Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 23, June 1979
By NELL CLIMIE, B.E.M.
Before Europeans came to New Zealand the Maori travelled throughout the country "Waterways" being the main highways, linked by defined "tracks" trodden only by human feet. This system prevailed for a considerable time after white people came, there being documented evidence of long journeys by missionaries, surveyors, Government agents (e.g. James Mackay) and prospective settlers and miners.
The "Canoe" was then the coveted vehicle. With the advent of the saddle-horse, followed by horse-drawn vehicles fords across streams and rivers became increasingly important. Due to the hilly nature of our back-country, bridges presented a major problem because of expense. In fact, they were a rarity until after 1885 when Ohinemuri ceded from Thames and became a separate County.
Often a narrow foot-bridge spanned a stream while vehicles and horses negotiated a ford beside it (flood water permitting). Local instances were at Tarariki Creek (near Cemetery) and at Doherty's Creek beyond Mackaytown. It became the policy of the County Council to replace such Fords and foot-bridges with Concrete Culverts capable of carrying heavy traffic. One marvels that at first heavy machinery, having reached Paeroa from Thames by river was then conveyed to the Karangahake mines by horse-drawn wagons via a Ford opposite Mackaytown, at that time the terminus of the main road as we now know it.
Near Paeroa the Ohinemuri, Waihou and Piako Rivers were navigable not only by Canoe but by many other craft that carried passengers or cargo of every description to landing stages at strategic points. Settlements having been established on both banks, it soon became necessary to devise systems of "crossing over". There were then no Stopbanks and the simplest means of crossing was still a small private boat or canoe such as that used by the Cock family. In 1875 Mr. Fred. Cock established his home on the Onerangi Block on the left bank of the Ohinemuri River (opposite the Cemetery), but he kept his horse-drawn vehicle on the right bank so that he could drive to Paeroa and to his office. He was the first local Manager of the Northern Steamship Coy and also the first Chairman of the Ohinemuri County.
Mr. Alfred Thorp of Rotokohu Road, who was instrumental in laying out the township of Paeroa had represented it on the Thames County Council, and urgently pressed for bridges. But until the first Criterion Bridge (wooden) was built in 1880 he and his neighbours used a Ford further up-stream. The improved link with the old Te Aroha Road, marked an important advance for both townships, though unfortunately this first major bridge was subject to frequent flooding and in 1907 was replaced by an iron one at a higher level. Twenty years later the structure was replaced by the present concrete bridge which after 50 years of service will be superseded because of the recurrent danger of flooding.
Further down-stream below the junction of the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers, Ferries were in use for many years. On account of the timber industry, Netherton was an early settlement and a ferry service linked it with the fast growing Thames Valley where Hikutaia was settled even before Paeroa. There is an authentic 1889 story of a school inspector who planned to visit the Netherton School after inspecting at Karangahake. He rode to the right bank of the river, (presumably via Ferry Road) and in spite of much shouting was unable to attract, the attention of the punt keeper, Mr. McKee. Cyril Nicholson was a subsequent Ferryman and then for 8½ years the late Bill Crosby operated there for the County. He said that the punt run by a little engine and a guide rope, could take about 20 cattle.
For many years before the Puke bridge was erected by Kennedy-Taylor (₤3859) in 1912-15 there was a "gap in the road" between Paeroa and Netherton. Then the Ohinemuri County Council provided a ferry which supported by wire ropes, conveyed vehicles and live stock and people across the Waihou river. One day the ferryman was carrying out his duty with a load of cattle when some of the animals became excited, and rushed to one side of the ferry which capsized, with the result that most of the cattle were drowned.
Lengthy litigation followed to determine liability, and was only finalised when the Court of Appeal held that the Ohinemuri County Council having established the ferry as part of the road, was liable for the value of the cattle.
The first Puke Bridge was officially opened in 1915 and served until the present up to date structure was opened. It should be noted that bridges on the main rivers limited shipping and for that reason the original Puke Wharf was superseded by the Ngahina Wharf downstream from bridge.
Meanwhile it became necessary to construct bridges at Karangahake. An advertisement in the "Thames Advertiser" in 1885 states:-
"Tenders were opened at the Ohinemuri County Council office as follows:- "Suspension Bridge over the river at Karangahake township. R.N. Smith £211-10 (accepted); A. Moore £240; C.S. Brown £258-10; S. Smarden £226-16-0 and J. Punck £278-15.
More bridges were to follow in that area:- e.g. 1897 - A heavy traffic (₤1350 Graham & Moore), one beside the first a swing foot bridge £197 Coulson & Hewson between River Road (near the Railway Station) and Irish-town on the main road. Most important was the big double bridge near the Railway Tunnel. This was opened in 1905 and still caters for both rail and road traffic. Two more swing bridges were later erected, one in 1908 near Doherty's Creek to link Mackaytown with the flourishing Bowling Greens and Tennis Courts near the School of Mines (Mr. Bott's property) in 1910 one to the Mackaytown Railway side station beyond the Recreation Ground. (₤687 - Tony Lupis) and in 1912 another traffic bridge at Karangahake (₤2497 - Kennedy & Taylor).