Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 26, November 1982
By C. W. MALCOLM
HISTORY has been revived with the resurrection of the paddle-steamer KOPU in her 85th year. She raises questions for a generation who were not born when the river was in its hey-day and was Paeroa's only connection with the outside world.
Scattered throughout our Society's JOURNALS (5, 15, 19, 20, and others) are references to some of the many vessels that plied the river to Paeroa and on to Te Aroha. The excellent article in No.3 JOURNAL by the late Mr J.W. Silcock lists such names as: ALERT, DESPATCH, EFFORT, LALLA ROOK, LUNA, PEARL, RUBY, and WAITOA, in addition to those that follow [see Journal 3: Water Transport in the Thames Valley - E].
We still have the KOPU awaiting restoration as a memento of this great maritime age of the past. But where have all the rest of them gone?
VIVID and PATIKI were together on the river round about 1882. The latter is shown facing page 23 of JOURNAL No.3 [see Journal 3: Images Journal 3 - E]. Though it looks far too small for the purpose, it took citizens of Paeroa for moonlight picnics complete with brass band to provide the music for dancing on the deck. Built in 1881 by A and G Price of Thames, this popular vessel ended its golden days ingloriously. Moving upriver to Netherton with a cargo of gelignite it collided on a bend with the TANIWHA. Fortunately the explosives did not detonate but were removed and later disposed of with an impact which is said to have shaken Paeroa. PATIKI's days were over.
About the same years KOTUKU sailed under Capt. Sullivan until it was withdrawn and its place taken by ENTERPRISE in 1889 when it was said to be likely to get all the up-river trade.
In 1891 while the NGUNGURU and OHINEMURI were busy on the river, the PAEROA made her first appearance in the town to be regarded with intense pride by its inhabitants and worthy of bearing the name. This proud vessel ended her days wrecked on the Hokitika Bar in 1920.
The railway bridge spanning the Ohinemuri River at Paeroa in 1895 meant that Paeroa's first two landings, the first wharf at the end of Arney Street, and the second at Wharf Street, could no longer be reached by vessels coming up the river. Paeroa's third wharf, the "Railway Wharf" below the bridge came into use. But in 1896 the Ohinemuri County Council protested at the Government's "virtually stopping access by exhorbitant charges" causing steamers "not to come above the Junction". Here, at the end of Junction Road, was established Paeroa's fourth wharf. It was about a mile by road from the town but seven miles by the river.
The volume of traffic using Junction Road is indicated by the request to the County Council for the road to be metalled to prevent the "64 carriers and their 164 horses" from being out of work. The owners of the NGUNGURU proposed to attach hinging devices to her masts and funnel to allow her to pass under the rail bridge and reach the landing at Wharf Street in the heart of the town, but she disappeared after a collision with the KIA ORA in 1897.
The Auckland Weekly News of 27 February 1897 records the advent of the KIA ORA and states that its owners had let a contract for the erection of a wharf and store sheds at the Puke. But KIA ORA was an "iron clad" where the other vessels were wooden hulled, she was in fact too big for the tortuous windings of the river, and soon disappears from our story. I believe she was wrecked somewhere on the coasts.
Possibly the two best remembered ships that those still living can call to memory were the WAIMARIE and the TANIWHA of the Northern Steam Ship Company. They were the "big ships" each well over 200 gross tons, carrying cargo in their fore and after holds, and conveying passengers in plush upholstered comfort and luxury.
WAIMARIE made her first up-river voyage in 1896, TANIWHA in 1897. In the busiest period they ran on alternate days. And in those days the wharf at the PUKE was a hive of activity. The WAIMARIE - TANIWHA era saw the Ohinemuri's limit of navigation drop, for the fourth time, from the JUNCTION to the PUKE, a move caused by the straightening oft he Waihou by a canal to this point. The junction of the Waihou and the Ohinemuri removed from its old position cut off the old connection with Te Aroha. No longer did the horse-drawn tram convey passengers from the JUNCTION Wharf, along Junction Road, into the town. Now a coach, drawn by a team of well-groomed horses, made the longer journey along Puke Road. The ships arrived on one high tide and sailed on the next. Departure was announced by three loud steamer whistles heard clearly, despite the distance, in the town. The first whistle warned that she would sail in half-an-hour, the second that a quarter-hour remained, and the third that she was actually moving out into the stream.
Unloading and loading of cargo into fore and after holds by the ship's derricks was a rush job in order not to miss the tide and risk stranding on the shoals. Frequently a 5 a.m. start called Paeroa's "watersiders" from their beds.
In 1912, to replace the ferry, a bridge was built across the river below the Puke Warf on the Paeroa - Auckland highway. An opening span allowed passage for the steamers, holding up road traffic at the same time. Ultimately it was decided to construct yet another wharf, this time below the bridge, Paeroa' s sixth wharf and limit of navigation for the trading vessels. One is reminded of Sir Henry Newbolt's poem:
"Now the sunset breezes shiver,
And she's fading down the river".
Literally the trade enjoyed by the faithful old Northern Steamship Company was fading down the river. The service car, the railway, and growing road transport were choking the life out of the river trade.
WAIMARIE was the first to succumb. In the early l920s she lay, a deteriorating sight at the Ngahina Wharf below the bridge, TANIWHA berthing adjacent to her sister on regular visits. She was later towed away to Auckland to be broken up about 1931.
TANIWHA, in 1937 was no longer carrying passengers in the comfort of her red plush upholstered saloon and her adjacent Ladies' Saloon. She continued with cargo until 1938 when she was withdrawn to Auckland, later to be stripped and sold for demolition. So the last passenger steamer to ply the Waihou, and the finest of them all, fades from the exciting picture.
The preservation of the old KOPU retains a tenuous link with a fascinating past. Perhaps in these days of the oil crises we could be well served by the return of such ships using our vast reserves of coal and transporting us over calm waters at a pace more leisurely than today's hectic rush and bustle. The "little ships" of our Maritime Park Society will surely preserve for us something of that more tranquil era in danger of slipping forever from memory.