Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 8, October 1967
By LES MORGAN
One morning recently the telephone rang and my wife called out that it was her sister-in-law asking if we would like a ride to Tauranga. She was going over to do some shopping and proposed leaving straight after lunch so that we would be home for tea. We agreed to go and while waiting, my mind went back to my first trip to Tauranga, one Easter many years ago, making me realise the wonderful improvement in travelling during my not long lifetime.
There was in Waihi a very fine male voice party named the "Liedertafel" and they were going to Tauranga to give concerts at Easter. It would be about 1911. My father was one of the leading singers and like some of the others was taking his wife and family along. We were to leave by coach at a very early hour in the morning and there was very little sleep for the junior members of our family that night.
We duly joined the coaches at the stables, now the Road Services depot, and set off for the Athenree Ford where we were to board a launch. What a thrill it was in the early morning, sitting up high on the seat beside the driver, one Pennel, and looking out along the backs of the four horses pulling us along. All was going fine and we were about half way through the gorge, which was the same as it is now, and one wheel of the coach went over a large boulder and the axle was broken. All hands piled off the coach and ways and means of continuing the journey were discussed. Too much time could not be lost as we had to join a launch at the Ford and depended on the tide to be able to continue. After awhile a sapling was obtained and bound to the broken axle. Travelling very slowly we were able to reach the Ford and the launch just in time to get away on the tide.
What a thrill it was sailingon that great big launch, carrying about 25 passengers, and water all round us. Matakana Island was then only a long sandy waste and seemed to reach away to eternity, we put into a small jetty in one of the inlets. The property was Captain Crapp's [Omokoroa – E], one of the earliest settlers, and there picked up my Aunt Maggie, who was the accompanist and who had been holidaying. Tauranga was reached late in the afternoon after a really thrilling trip for me. My recollections of Tauranga are rather hazy but I remember that our family was taken to the home of a Mr. and Mrs. Adams, parents of Mrs. Ernest Clark of Waihi, and we were billeted there for the week-end. Concerts were given on Saturday and Sunday. All Monday was spent on the journey home. That was the quickest method of getting to Tauranga in those days, but very enjoyable as one had time to see all that was to be seen.
I was not privileged to travel over the road past Katikati during the years of the construction of the East Coast railway but some lurid tales have been told of the journeys then. As is often the case, after the completion of the railway the road was put in good order and the trip was not so bad. I have heard tales of how it was not possible to get the parcels, mail and passengers for Tauranga further than Aongatete and that they were transferred to a launch there, while an intrepid driver in a Model T Ford made the mail delivery between that point and Tauranga.
My next trip was about 1931. I was in Waihi on holiday and a tripto Tauranga was suggested. We left Waihi by car and had a good run but I could not help noticing that the gorge road had not been improved in any way from the earliest times. The road past Katikati was new to me but I well remember the twists and turns in it. Arriving at the top of one hill I saw a roadman who was known to my father. He was Little Ben Armstrong of Te Puna. We stopped and talked to him and he left us saying that he was going down to his hut for lunch. The hill, incidentally, was known as the Corkscrew, and Ben went off into the scrub.
We drove slowly down the twisting hill, noting how well it deserved its name, and on arrival at the bottom I was very surprised to see Ben beside the hut, he having come straight down through the scrub in the same time that we had taken to go round the road. The old concrete bridge, which at the time of its construction was considered a masterpiece was still the same as to-day. We had had an uneventful drive and from the time of leaving home had taken about two and half hours on the road. We did not have long in Tauranga as there was the drive home to face.
With these memories of journeys to Tauranga, is it any wonder that on being asked to go forty miles to do some shopping, leaving after lunch and returning for tea, that one marvels at the progress made, both in the mode of travel and the improvement to the road. No more Corkscrew Hill, but is there as much adventure and enjoyment in the trip?