Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 8, October 1967
By R. W. LOWRY
The first tracks were those made by the feet of the Maoris, often from one Pa or waterway to another. Then cane haulage routes in the days of timber workers, and those governed by gold discoveries. Other factors which determined the nature and extent of our early roads were the growth of settlement, the kind of wheeled vehicles that superceded pack horses, and the amount of material and money available.
In the days when roads were fashioned with pick, shovel, wheelbarrow and "horse and dray", it was much easier and cheaper to go round nature's obstructions rather than through, over or under them. Topography largely decided the route. But the pioneer road makers did not at first appreciate the tricky problems involved in this new and rugged land with its copious rainfall, its erosion and its peculiar geological formation. They saw their fascines of manuka mangled in the mud, their puny wooden bridges washed away in the raging floods and their laboriously metalled roads slip down the "greasy-backs" on the hill sides into the gaping gullies.
Wayside "stonenappers" wielded their long-handled hammers to break into smaller pieces the great heaps of metal which had been brought to them by horse and dray from the nearest stream. Much of this was soon ground to dust by iron shod horses and vehicles and much seemed to disappear into the earth leaving great holes that needed constant repair. Even 50 years ago a set of chains for the tyres of motor cars was an essential piece of equipment.
When the New Zealand Provincial Government was abolished in 1876, the Thanes County Council was formed and the Ohinemuri district became part of its territory. Our first representatives were Councillors C.F. Mitchell and A. Thorp, who at once vigorously campaigned for bridges and roads between Thames and Paeroa, and in the mining areas where they were desperately needed.
The Council's Minute Book, 17/1/77, tells us that the Surveyor was instructed to spend £50 on temporary repairs to the Paeroa - Mackaytown road via the Rahu Rd. to Waitekauri. In those days the present road from Paeroa to Karangahake did not go beyond Doherty's Creek but one could cross the river by means of a "ferry" which was just a small boat pulled across by a heavy wire.
As most of the mining operations were on the left bank of the Ohinemuri River, there was also a much used "ford" opposite Mackaytown. This gave access to a road which gradually climbed the hill above the present railway line till it reached the Crown Hill and then down Scotchman Gully [aka Scotsman's Gully - E]. For many years it was necessary to ford streams which crossed roads. Later the Yearly Report states, "Beyond Tarariki's Creek 30 chains of road have been fascined and 65 chains of main and outfall ditching cut. A new sawn timber crossing of 16 ft. wide and 12 ft. span and one large box culvert have been constructed. The site of this road in the vicinity of Te Moananui's Bush (near old Abattoir?) has been fixed and the work is being carried on by native labour."
Further -— "Paeroa - Waitekauri Track -— 8 miles - more than 50 chains corduroy laid - A new track - 1 mile from township to battery, used by packers, miners and children attending school. The track from Goonan's Store to Young New Zealand Claim cleared for pack horses".
Ohinemuri to Katikati Road —— about 3 miles surveyed - this portion begins at a point on the old track a mile beyond Mackaytown and follows a line to Old Tauranga Crossing, thence by western bank of Ohinemuri River, through the mining district of Owharoa to its junction with the road recently made by the Armed Constabulary at Earl's agricultural section. The road as laid out to Katikati will then be adopted."
Meanwhile the Katikati Road Board under the Chairmanship of George Vesey Stewart was taking vigorous action from its end, and other main routes were well under way. The first road, as distinct from a riding track, to connect Thames and Paeroa was opened in 1880, as was the link with Te Aroha via Rotokohu a wooden "Criterion Bridge" having been constructed. All the roads suffered severe vicissitudes, not the least of which were caused by floods. A Thames Surveyor's report dated, 3/3/83 tells us:- RE FLOOD :
"Maoris living above Paeroa say they have never seen the River higher. The new bridge on the Tauranga Road across the Ohinemuri River near Waihi was completely swept away without breaking up. It swept away another bridge, passed Owharoa fairly complete and broke up in the Karangahake Gorge. Until bridges are restored mails etc. must cross the fluming of the Waihi Gold Mining Coy [Martha Battery on the Ohinemuri – E]. Three other bridges have gone. The ferry-boat between Mackaytown and Karangahake broke adrift but was recovered by Maoris before reaching Paeroa. The Puke Wharf was torn from its place".
At that time the Waihou River was definitely the main highway to Paeroa, which was the door to this district. Various settlements along its course were served by Ferries, before bridges were built, Kopu being the first. One at Wharepoa gave access to the lower end of the Hauraki Plains, another linked Hikutaia to Netherton and the fourth was at the Puke before the first bridge was constructed there in 1912.
The tracks to Komata Reefs and Maratoto must have been very early ones and a branch of the latter gave access to Whangamata, although it was never much formed. Another early project undertaken by the Thames County Council was "Butler's Track" at Karangahake. It is said the Contractor, Hugh Butler lost money on this effort to by-pass both the difficult Rahu Road and the Gorge which was then considered "impossible" so far as a road was concerned. The "track" started near Doherty's Creek and was graded up to pass over the top of the bluff and down again to where the Rahu Road meets the river. This undertaking was known as the "Mackaytown Owharoa Road Deviation Contract" and was completed in 1885, the year when Ohinemuri became a County in its own right.
The Ohinemuri County Council was immediately faced with tremendous outlay to provide roads which would stand up to the transport of heavy machinery from Thames Foundries or the Junction Wharf to the mines. Junction Road was not the only one that suffered growing pains and it became necessary for the Council to apply to the Mining Coys. for a substantial subsidy from Gold Revenue. In 1901 shipping was moved to the Puke Landing making Puke Road one end of an important artery which by that time extended as a tortuous thin line through the newly opened Karangahake Gorge. It was a wonderful achievement — used daily by Coaches, huge wagons and about 130 horses. But a new century brought new problems.