History - Birth of a bridge

By: Lyn Johnston

The first Wharehine settlers were cut off from direct access to Port Albert by the large Paraheke Maori Reserve, next to Wharehine Creek, and indeed by the creek itself. Travel from Wharehine to Port Albert meant either a long, rough trip along the Tauhoa boundary road or across to the Oruawharo River, then by boat to the township.  An early letter said: “… the roads are very bad, only two feet wide, running over hills and through gullies and swamps with stumps at every step.”

In 1869, Maori opened the Paraheke block for sale, and the first to buy land on there were W. F. Judson, Frank Ward and George Harden, who soon sold out to Albert Elliott. Two roads were made through Paraheke to the Wharehine Creek. Early in 1872, the Port Albert Highway Board wrote to the Wharehine Trustees suggesting a bridge be built across the creek at Judson’s landing. This proposal was enthusiastically supported, and a year later a wooden bridge was built by John Becroft and Sons, using timber from Nicholson’s mill.

In December 1874, the Auckland Star reported that Walter Witheford had narrowly escaped death when riding home from Port Albert on a “fresh and spirited” horse. The horse bolted on to the bridge where it stumbled and fell heavily, breaking its neck. Mr Witheford was hurled 10 to 12 yards forward along the bridge. He sustained head injuries and severe lacerations to his legs and wrists but, at time of publication, was making a steady recovery.

This bridge span served the district well for nearly 100 years with periodic repairs, but ultimately a replacement was needed. A 1934 Rodney Council meeting discussed Wharehine bridge construction, offering to build a reinforced concrete bridge 10ft 9in between wheel guards, including approaches, if the County Council would contribute a total of £750 towards the cost, and a further sum of £25 towards preparation of plans. This proposal was accepted.

Out with the old and in with the new. A photograph showing both Wharehine Bridges taken in the 1930s.

In March 1935, a report from Port Albert stated that “ … commencement has been made with the earthwork on the approaches for the new bridge over the Wharehine river near Port Albert. Tenders for the concrete bridge close this week, and it is hoped an early start will be made, as the present bridge is one of the worst in the County.”

Wet weather that winter held up construction, but work was completed ahead of schedule and traffic was using the new bridge by December. The old wooden bridge was cleared away with useful timbers being used elsewhere.

Among our Museum’s treasures is E. S. Brookes Jnr’s original watercolour architectural drawings for the first Wharehine Bridge.

Lyn Johnston, Albertland Museum


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