It’s interesting to see how different our roads are now compared to the originals used by our ancestors. Many long-disused roads are still marked on Council maps and are often still regarded as open. The focus originally was to provide access to places where supplies could be obtained, such as the wharf at Port Albert, community centres, church gatherings, social events and schools. The coming of the railway, which changed the focus from water-based transport to rail and then roads, meant that many early roads became unnecessary.
Our earliest newspaper, the Albertland Gazette, mentioned the Highway Roads Boards – these were formed in each district as needed to form and maintain early access routes. In the years between 1865 and 1870 the Auckland Provincial District Highway Assessment Rolls were undertaken to tax landowners at the rate of one farthing (1/4 of a penny) per pound of property value to fund these roads.
The work was let out to locals who dug ditches by hand and laid ti tree fascines which were then covered with clay and, if possible, some metal. These were surprisingly effective, as were larger culverts made of kauri slabs, one each side of the drain and one on top. We had several of these on our farm and only replaced them when the timber decayed, although they must have been at least 80 years old.
Roads like JV Grant Rd, where the Grant family lived, were such that in winter, the only means of travel was by horseback. The family kept a section and garage at Underwood Rd where they housed their car and changed from horses to travel further.
GPS-based navigation services, that modern convenience so much in use today, are often tricky when travelling in country areas. The mapping programmes must in some cases have been taken from county maps which show all the disused roads. This has led to some strange detours by drivers. One occurred last year when a truck-and-trailer unit in excess of 44 tonnes took the route to Tapora via Underwood and JV Grant roads. It couldn’t negotiate the first rise it came to on the latter road and ended up having to be rescued by local farmers, after blocking the route for some hours. The driver said his GPS unit showed this track as the quickest way to Tapora.
We’ve had similar instances of milk tankers doing the same thing, despite this road being narrow, winding, heavily corrugated and downright dangerous. It remains the only route that oversize trucks can take if either of the bridges at Tauhoa or Wharehine are out of commission. Yet we are told that it’s not of sufficient importance to repair despite the school bus, metal trucks, stock trucks and fertiliser trucks, as well as many locals, travelling it daily, fighting their way through a wall of dust in the summer and sticky mud in the winter. Some things never change.