolated to the props, however this will be confirmed when the vessel is slipped later this week.''

Parker said he couldn't comment on the cause of the grounding while it was still being investigated.

Coastguard Bay of Islands was not required. Low tide on Saturday was about 4.20pm.

Brampton Reef, also known as Brampton Shoal or Brampton Bank, is the remnants of a lava flow which takes its name from the ship which ''discovered'' the then-uncharted reef in 1823.

The Brampton had arrived a few weeks earlier with Henry and Marianne Williams, who established the Anglican mission at Paihia, and was on its way back to Sydney when it ran aground.

The 28 passengers on board — who included the Rev Samuel Marsden — were taken to nearby Moturoa Island, the mission station at Rangihoua Bay, and Paihia.

The Brampton remained upright and stuck fast even as the bottom of the vessel broke up, allowing luggage, provisions and timber to be salvaged over the following days.

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