Bluff is situated on Foveaux Strait, Southland, at the base of Bluff Hill (855 ft) and on the eastern or harbour side of Bluff Peninsula. The peninsula is mainly hilly or undulating, but north of Bluff Harbour the land is low-lying and swampy. Bluff is 17 miles south by road or rail from Invercargill and is the port of the Southland district. The commercial fishing industry of the Foveaux Strait area is based on Bluff. In terms of tonnage it is the eighth most important port in New Zealand. There is a large freezing works at Ocean Beach. Town industrial activities include fish, oyster, and crayfish packing, fish curing, oyster canning, and general engineering. Bluff is the tourist traffic junction for Stewart Island, and a regular shipping service is maintained with Halfmoon Bay.
In pre-European times there was a Maori settlement at Ocean Beach. It is recorded that a partial exploration of Bluff Harbour was conducted by Robert Williams and a party from Sydney in 1813 in search of flax. They named the harbour Port Macquarie in honour of Lachlan Macquarie, the contemporary Governor of New South Wales. The first vessel to use the harbour was the cutter Snapper in 1822. A shore whaling station was established in 1836 and is regarded as marking the beginning of the town. George Green, an early whaler, claimed to have had an area under cultivation in the vicinity of Bluff before 1840. Notable early visitors to Bluff included Edward Catlin in 1840, who named the inlet Bloomfield Harbour and the headland Cape Barradine; Captain William Mein Smith in 1842, who reported on the harbour; Dr Edward Shortland in 1843, who collected information concerning the Maoris and the whaling stations; and Frederick Tuckett in 1844, who explored part of Murihiku. In 1851 W. B. D. Mantell made the first overland journey from Dunedin to Bluff in connection with the Murihiku (Southland) Purchase.
In 1856 the settlement was officially named Campbelltown, but the harbour continued to be known as the Bluff and in 1867 was linked with Invercargill by rail. In 1877 the Bluff Harbour Board (now Southland Harbour Board) was constituted and the port facilities were gradually improved, especially during the period when Sir Joseph George Ward was Mayor of Campbelltown and a member of the Bluff Harbour Board. In 1956 plans for extensive port development were completed and in September the French contractors – Sociét Nationale des Travaux Publics – began the construction of the new harbour works which involved the creation of an island in the harbour with first-class berthage for overseas and coastal vessels. The island harbour was opened on 3 June 1960 by the Governor-General, Lord Cobham. Plans are being developed for the establishment of an aluminium smelter at Bluff. The prospective site comprises some 370 acres on an island-like feature called Te Wai Point, bounded south by Foveaux Strait and elsewhere by Awarua Bay. The borough of Campbelltown was constituted in 1878, but on and after 1 April 1917 the official name became Bluff, which was derived from the headland at the harbour entrance.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,251; 1956 census, 2,693; 1961 census, 3,003.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.