Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 50, September 2006
(by Irene Wallis)
THE KAIHERE ferry came into operation in 1927 and crossed the Piako River between Ferry Road, Kerepehi, and Kaihere Road thus providing another link between west and east areas of the Hauraki Plains.
The first ferryman was Albert Strong who operated the ferry from 1927 to 1932. The second ferryman was Herbert Booth, from 1932 to 1936 and the third final man in charge was Jim Shilton Snr., from 1936 to 1956, being the longest serving ferryman.
During Mr Shilton's time the ferry was driven by with a 2.5 hp water cool Felix engine which was donated by Ned Reidy Snr., of Kaihere.
The ferry was used for all manner of services such as carrying motor vehicles, milk and cream cans, cattle and other stock, and also foot passengers. The Kerepehi children could cross the river and link up with the Ngatea District High school bus, running between Kaihere and Ngatea.
The ferryman's house was on the Kerepehi side of the river, where the ferry was moored. The ferryman could be summoned from the Kaihere side by banging a gong or sounding a car horn. There was also a small dinghy attached to the ferry to enable the ferryman to row to the bank if the ferry had to be moored further out in the river.
When crossing there was a bright red balloon hoisted high above the ferry. This could be seen from some distance away by other craft on the river and also when approaching along the road.
Jim Shilton usually carried a large jar of toffees aboard and would pass a handful of these through the car window to the mother of any children in the car. These, of course, kept the children quiet while he chatted to the parents and were much appreciated by all.
The ferry was closed in 1956, when the bridge was built further down stream and Jim and his wife retired to Kerepehi. This ending a chapter in the history of the Hauraki Plains, this being the last operating ferry.
There were other ferries which linked communities across the main rivers of the Hauraki Plains, but all cease operations well before the Kaihere ferry closure in 1956. Among these were:
Netherton ferry across the Waihou River linked Netherton and Komata.
Wharepoa ferry across the Waihou River linked Netherton, Kerepehi and Turua with Wharepoa.
Kopu ferry a crossed the Waihou River at Kopu, giving the northern area of the Hauraki Plains access to Thames. This ferry opened in the late 1890s and closed when the present Kopu Bridge was opened on May 11, 1928. This bridge was financed by a three-way share between the Thames and Hauraki Plains County Councils and a Government subsidy. The bridge was constructed with three vehicle passing bays but with huge increase in traffic volumes, lights were installed to improve traffic flows. The bridge is planned to be replaced in 2011 and the old structure, under the Historic Places Trust certification, will become a walkway.
Puke Ferry across the Waihou River was launched in 1899 to give improved and more direct access between Paeroa, Netherton and Turua. It was closed when the Ngahina Bridge (commonly known as Puke Bridge) was opened on March 10, 1915. This wooden one-way structure with two passing bays, was replaced with the present bridge in the 1960s.
The most notable ferry on the Hauraki Plains, for all the wrong reasons, was the Pipiroa ferry across the Piako River. It was the scene for two fatal accidents claiming four lives before it closed in 1954 after over 30 years serving the developing Hauraki Plains.
The first tragedy was on September 26, 1937, when a car, after being started in readiness to drive off on the Pipiroa approach, smashed through the ferry gates and dived into the river. The driver, Mr Darrach, was outside the vehicle, having just started the engine with the crank handle. His passenger, Miss Thelma Baker, daughter of the Kauaeranga Valley Hotel proprietor, was trapped inside, and although he made two attempts to rescue her he could not and in fact had to be rescued by the ferryman Mr Robert (Bob) Welch.
Mr Welch left the ferry and Mr Tau Tito took over the position in 1943 and eight years later was involved a second tragedy at the ferry crossing. On September 22, 1951, the ferry was carrying a truck loaded with large bullocks and a car. Midway across the ferry capsized and sank upside down in almost 4m of water. Ferryman Tito managed to scramble clear and climbed up the side of the sunken ferry to the surface.
The couple in the car, Mr Davey Herbert Willis, an Auckland builder, and his wife, Margaret, were trapped and were drowned; while the driver of the truck William Kelly, a farmer of Puriri, suffered the same fate as did the bullocks.
Settlers immediately demanded a bridge to replace the ferry, and their wishes were granted with a new two-lane concrete structure being opened in February, 1954.
Early settlers on the Hauraki Plains regularly used row boats to cross the rivers, and to move between communities along the banks.