Water under the bridge

By: Jenny Schollum

With the huge pylons in place and the girders starting to be placed on top of them, the fifth bridge across the river at Puhoi is taking shape. The first bridge, built in the 1880s, was known as the drawbridge, although its 22-foot centre span was turned at right angles to let the shipping through. This was vital as the river was still Puhoi’s main access at that time.

Ships, such as the Kotiti with Captain Wenzl Schischka at the helm, blew their whistle as they approached the bridge. The Wenzlick family, who lived nearby, came down to work the mechanism to rotate the bridge. When closed it sat on a kauri pad at each end. A crowbar was needed to move the span off the pad, but once that was done it was easy to move by turning a handle. Jack Wenzlick remembered having to sleep with the window open even on cold winter’s nights so that he wouldn’t miss the whistle.

Road development in those days was undertaken by district roads boards who rated the landowners of their area and decided where money was to be spent. They engaged tenders and oversaw the work being done. Puhoi Road Board was subsidised by the New Zealand Government in 1883 and 1884 to the tune of £70.16. This is possibly when the drawbridge was built.

By 1914 the decking was deteriorating. Many complaints were laid with the Rodney County Council. Jack Wenzlick said he couldn’t operate the bridge in its present poor condition for the money he was offered. He was granted an increase to £15 annually. A proposal was made to re-route the main road north through Puhoi, crossing the river there and proceeding up the steep hill opposite the township, thus obviating the need for a drawbridge. Others wanted to replace the drawbridge with a concrete structure, then move the wharf to below the bridge. Probably because of WW I nothing, apart from stop-gap repairs, was done.

Then in 1924, Puhoi was inundated by the biggest flood in its history. All bridges, including the drawbridge, were washed away. For some time, cream cans, freight and people were ferried across the Puhoi River by a small boat attached to a rope strung across the river.

The Government were slow to provide another bridge, so the locals took the project in hand, felled trees that were standing near the river and quickly constructed a new wooden bridge. No longer a drawbridge, it changed Puhoi’s way of life forever.

This bridge was washed away by another flood in 1934 to be replaced by the narrow concrete bridge that some may remember. Many accidents occurred as it wasn’t suited for the increased size and volume of traffic. In 1994, the present-day bridge opened in style. At the opening were kaumatua, the Rodney mayor, the Christchurch wizard, fire brigade, a variety of dancers, and the oldest living Bohemian descendant, Jack Wenzlick, leading the way.


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