The original Kauaeranga road bridge was opened on 17th November 1877. It was built approximately 1.5 km upstream from the current bridge site, close to what is now the Thames Racecourse. This bridge was severely weakened by the passage of kauri logs being towed from the Parawai Booms, several hundred metres upstream, and was eventually washed away by a flood in 1925.
To access the site from the western side of the river, turn east off SH25 approx 700m south of the current bridge (roughly opposite the entrance to Thames airfield) on to a short side road. This is marked on maps as Deeble Rd, but is not signposted as such. On the eastern side of the river, park next to the Thames Racecourse in Parawai Rd, walk through the gate at the northern end of the course and follow the stop-bank around to the north. (Note: access to the site may involve crossing private property, and relevant permission should be sought.) Remnants of the old bridge are clearly visible at the edge of the river, on the east (true right) bank, but only at low tide. See map in next section.
There are no visible remains of the bridge itself on the west bank, but the western abutment and the road leading to it, on a raised causeway, are still visible. They are in no immediate danger. The timber remains of the bridge on the east bank are exposed at low tide and will be subject to deterioration. However, after 82 years, they appear to still be in good condition. Iron bolts are rusted, but are not in any immediate danger.
The original Kauaeranga road bridge was opened on 17th November 1877, replacing a ferry that operated on ropes across the river (Williams 1987, Isdale 1992). The bridge was constructed of timber, sourced from Bagnall's sawmill at Turua.
The opening ceremony was an auspicious occasion for the town, with military units turning out, and 'almost all the citizens of Thames appeared to test the sturdy structure and afterwards followed the road past the little Maori church on Parawai Road back into town' (Williams 1987 p.45). According to Isdale (1992):
'The ceremony was fixed for 11 am. The volunteers mustered at their respective drill halls and afterwards fell in for the march towards Parawai. Major Cooper assembled at Shortland all the volunteers for the district. The parade formed up at the Volunteer Hall, Shortland, at 10.15 and marched off to Parawai. The ceremonies included a sham fight.'
Over 200 uniformed troops and cadets marched in the parade - an indication of how seriously military matters were taken at the time; shortly after the Waikato and Taranaki wars of the 1860s.
Some time after the opening of the bridge, a hotel - the Bridge Inn - was opened beside Barretts Road, the eastern approach to the bridge. The hotel is recorded by Kelly (1968 p.121), Isdale (1967 p.74) and Grainger (1951 p.66) in their histories of Thames. No information regarding the exact date of opening has been located; however, the earliest reference to the Inn that was found was in 1880 (Williams 1987 p.52).
As part of the kauri logging industry in the Kauaeranga Valley, the Stone brothers built a huge set of chain booms across the river at the tidal limit of the Kauaeranga, upstream from what is now the Thames racecourse, in 1871. (Hayward 1978, Isdale 1977). The purpose of the booms was to halt logs driven down the river by water stored in dams, which were usually tripped to coincide with a natural flood. From the booms, logs were towed by launch down to the Thames wharf at high tide. According to Hayward (1978 p.6) logs were towed downstream from the Parawai Booms until around 1922 and, by then, continual battering by logs had weakened the road bridge over the Kauaeranga. There were also a couple of 'accidents' when the booms broke and logs continued on down to the Firth of Thames. These events would have had some impact on the bridge as well.
The bridge had a difficult history: 'February 1917 saw Thames take stock after bad flooding ... The bridge over the Kauaeranga ... was swept away. .. Battering by kauri logs was a key factor, and the Thames County Council wanted the Kauri Timber Company to reconstruct the bridge.' (Isdale 1977 p.44). It is not recorded whether the KTC complied or not. However, the bridge was rebuilt, only to be swept away for a final time on 17th May 1925 (Isdale 1977 p.48). The replacement was built next to the then railway bridge; that is, at the site of the current road bridge, on SH 25 near Rhodes Park sports ground.
According to Williams (1987 p.133): 'No longer would it be necessary to travel through Parawai on the road to town. This affected the Jockey Club in that race-goers would lose the short cut past the Bridge Inn Hotel to the course.' No information was found regarding the fate of the Bridge Inn - presumably it would have closed some time after its clientele disappeared.
According to Mr Earl Cox (2007), his father was the last person to cross the bridge before it was washed away. Apparently Mr Cox (senior) had a load of farm produce he needed to get to Thames and he crossed despite warnings from persons in authority at the site. The bridge was washed away a short time later.
Features highlighted include:
The west side of the bridge site was visited on 7th July 2007. There were no signs of the wooden bridge structure; however, the roadway leading to the western side of the bridge, via a causeway, was discernable. There were patches of road metal intermingled with grass and several loose pieces of concrete on both sides of the causeway. (It is not known whether these were related to the bridge or not.)
The causeway ends in a clearly defined bank, which appears to be an abutment of the bridge. This is approx 30m from the river bank, which corresponds with photos showing the bridge extended at least 20-30m each side of the river (no doubt due to the tidal nature of the river and swampy ground each side). Approx 50m south of the abutment is a small grove of karaka and puriri trees, which appears to correspond to the grove of trees shown on the left of the bridge in Figure 3.
The east side of the bridge site was visited on 8th July 2007. Remains of the bridge, including timber and iron bolts, were clearly visible at low tide. (They were not visible from the other side of the river the day before, at higher tide.)
It is also likely that wooden piles would still exist below ground level on both banks of the river, due to the wet, swampy nature of the ground. However, it would require ground-penetrating spectroscopy techniques, or a lot of random digging, to locate them. There appears to have been a lot of flood activity in the low ground both sides of the river and silt build-up is likely.
The likely site of the Bridge Inn was estimated from photos (Figs 1-2), and an attempt made to find it by means of GPS. The estimated site is (now) quite low-lying ground, with shallow surface water. A more likely site is a small area of raised ground approximately 30m closer to the river. This was explored, but not in detail due to heavy gorse cover. Nor was it possible to get a GPS waypoint for the higher ground. A few pieces of sheet iron were found in the vicinity (WP 327), well dug in, indicating they have been in place for quite some time. It is possible that they originate from the Inn.
Cox, E. (2007). Personal communication, Thames.
Grainger, J. (1951). The Amazing Thames: the Story of the Town and the Famous Goldfield From Which it Grew, AH & AW Reed, Wellington.
Hayward, B. W. (1978). Kauaeranga Kauri, Lodestar Press, Auckland.
Isdale, A. M. (1967). History of "The River Thames", County Chronicle Press, Manurewa.
Isdale, A. M. (1977). Collected Notes: The Kauaeranga River, Thames.
Isdale, A. M. (1992). Major Isaac Rhodes Cooper and Laura C., Thames.
Kelly, W. A. (1968). Thames: The First 100 Years, Thames Star, Thames.
Monin, P. (2001). Hauraki Contested: 1769-1875, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington.
Williams, J. (1987). Racing for Gold, Williams Publishers, Thames.