Distribution, pre-Second World War
Petrol (then known as benzine) and kerosene were first shipped in drums and tins, transported by horse and cart, and stored in warehouses. The large oil companies developed a bulk distribution system from the mid-1920s to the 1930s. They used tankers to freight oil to New Zealand, stored it in portside storage tanks, and distributed it in tankers by rail and road.
The explosive potential of oil was vividly demonstrated in 1904 when Colonial Oil’s Kaiwharawhara warehouse burnt to the ground. The 60,000 gallons of kerosene stored there produced scattered explosions and dense masses of smoke. With a southerly wind carrying the smoke away, people in the city had a clear view of ‘one of the finest spectacles ever presented in Wellington’.1
Marsden Point distribution
The government-built Marsden Point refinery and its pipelines were a significant development of the bulk distribution system. One pipeline carries aviation fuel to Auckland airport, and a 170-kilometre pipeline runs to the Wiri oil depot in South Auckland.
The Wiri terminal is the largest storage depot in New Zealand, with nine major steel storage tanks up to 39 metres in diameter and 20 metres high, and a number of other structures.
Ships from overseas and coastal tankers carry oil to New Zealand ports. Oil is held in bulk storage depots and can be drawn on by any one of the four major companies, Mobil, Caltex, Shell and BP. The companies jointly manage stock levels and importing.
Gull, the smallest petrol company operating in New Zealand in 2009, imported and stored its oil independently, and had its own storage depot at Mt Maunganui.
Road tankers take oil from storage depots to petrol stations, and to large users, such as power stations using oil to generate electricity. They are operated by the petrol companies, independent distributors, and resellers.
Until the mid-1920s blacksmiths, grocers, and stock and station agents sold petrol in 4-gallon (18-litre) tins and larger drums. Some of them also repaired the often unreliable early cars. In 1917 a Garage Proprietors Association was formed.
The first petrol pumps (‘bowsers’) were installed in 1926 when the large petrol companies were setting up their bulk distribution networks. The petrol was drawn from underground tanks. The number of petrol stations expanded very rapidly, often offering motorists a choice of brands.
From the early 1950s, petrol companies began to contract petrol stations to sell only their brand. Over time fewer petrol stations included car repairs as part of the business – by the late 20th century on-site car repair was not common in major cities, but petrol stations had begun selling a much wider range of food items, and some were like mini supermarkets.
In the early 2000s petrol stations, marina refuelling and farm delivery services supplied most of New Zealand’s petrol – 97% in 2007.
The government has imposed petrol rationing in times of shortage or very high import costs. Petrol was rationed because of shortages during both the First and Second World Wars, and rationing lasted beyond the war’s end. In 1979, during the second petrol price hike of the 1970s, the government introduced rationing again, and it remained in force for 18 months.