History of Bridges Across the Hawea River

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Wanaka Sun column by Barbara Chinn - Upper Clutha Historical Records Society

History of Bridges Across the Hawea River

Neither the Clutha nor the Hawea rivers were bridged in the early days of roading, so the rivers were crossed by punts.  However, by 1878 there was a suspension bridge across the Hawea River, just downstream from where it left the lake. 

During 1904 the Otago Witness reported that “The suspension bridge connects the Hawea Flat with the Forks district, and spans the beautiful river a few hundred yards from its source in Hawea Lake.”

The Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle reported in 1913 the recent votes on public works estimates, including 100 pounds each for “Hawea Bridge repairs” and “Hawea River bridge”, so the bridge was still used and maintained at that time.

The suspension bridge was demolished and the Ministry of Works built a Bailey bridge across the river while the dam was under construction. A story is told that an engineer from the project acquired the rocks that had formed the suspension bridge’s supports, for landscaping his garden.

Years later, even the concrete pedestals for those supports had disappeared, although the remnants of the Bailey bridge could still be seen below the service station. 

Graham Taylor has told me (during June 2015),

“I remember crossing the suspension bridge. My father used to run the school bus and the pupils had to dismount and walk across the
bridge as its weight limit was 6 tons and the bus weighed 5 tons, the same procedure on Saturday night with the trip to the pictures in Wanaka.

There is still some of the old suspension cable visible on the eastern bank of the river and the bridge access is still there too.

Unfortunately in the 1950’s history was “bunk” so to speak and everything was desired to be new! So the little suspension bridge fell foul of a D8.”

Once the dam had been completed, a road across the top of it replaced the bridges, connecting State Highway 6 with the growing township.

The district got additional bridges slowly. In 1902 a meeting of the Vincent County Council agreed that, although there was little money available for bridges, outlying settlers deserved better transport facilities than ferries across the Clutha River.

James Horn, Council Chairman, declared that the Government should help to finance four bridges and that the Lands Department, which received a great deal in rents from pastoral leases, should also help.

A group of Councillors, including John Kane of ‘Grandview’, then visited the northern part of the District, including the Hawea area. They agreed on a bridge site across the Lindis River and another at the Luggate punt crossing, and were then met at Hawea Flat by a deputation requesting local bridges, claiming that ferries were no longer adequate for current requirements. 

Horn replied that Council would make every effort to respond to the need.  The visitors then crossed the one existing (suspension) bridge, over the Hawea River, on their way to Pembroke (which was later named Wanaka).

Nevertheless, it was not until October 1915 that the so-called “Red Bridge” across the Clutha near Luggate was opened, then in 1930 the James Horn bridge at Albert Town was completed, and the Camphill Road bridge across the Hawea River came soon after, also in 1930.

     -  Barbara Chinn


RELATED:  More Wanaka Sun columns by the Upper Clutha Historical Records Society...

A look back at the history of Wanaka Airport  Posted: 9 March, 2018

History of Rabbits in the Upper Clutha Posted: 10 Feb, 2018

Wanaka 70 years ago Posted: 12 Jan, 2018

History of Lake Hawea township Posted: 17 Sep, 2017 

Early Surveyors in the Upper Clutha Valley Posted: 10 Aug, 2017

A look back at Pembroke (Wanaka Township) Posted: 13 Jul, 2017 

Irish street names in Wanaka Posted: 13 Jun, 2017

A River to Cross – Albert Town Posted: 12 Jun, 2017


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