We knew it was there somewhere – the elusive Foxton Dolphin. Not a real live dolphin, you understand, but one of a pair used by the Foxton River Steamers to help manoeuvring to point downstream. Their other purpose was to deflect logs from the wharf during floods, Only one of the dolphins remains today and this part of the once bustling river is no longer navigable, so the dolphin is now high and dry on swampy land.
In this early photo the two structures can be seen behind the steamers. The stone wall that leads out to them is no longer visible but still remains in place. In the distance are some of the flax mills that lined the river bank.
It was a busy place back then
The history and identity of of Foxton has always been linked to the Manawatu River. As seen in the early photos, and murals painted on buildings around town, it was once a bustling port town. Until the early part of the 20th century, the flax industry was central to the prosperity of the town. When this waned, the district turned from flax cultivation to farming, and started draining the wetlands. The lower Manawatu plains became unable to absorb excess flood waters, and floods became more frequent and damaging. Finally, in the 1930s it was decided to create a spillway at Whirokino.
However, in 1943, an unexpected flood swept through the spillway cut, creating a direct channel between the upper and lower part of the loop, and cutting off the Foxton loop. Severely reduced flow through the loop meant that the harbour was no longer able to function and eventually, with the accumulation of silt and sediment, the upper part of the loop became completely cut off form the main part of the river. That is why the Foxton Dolphin is now sitting high and dry, with it’s original function now long forgotten.
The local community would be all in favour of any plan to reopen the loop, which would create the potential for a wetlands area for bird life and potentially would draw tourists to Foxton. But sadly the high cost of such a venture makes this highly unlikely.