Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997

This article first appeared in Mr Ken Clover's book "Waitakaruru 1902-1977" and refers in general to communications on the Hauraki Plains but with particular reference to Waitakaruru and that area of the Plains.

Early Water Transport

In the first days of settlement in the Valley, because of the boggy surface conditions and the barrier of the western hills, land communication to the Hauraki Plains was impossible. The early traders and surveyors tell of journeys of several days to cross only a few miles of swamp. Communication by water therefore was the only method by which men travelled and goods were dispatched and received. Launches, Scows and Steamers plied between Thames and Auckland and also up the main rivers.

Timber and flax were the first exports and these naturally were taken on punts and boats down river to near the Firth, and thence shipped to Auckland, or in the case of timber, sometimes directly overseas. For this reason early settlements grew up chiefly on the banks of the Waihou, Piako and Waitakaruru Rivers.

Sketch plan of the Hauraki Plains

Sketch plan of the Hauraki Plains showing localities mentioned in the article. (Not to scale)

Hauraki Plains - River and Road Communications
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997
Sketch plan of the Hauraki Plains

By 1911 there were seven Lands and Survey wharves and all transport out of the area was by water, except from Miranda where cattle and sheep were still being driven across country to the railhead at Pokeno or direct to Westfield. The waterways then must have been busy places with overseas ships as well as local ones calling at Turua, and further up the Waihou to Netherton and Paeroa. The Piako had its wharves and landings at the end of each small road or settlement and also the Waitakaruru River had its two wharves, one by the junction and one by the "Town". The Lands and Survey at that time had in the rivers, two dredges, the steamer "Hauraki", four oil launches and odd pontoons and punts as well, so navigation could have had its hazards.

By 1919 there were now fourteen Lands and Survey wharves and trade was expanding, with flax and timber still being the chief exports, but with dairy produce steadily mounting. By 1921 there were two steamship companies trading directly between Auckland and the Settlements. Wharves were being improved and kept in good order and much cream and milk was being taken by river traffic to factories for processing. At first jetties had been built purely for the use of the Lands and Survey Department, but settlers soon gained the right to use them and later on still, controlled them. Tonnage on the Piako River increased from 3,740 tons in 1918 to 31,971 tons in 1930. In fact the Piako became the life line of the Hauraki Plains. The same increase would no doubt have been made with the Waitakaruru River traffic but no figures are available for this trade. Timber, flax and dairy produce went out by river, while metal, machinery food and furniture came in. An unending stream of vessels of all descriptions called at each settlement once or twice a week.

By 1927, even though some of the wharves were not in a very good state of repair, the Lands and Survey Department did its best to get the Hauraki Plains County Council to purchase the lot at a fairly stiff price, and on top of that to bring those in bad repair up to a good standard. With the advent of road transport around the corner and the possibility of the wharves not being used as much in the future the Council put forward their counter proposal. They would take over from the Lands Drainage Department all their wharves for the sum of 1/-. After being in complete control of the Valley since 1908 the Department capitulated and in December 1927 accepted the 1/-; while the Hauraki Plains County Council inherited the Pipiroa, Horohia, Rawe Rawe, Hopai, Kopuarahi, Shelley Beach, Millers, Kaihere, Patetonga, Ngatea, Orchard (Puhunga), Orongo and Waikaka wharves on the Piako; the Waitakaruru Wharf and the Turua and Netherton wharves on the Waihou.

Launch and Boat Services

As far as can be ascertained the first regular boat service from Waitakaruru to Thames and back was that of Mr William Coxhead, whose launch ran between the Township wharf and the Shortland Wharf at Thames. Mr Dick Nightingale also ran a launch to Thames, as later did Mr Arch McCarthy. Mention must be made of the "Settlers Day" trips to Thames. This was the one day in the month when the tides were right for an early start on the high tide and a return on the following high tide later that evening. After weeks of toil the Settlers could go to Thames, do their shopping and then have time to have a chat with friends in the Brian Boru or any other of the Hotels in town. Many a hilarious tale has been told of the trips home and the subsequent landings at the home wharf.

When there is mention of McCarthy's launch, possibly one visualises a small 15 or 20 foot boat, but in fact this was not so. In 1915 Arch McCarthy took delivery of the "Shamrock Leaf", a boat 44 feet long, 9ft 6ins beam, powered by the latest 35 h.p. Stirling Engine and able to seat no less than 50 to dinner. All this for the Waitakaruru - Thames run! At the same time as launches were going to Thames, scows and other boats were trading between Waitakaruru and Auckland, bringing in metal for roads or building and in general keeping the settlement going. Since about 1911 Mr A C Bertram had been running a service on this route with the Oil Vessel "Heda".

In 1921 the Clevedon Steam Navigation Company joined in with the "Minerva" and also the "Glyn Bird". Their sailing advertisement stated that the boat left Auckland on Tuesdays and Thursdays and returned from Waitakaruru on Wednesdays and Fridays. Passengers from Orere, Sandspit etc. could avail themselves of the service. This service did not last for long, leaving Bertrams the only link with Auckland. When in 1922 Mr Bertram sold out to Captain Sorrenson and Mr McCarthy stopped his Thames trip, for three months the settlement was without any water transport at all.

Due to a lot of good work put in by the Farmers Union, Mr McLennan was induced to start a weekly run to Auckland with his boat "Manuwai", also to run a trip to Thames. The "Manuwai" was a much larger boat than had been used before, carrying about 35 tons against 17 tons previously. Just how long Mr McLennan traded is not known, but in 1925 when a second beacon was asked for at the entrance of the Waitakaruru Stream the Secretary of Marine wrote stating that it was unnecessary as there was only one launch a week from Auckland and a very occasional one came from Thames. This could have been Mr Bertram's service, as his boat was definitely trading in 1926 again. On 17th April 1931 he held a little celebration when he entertained a number of the old settlers to mark the 20 years that he had traded between Waitakaruru and Auckland. With the "Heda" and later on the "Wairuru", Bertram's Boats were calling at Waitakaruru until 1947 when the cartage of cheese from the factory was changed from sea to road. Thus was brought to an end a service that can never be forgotten by any of those people living in Waitakaruru in the early years.

From 1924 Captain Sorrenson spent some years trading in this area. One of the boats was renamed the "Urenui" and she was sometimes seen at Waitakaruru. This boat in later years was burnt and remained a hulk until it was restored to its former glory by Mr Allan Brimblecombe and given back its original name of "Settler".

Early Roading

In 1909 when the first drains were being planned it was discovered that these would have to be direct or they would not flow, the grade being so slight. This was an excellent thing as far as the roads were concerned because the spoil was excavated from these straight drains and used as a base to form the roads. The first roads were merely horse tracks along the foreshore, or in any other place where there was dry ground. When a drain was dug the road became the track alongside the drain. When the drains had been dug on either side of the road and the spoil thrown up to form a higher stretch of ground in the middle between the two, that, then, was known officially as a cart track. According to the Lands and Survey report in 1911, by the time the first settlers were on their farms there were 19 miles and 23 chains of these cart tracks on the Hauraki Plains made from that sticky grey mud. Cart tracks or not, in those days waterways were the main means of transport. The roads became impassable in the winter and pack horses and sledges were a common sight.

The drains were in fact a better proposition than the roads, and many a settler used a boat to transport his supplies up the drain in preference to using the road. An endeavour was made to improve these but there was little money to spare, no metal handy and in some places no bottom foundations for the road. In many cases where there was swampy ground or a lot of traffic, tea tree fascines had to be laid down to give any sort of foundation at all. We find the name of Waitakaruru popping in and out of the pages of the Ohinemuri Gazette from 1910 onwards, mostly in connection with the Waitakaruru - Waikaka Road with letters to the Council, or possibly the local M.P. raising the issue in the House.

It did seem at that time that access to the outside world through Waitakaruru was the only object and that internal roads were almost non-existent. It was obvious that the roads had to be improved somehow. There was no metal, so the next best thing was shell and sand, and this was tried. There was an old beach composed of shell and grit near the Department cookhouse, (across the road from the Waitakaruru School) which had been used as a feasting ground many years previously and this was used in 1916 to shell the road from the Waitakaruru Stream (twin bridges) to the Maukoro. Many other stretches of road were similarly treated wherever shell or sand was available, such as the Mahuta (or Shell Road) and the Boom Road, while the road between Miranda and Kaiaua was, until only a relatively short time ago, just a shell beach that had been graded. Most people who had occasion to use the road will remember the fact that if one travelled on it the day after the grader, the surface was smooth, fast and fit for a race track. A few days later it was a series of juddering corrugations from one end to the other, making trips to the beach a shuddering experience. When, in 1917, a contract to shell the Stream Road was cancelled, there were complaints because the settlers wanted the shell put on to its usual one foot thickness rather than using metal.

The first metal supplies were brought from the Kauaeranga. Mr Kerby was towing in barges of river shingle to Pipiroa and this metalling was a vast improvement on the clay cart tracks, but it still was not the answer, as the river shingle was rounded and tended to slide off the road, There were repeated requests to the Council to have "blinding" done to hold the top together. Later, metal supplies were obtained from the Puriri Stream and then the quarry at Hikutaia was purchased. The metal from that quarry was delivered to a landing by the Alley Bridge and barged from there to various points on the rivers, where it was unloaded into hoppers at some places. For the most part it was just left in heaps at each small wharf to be shovelled by hand into carts or light rail trucks and put on the road. This quarry at Hikutaia was not a success and after being used intermittently was sold in 1928.

Where drains had been dug the spoil made the new road, but where there was no drain and only swamp then something else had to be done. In 1913 a light 2 foot gauge railway was laid across the peat to bring soil from the foothills, but although this did not bog as much as the Hauraki Clay it was still not the whole answer. It was metal that was needed. Today this method of first putting down a foundation of hill clay and then metal on top is the only one used on the Plains to put in all roads. In a round-about way it was this tramline that hastened the metalling of the Waitakaruru Road.

It was obvious that the clay fill from the hills was the answer for the roads across the swamp in the Patetonga-Kaihere area, so a light locomotive and rails were ordered from Britain, but owing to strikes on the Continent the loco was delayed. The rails and sleepers were used instead to form the Waitakaruru-Pipiroa road with metal from the Kauaeranga. At one stage when the Main Road between the two bridges had to be metalled a tram line was run from a point almost directly behind the Waitakaruru Community Centre, across what is now Duffin's farm, and so on to the road by the Maukoro Canal Bridge. Scows used to unload at the wharf and a light train would pull the trolley loads of metal along the track where it was spread onto the road. Some of the children at the time used to ride on the trucks, or on the loco, and it was in doing this that one of them, Lily Brown, slipped and was killed. As far as statistics go she probably was, unfortunately, one of the first people killed on the roads at Waitakaruru.

Metalling and Maintenance

Roading and bridges seemed to be the joint responsibility of the Councils and the Lands Department and even though progress seemed to be slow, at least the main roads were being improved, mainly because, with the ferries and bridges being built Waitakaruru was on the main road link to the East Coast. Most of the swamp roads are in the same place today as they were 50 years ago, obviously because the drains and canals were placed first and the roads followed these lines.

The hill roads on the other hand have been shifted around, first following the easy grades and contours of the bridle tracks, then when machinery became available they were straightened for convenience. The road from Bathurst's corner to the Dam at first ran by the hills and then was straightened to its present position. The Mahuta Road remains in relatively the same position today as in years gone by when it was the main, and in fact only, road to Patetonga. In 1920 the Puketotara Road, the first hill road on the western hills, was constructed as a better and shorter route. Later still, of course, in 1962 the Highway 27 link between Motion's corner and Mangatarata was put in, so making obsolete the Puketotara Road.

Hauraki Plains Council Formed

Before 1908 the Hauraki Plains was a sort of no-mans-land being on the edges of two Counties and then, after the Act in 1908, the area came under the wing of the Drainage Division of the Lands Department. The Department seemed to keep rather a low profile preferring to get on with the drainage and to leave the requests for roading to the Thames and Ohinemuri Councils to deal with. It appears that most requests must have fallen on deaf ears. For many years after the settlement of the Piako Swamp had become an established fact, it seemed as if no one in the established Counties on either side wanted anything to do with the swamp lands on their borders. Not until it came time to strike rates, that is, and then it seemed as if both Counties took a very definite view of the levying of the new settlers!

Luckily for the settlers, when the Attorney General was brought into the fray this was the result as reported in the Thames Star, September 1914. "The Attorney General gave his decision that the settlers of the Hauraki Plains did not have to pay rates to either the Ohinemuri or Thames County Council as neither body had spent and money at all on the roads of the Hauraki Plains." Later on, the boot was on the other foot. This time it was the Lands Department that was trying to re-neg on its responsibility for metalling the roads that had been formed.

It seemed that on the first two Ballot posters put out by the Department extolling the virtues of the Plains, they had used the words "All roads, drains and stopbanks shown on the poster are either constructed or under construction and will be finished by the Department." The words "and will be finished by the Department" were deleted on later posters, but this had not gone un-noticed by some of the eagle-eyed settlers. The Department said that finishing a road meant just grading the clay and not metalling, but the settlers and the Council (and their lawyers) said that metalling it had to be. The Department denied responsibility, the Minister denied responsibility but finally capitulated and so a reasonable amount of money did come from the Department for this work.

By 1918 things were coming to a head. Very little action could be had by the Plains Settlers because their problems were peculiar to this area. There was a move afoot to form a new County and this was going to have a tremendous effect on all aspects of life on the Plains. A Hauraki Plains League had been formed and this body was in there "stirring". One submission from the County League stated "The Thames and Ohinemuri Counties are essentially mining Counties and are mill stones around the neck of the Hauraki Plains District which has progressed in spite of them." Rather strong words, but at least it seemed to produce action! In the Hauraki Plains Act 1908 it stated that "No new County shall be constituted except under a special Act."

The Hauraki Plains, Thames and Ohinemuri Counties Act was the answer to this and so the way was cleared for the new County. Even though a new County was to be formed, included in the small print were the words "Nothing in the Act affects the powers of the Minister of Lands" so "Big Brother" would still be watching! When the idea was finally put to the vote the Thames Council voted 5 to 4 in favour of the idea, while the Ohinemuri Council was dead against it, even organising a counter petition to Parliament to try and stop the formation of a new body which would take away part of their land. In the end a Commission sitting from 22 November 1918 heard all the evidence for and against and the gist of their report stated "There is over-whelming evidence in favour of a new County and recommend that it be created on the lines asked for." Ohinemuri County still did not agree, but no matter, the formal constitution of the Hauraki Plains County was made on 1 April 1920. The cynical might say that it could be a very appropriate date! Nevertheless by May, the first election had taken place for the new Council and it was from then that there was real action.

It didn't take the Council long to settle down to work and the roads got as much attention as the money would allow, and believe me there was very little money and therefore very little work. The only possible answer was therefore taken by the settlers in each individual Riding, by getting the Council to arrange loans for their areas to be serviced by the ratepayers in that particular vicinity. This was done at first with the main roads then each small side road. On 24 February 1916 a poll was held in Waitakaruru on the question of whether or not to form a special rating district and raise a loan of £3,500 for the purpose of forming and metalling the Waitakaruru district roads. There were 45 ratepayers in the district who were eligible to vote on the proposal. Six of these had three votes and four had two votes. The result was 11 for and none against so a loan was raised and a rate of 13/10d in the pound on unimproved value was levied. If three of the larger landholders with three votes each and one with two votes all cast their votes it could mean that only four out of forty-five voted, which could either show apathy or a complete trust in the organisation.

In the meantime back in the "City" the first meetings of the new council were being held in the Ngatea Hall. The Councillors didn't think much of the idea of the Hall for a venue as it was reported that they couldn't hear what was going on for the noise of the rain on the tin roof. This noise factor could have prompted the next move. A proposal to raise a loan of £30,600 for the purpose of erecting a Council Chambers and purchasing up to date machinery. A poll was held and the idea rejected, but on a recount being taken it was found that the loan proposal had been carried by 1/5 of a vote, so in 1924 we have a new Council Chamber and what was more important, machinery. Roads were disced, graded and rolled and even though one roller was left at Paeroa for two years before it was ever used, at least we had machinery. The Council was away with a rush. They had a new Council Chamber coming up, had bought some expensive new machinery, now what comes next?

In April 1923 we see the following advertisement was in the paper, "Wanted man for the following job. Inspector of Vehicles, Inspector of Traffic, Inspector of Buildings, Sanitation and Nuisances, Ranger, Dog Registrar and generally as Inspector for the due observance of County Bylaws." That should have kept the ratepayers quiet for a while. The trouble was that with no-one caring before, there were no rules; but now it was different. Even cars had to be registered, with the new car for the Engineer, Mr Liggins, proudly sporting the plate H.P.1. In 1927 the Waitakaruru Stream bridge (twin bridge) and the Maukoro Canal bridge were due to be replaced. (The P.W.D. report stated that the Stream bridge was extremely dangerous and a menace to public safety.) The Chairman of the County said "It was as rotten as a pear," while a Councillor described it as "Only standing up by force of habit." Today with the National Road Board footing the bill for the main highways and bridges it seems strange to find both the Public Works Department and the Council wanting poor little Waitakaruru Riding to pay the total cost of a new bridge. The P.W.D. then offered £ for £ subsidy but as our Riding member Mr C W Harris said at a meeting "Nothing doing, Mr Chairman, we have no money."

County Quarries

The big question was still metal, with first Kauaeranga metal then Puriri, then Hikutaia. In 1922 Coxhead's Quarry on Miranda Road and Hills Quarry in the same area were in use and in 1923 the Council purchased the quarry at the top of Maukoro Landing Road. About this time the tender for metal was won by the interests quarrying McCallum's Island in the Gulf, and the roads took on a rosy pink hue due to the colour of the metal. This metal was not really hard enough to stand up to the traffic which was now using the roads but for many years it was used as the cheapest and best source available.

The roads that were being metalled were, of course, only the through roads, with the idea being to link Pokeno with Paeroa by a good metalled road. The road from the Pipiroa wharf to Dalgety's Corner was metalled in 1921 as was the final one mile of clay road between the corner and Ngatea. This gave a good metalled road from Waitakaruru to the ferry at Pipiroa, also at Wharepoa, even though it was not until 1927 that the final stretch of clay road was eliminated from the hill road to Pokeno, some miles west of Waitakaruru. Some idea of the frustration that must have been suffered by the settlers can be gauged by the following.

In the summer of 1925 the Lands Department set to work on Canal West Road and for weeks and weeks in the summer, had according to the official report, two tractors, two scoops, two graders and six hired horses plus plough and discs, for a three mile stretch of road. A truly magnificent array of machinery and according to the locals, the road was worked on for so long that in the end it was to be polished with sandpaper. No metal was put on the road as it might have created a precedent and the result was, of course, that by the end of the winter it was again just a sea of mud. Action had to be taken, so it was arranged that the road was to be metalled the following year. This would be no doubt after the two tractors, two graders etc. came back again for a few more weeks. The cost was to be £4500 with the P.W.D. putting in £2000, the Lands Drainage Department £1500 and the settlers £1000. A poll was taken for the £1000 loan and the result, 18 for the loan and none against.

After the previous year's effort the result of the poll must have been fairly predictable. All this time Turua, which was a Township or County Town, had been quietly having its own roads done up. Early in 1921 an experimental strip of concrete road was put down from the wharf to the Main Road, a distance of about 3 or 4 chain. Now in 1925 a continuous strip of bitumen road was put down from Orchard Road to Turua and then on to Orongo, while in 1928 the first asphalt footpath in Hauraki Plains was laid in Turua again.

The tar sealing was continued on an experimental basis until 1930 when it got the official approval. In 1931 the quarry at North Road, Mangatarata was opened with the metal used mainly on the Mangatarata roads. In 1937 the Hauraki Plains County Council took over the quarry and ran it until it closed 22 years later and in this time just over 250,000 yards had been crushed. By the time the quarry rock was starting to run out in 1959, plans were well under way to transfer operations to Tetley's quarry, which is about two miles north on the same range. This quarry has been operating ever since, supplying not only the Hauraki Plains but also the neighbouring Counties and local M.O.W. work with ever increasing amounts of first grade metal, all coming from a range of hills only four miles from the original settlement at Coxhead's Corner. If these quarries had been found in the early days of the settlement, much expense might have been saved and the settlers might not have had to put up with the dreadful road conditions that they did.

Bridges & Ferries

Roads now crisscross the Plains but unfortunately, streams, rivers and drains also cross the roads and that means bridges and ferries. In April 1912 a ferry was started at Wharepoa. In May of the same year it capsized, but by December it was obviously running again because we see that the new scale of charges was advertised:

  • Foot passengers 3d
  • Pigs 3d
  • Cattle 3d
  • Horses with rider 6d
  • Passengers on a vehicle 2d
  • Sheep ½d
  • County Officials on duty Free
  • Children going to and from school Free

1908 saw the start of discussion and argument about when and where to site a ferry across the Waihou near Thames. 1911 saw the Minister give his decision that the ferry would be at Kopu and not at Turua. 1912 to 1918 saw stagnation and frustration. 1919 saw the Kopu Ferry running. 1920 saw it stopped again because of the difficulties in running the "darn" thing. 1922 and it was in action again. A 35 foot launch, and a punt 40 feet x 18 feet was either pushed, pulled or towed. By October 1922 it was making four trips a day and then in May 1924 the launch "Orongo" (which was used to propel the ferry) broke down and had to be replaced. When it was replaced there were now nine return trips a day being run right through until May 1928, when the new Kopu Bridge was opened by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable J G Coates.

There had been a great deal of skirmishing among various Local Bodies before the decision to build a bridge at Kopu. Reading between the lines in the local papers, it was obvious that Paeroa residents didn't want the bridge because it would take the Hauraki Plains trade away from Paeroa and it was equally obvious that Thames did want the bridge for the very opposite reason. The Puke Bridge had been opened in March 1915 with quite an amount of trade travelling over that structure and the city fathers of both towns were awake to that.

The new Ngatea Bridge was opened in 1917 then in 1926 the Pipiroa ferry was opened. There was also a ferry across the Piako at the bottom of the Kaihere Road. Today the Wharepoa ferry is gone, leaving behind the legacy of a Ferry Road on both sides of the river and the Kaihere ferry also replaced by a modern bridge further down stream. The old lifting-span bridge at Ngatea was replaced by a new bridge in 1964.

The ferry at Pipiroa ran until 22 September 1951 when tragedy struck, and with a truck load of cattle on board the ferry capsized. The driver of the truck, Mr Kelly and a passenger in a car were drowned. This was not the first time this ferry had overturned. In July 1930 with a load of cattle on board the ferry also capsized, but that time with no fatal results. Plans were made for a bridge to be built and this was opened in 1954.

Here at Waitakaruru, unlike other rivers to be crossed, our streams and canals have been fairly small, we have always had some sort of a bridge to keep our feet dry. Because of the lack of good roads when all these bridges were put in place they would have originally been for local use only. Today these "local" bridges are links on the main highway system. Since the earliest days there must have been a bridge across the Stream at Waitakaruru Township, but it wouldn't have been until 1917 when the Stream Canal was put in that a bridge of any size would have been built. A description is recounted by Mr Frank Mounsey of his arrival in Waitakaruru in 1921 when he well remembers on that day the dredge, which had just finished digging the canal, came downstream to the bridge. It lifted the bridge up, came through the gap, then turned around and deposited the bridge back in place again. The dredge continued on down the stream to the junction and later set off up the Maukoro where it did the same with the Maukoro bridge.

The bridge that was erected in 1917 lasted only until the late 1920s when all the argument took place as recorded earlier, as to who was to pay for the bridge. What the outcome was we are not told. At any rate, October 1928 saw the start, and May 1929 the opening of the bridge. As the volume of traffic grew in later years it was obvious that it must be replaced by a larger two-lane structure. Unfortunately the P.W.D. had done a good job in 1928 and the bridge was well-built and sound.

There were many more bridges in other areas that were in more urgent need of replacement and as usual money was short, so we had to make do. The approaches to this bridge on the curve make it rather awkward to negotiate at any speed and that was what a lot of motorists seemed to do - any old speed at all! This speed, combined with the long straight stretches of Hauraki Plains roads which lulled them into a false sense of security, caused some tricky, some awkward and some hilarious accidents, but, luckily, only one fatal. At one time, according to the party-line grapevine, we fully expected Mr Jim Mitchell, whose shop was next to the bridge, to give up his shop and go on permanent accident control on the bridge. At least once a week on the average, according to Mr Mitchell, there would be a loud crash and one more set of railings would have gone. It developed rather like a game of skittles, with the M.O.W. men putting up new railings one day and a motorist knocking them down the next.

The Pipiroa Ferry - 1939

The Pipiroa Ferry - 1939

Hauraki Plains - River and Road Communications
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997
The Pipiroa Ferry - 1939

There was the tale of the hunter with a car full of dogs whose vehicle did a complete somersault before landing in mid-stream. Dogs were scattered in all directions on the mud but no one was hurt as the tide was full out at the time. There was the man who managed to drive his car over the bank and into the Canal, passing between the bridge and a power-pole with only inches to spare on either side. The vehicle wasn't marked on the way through but the owner was very hurt when the tow-truck, on doing a fine job of winching the car out, managed to scratch the side of it. One other person who will long have cause to remember "Our Bridge", was the driver of the Army truck coming from Thames. He shot over the bridge, did a circuit across the road between a power-pole and a petrol pump, then straight back across the road and right through the wall of Jim Mitchell's shop, to end up in the middle of the haberdashery.

It was a miracle that there were no fatal results to these accidents but it was because of this fact, that the bridge situation provided the humour that it did. Things got so bad that something had to be done, so the Ministry provided a bailey bridge as a stop-gap measure. This was to remain until a new bridge is built in the near future, in conjunction with the raising of the stop-banks and other Catchment Board work. Our twin bridges have become a landmark, and although rather inconvenient, I think most locals will be sorry to see then go. One person who will not be sorry to see them, replaced is the motorist who, before the rails were even on the approaches of the new Bailey bridge had a hard time making up his mind which bridge to drive on. He settled the matter the hard way. He drove into the Canal between the two of them.

Our last "bridge affair" was the motorist who must have been in a hurry on urgent business. He shot off the bridge, aimed his car halfway between the Auckland and Miranda roads and ended up smack in the middle of Waitakaruru's "Clochemerle". This combined bus stop and toilet, which so beautifully graces our township, was severed from its foundations and has had to be completely rebuilt.

Another of our bridges with a history is Suicide Bridge, on the highway north of Bathurst's Corner. This was up before 1924, was washed away in a flood that year and replaced with a temporary one before the permanent structure was erected in 1925. This bridge was in a gulley and crossed the stream at a bad angle. It was all right for the horse and cart era but with the coming of high speed motor traffic the bridge was positively dangerous. For years the locals and travellers alike had been saying it was a death trap, but the powers that be said "No" it was quite safe. A number of accidents had happened over the years while there were many near misses. All of a sudden one after the other, a truck, a motorised caravan and finally one of "our own" N.Z. Road Services buses went into the stream and the point was taken. The little "safe wooden bridge" was replaced by a new one.

The Maukoro bridge of course wouldn't have existed before 1908, there being nothing to cross. After the six foot drain was dug at that time, a few planks probably would have been sufficient until 1909. It would then have been replaced after the dredge had passed, digging the canal as it went. There were plans for a permanent bridge on the Lands and Survey estimates for 1913-14 that must have produced a bridge of some sort, because it wasn't until 1935 that the present bridge was erected.

The final bridge lifting job on this canal was in 1929 when the American Steam Dipper Dredge passed through on its way to start digging the Pouarua Canal a mile further upstream so a permanent bridge could then be built. This bridge is a concrete structure, concrete piles, concrete deck and concrete sides. If anyone has ever tried to look through a concrete wall they will know how hard it has been to see traffic coming so as to safely turn out of Canal Road by the School. Forty years on and finally the upstream rail was removed and now the Canal Road residents can at least pick and choose the cars they might wish to bump into. Today in this land of rivers, drains and canals we are well served with some first-class bridges over these watery blockages. In the Waitakaruru area it only remains for the twin bridges to be replaced, the Canal East Bridge and a few other minor structures to go and we will be able to see that the days of the Lands and Survey cart roads are well and truly behind us.


The change from water to road transport was in the first place a very gradual process, then as the roads and the vehicles improved, so the pace quickened. The horse and gig had to make way for the motor car and likewise the launch to make way for the service car and taxi. Mr W White was running a garage and some form of car service in Thames in 1914 and there was no doubt some passenger service between Thames and Paeroa. Until the opening of, first the Wharepoa and then the Kopu Ferries there could be no Thames-Hauraki Plains service and until the metalling of most of the Waitakaruru-Pokeno stretch of road there could certainly be no service to Auckland.

The day the Army visited Jim Mitchell’s Store.

The day the Army visited Jim Mitchell's Store.

Hauraki Plains - River and Road Communications
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997
The day the Army visited Jim Mitchell’s Store.

With the advent of the Kopu ferry a service was started between Thames and Turua and in November 1922 between Thames and Ngatea. When on the first run, Mr Rhodes M.P. who was on board, officially opened the "New" Kopu ferry. The first ferry had stopped running after a short while. Before this time most of the service on the Plains had come from the Paeroa end but only to the Plains and not beyond, as the roads to Pokeno were impassable in the winter. 1922 was the start of the "Through" services when Mr H Hansen, 'Turua Jack', commenced running a daily motor car service from Turua to Pokeno using a seven-seater "Napier". Almost at the same time Jack Corbett and Alf Winder pioneered their service from Thames to Auckland, followed shortly after by a second service run by W (Hookey) White.

Great competition developed between these two Thames services and thanks to the desire of each operator to give the best service and so attract the most passengers, very efficient and fast runs were soon in operation. Later on these two firms merged and the new company operated under the name of William White and Sons. After this merger into one company another service was started, that of Wheelers "Black and White" buses. This company did not last long and left the field to White and Sons until they were taken over by the N.Z.R. in 1947.

At the time of the take-over the "White" buses were in fact, first-class long distance service cars and a pleasure to travel in. When the take-over by the N.Z.R. was complete Thames and Plains people found themselves saddled with a collection of old buses that Alf, Tom and Hookey would probably have turned up their noses at in the old days. The beautiful White Service Cars ended up many miles away in some other favoured locality.

In 1925 Mr E Thomas started a new service from Paeroa to Auckland running under the name of White Star Buses. In early 1926 this meant three firms were, between them, running four trips daily to Auckland from Thames, while there was one firm running two trips daily from Paeroa. It was no wonder that launch services ceased when one could travel at speed and comfort by luxurious motor buses. That is, if one could call being bumped and jolted over rough metal or clay roads in a hard seated, heavy sprung bus at the breakneck speed of 35 mph, travelling at speed and comfort!

As late as 1928 the Hauraki Plains Council set the speed limit of 35 mph in the open country, 20 mph through townships and 15 mph past schools during school hours. Despite these minor details the number of services continued to grow. In 1927 Mr Petersen ran a Thames-Auckland service for a while with a 12 seater passenger bus. In the same year the A.A.R.D. Company started their Tauranga to Thames run. When in 1928 the Waihi Transport Company started a Waihi to Auckland service they were soon joined with the A.A.R.D. Company as one firm. So began the A.A.R.D. Service for the Plains to Auckland. With a name like the Automobile Association of Reliable Drivers that must have been a good company!

Finally there was the through service from Te Aroha to Auckland and it was this multiplicity of services that the N.Z.R. combined into the one organisation which was operating until a few years ago. As well as the through services there were many local buses running over the years, Ogier and Woods had a service car, Mr Geo. Crockford was well-known for his Waitakaruru - Pokeno run, Barney Ferral, Grey Connell and Harry Berney also ran services.


In later years at Waitakaruru Merv Whitehead and Tim McLeod were running picture buses and Thames shopper's buses in conjunction with their school runs. Public transport must also include the taxi-cum-service car, run by Harry (Pop) Berney, which ran backwards and forwards to Thames providing shopping service for the people of Waitakaruru. Mr H Jowsey had a five-seater "Flint" car in 1927 and it is hard to imagine how he managed to collide with the Ford belonging to Mr W Burdus on the Boom Road that year. There surely couldn't have been any traffic congestion in those days!

Much later Mr H Wilkinson ran a taxi service and then Don Sears, whose Canal Road - Mangatarata school run at times appeared to be heading for the Guiness Book of Records with the number of children who could be fitted into one vehicle. One last form of public transport came into being in 1954. The firm of Waitakaruru Rentals run by Mr and Mrs Ace Billings which operated until 1958.

Today with every household having at least one car, the need for public transport is not so essential as it was and with good roads and fast cars, the journey from Thames to Auckland can be made in well under two hours. Hansen's two hours from Turua to Pokeno in 1912 or Crockford's bus with its spade, axe and rope on hand for emergencies seems a long way off. In 1925 when Mr Thomas instituted his Paeroa to Auckland service with a full load of passengers (5 that is) it was, 7.45 am depart Paeroa and 1 pm arrive at Auckland. Mr Thomas stated after the first journey (to some disbelievers, no doubt) that he was even able to negotiate the clay patches on the Hauraki Plains without chains on his wheels.

Transport Operators

The other form of transport was of cause the motor lorry of yesterday or the "Kenworth" of today. Before even the lorry there were early contractors with horse and cart working on the local roads, W Peters, W Castles, the Adams Brothers and Harry Whittaker to name a few. In fact with little revenue coming off the farms early on, most farmers at one time or another did some form of contract work to earn a little extra. By the early 1920s the motor lorries were beginning to appear and J Kerby and Harry Berney were two of the first operators.

Milk Cartage

At first when cream had to be sent to Frankton, Paeroa or Kopu, usually one farmer from each road carted for his neighbours. As the supply increased, so horse and sledge gave way to the horse and cart, to give way in turn to the motor lorry. Carting to the Waitakaruru factory in 1928 was Frank Barlow and there followed many contractors whose names soon became familiar, not only for the milk cartage but for all general work in the district. Sargent, Stembridge, Perry, Smythe Bros. with Waitakaruru Transport, Eric Wilson with Parker Wilson Transport and Ross Francis as Foreman, Thames Freight Lines, H.L.H., and Hauraki Haulage operated by Terry O'Neil.

As well as these local firms there are of course the hundreds of vehicles of all shapes and sizes which "rumble" across our "shaky" highways, servicing not only the Hauraki Plains, but from Coromandel to Tauranga and from Opotiki to Morrinsville. Even with Highway 27 now taking a large volume of traffic away from the direct route through the town, we can truly say that Waitakaruru remains the gateway to the Thames Valley and beyond. It is no wonder that the stretch of highway from Bathurst's Corner to Pokeno held up the development for so long until it was metalled and sealed.