Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Thames (NZ): The history of the Kopu-Hikuai Road SH25A

The Kopu-Hikuai Road Fifty Years Old
2017 has been an eventful year in and around Thames; with the Thames Coast road closed on multiple occasions by rock falls. The nearby Kopu-Hikuai Road (State Highway 25A) has gone relatively untouched until a major slip on Sunday 23 July 2017. 

For decades the residents of Thames and the eastern Coromandel Peninsula Coast advocated and petitioned for a quicker route across the ranges. One of the most popular routes was up the Kauaeranga Valley. There were, and still are tracks all over the Coromandel Ranges that have provided access for pre and post goldfield era settlers; catering for foot and horse traffic. Bushmen and prospectors walked the tracks for decades following settlement in August 1867, and before that local iwi traversed the hills alongside early explorers to the area. The Neavesville track was a popular route as shown by the 1914 photograph on the right. (Source: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19140716-49-4)

The Thames County Council considered at length in 1934, the possibility of turning the Kauaeranga-Tairua track into a road. They decision was that the road was not warranted and that the maintenance costs would be too great. (Thames Star, 20 January 1934)

The roading dilemma continued and in 1936 the Thames County asked for government assistance to form and metal a road from the Kauaeranga to Tairua. On that occasion the Minister for Public Works, Mr R Semple said “On the information that I have had before me…I have come to the conclusion that the construction and metalling of this road will eventually be necessary, but that at the moment it is considered a little premature. (Thames Star, 18 April 1936)

On 20 September 1943 the Thames Star reported that a deputation from the Thames Chamber of Commerce, Thames RSA, and Hikuai soldier settlers met with the Hon R Semple (Minister of Works) to stress the need for a Kauaeranga-Hikuai Road. The group stressed the urgent need for a link to the soldiers’ settlement where farm land was being developed.

After years of debate the Kopu-Hikuai Road as we know it today, started to become a reality in 1957.
1957: Survey of possible routes were carried out.

1958: Work started on a Hikuai land development road that would later become part of the Kopu-Hikuai Road.

1961: In March the first three miles of the road were metalled. The Ministry of Works used metal from the Matatoki Quarry for the job. (Thames Star, 6 March 1961 - photo right)

1964: The final two-mile contract to connect the two ends of road was let in December. That year two ladies walked the Kopu-Hikuai Road aged 70 and 59. They were Mrs I Watts of Whangamata and Mrs L Watts of Beachaven. “The two ladies left Hikuai at 9am and arrived at the last bridge on the Kopu side of the road at approximately 5pm.” They spent the night and had a well deserved rest at Mrs Watt’s sisters (Mrs W McNeil) in Fenton Street, Thames. (Thames Star 24 November 1964)

1965: A summary in the Thames Star 24 November 1965, outlined the progress that had taken place over the previous years. The scheme was estimated at £1,089,000 to create 18 miles of highway through difficult country. This involved moving two million yards of spoil, building of seven bridges, and diversion of part of the Kiri Kiri Stream. The maximum grade was 1 in 10. At this stage four miles of the road had been sealed. At that time Mr M R Lancaster was the Resident Engineer, Mr J M Palmer the Assistance Engineer; and Mr J Harpur the Surveyor. (photos below)

1966: The Thames Star 22 April 1966 had the good news that the Kopu-Hikuai Road was progressing well and should be open by Christmas. “Given reasonable weather conditions, eight to nine miles of the road will be sealed by the time it is ready for opening, and the remaining section should be completed by the end of next year [1967].” It was envisaged that there were going to be great benefits opening up the two sides of the peninsula. “It will bring the peninsula area within a reasonable distance of hospitals, schools and other amenities.  The distance to Auckland will be reduced by 30 miles, and to Hamilton by 15 miles.” It was foreseen that the road would also have great benefit to industries such as forestry. It was noted that there would be a few curves that would be sharp and be marked as25m.p.h.; while others would be comfortable at 40 m.p.h.

The Thames Star 13 October 1966, brought the news that it was unlikely that the road would be open for Christmas as planned, due to ongoing bad weather. At that time they were awaiting the arrival of “a new Armco culvert…10 feet in diameter by 195 feet long” which was to be positioned in a gully on the Hikuai side of the summit.

During the time that the road was under construction, it became the Sunday drive event for many Thamesites. We would all pile into cars and drive up the road from Kopu, wondering each time how far the road had progressed. Watching endless slips and walking to catch a glimpse further up the road. Until the great day when the summit was reached. Below are a few of the photographs from the T A Trethowen Collection, kindly provided courtesy of L Mansouri. The photographs by Mr Trethowen graphically show the enormity of the task at hand and the many geographic obstacles that had to be overcome.

 From the photograph above, many will remember this incredible sight of the cuttings through the hills and the magnificent new bridges that spanned the gulleys and streams from Kopu to Hikuai. The end was finally in reach!

1967: On Thursday the 23rd March 1967 the Kopu-Hikuai Road was officially opened. Half of the 17 ¾ mile long road was sealed at that time. “The road is 24 feet wide and the seal is 188 feet, and it is built to a 50 mile-an-hour standard.” (New Zealand Herald 23 March 1967) The cost was given as £920,000, which included the building of several bridges and a major culvert. The cost was paid for by The National Roads Board (50%), roads vote (40%) and the remainder from various sources (Thames County, Thames Borough, Thames Chamber of Commerce and local roading committees). It was noted that the road climbed to 1340 feet –just slightly lower than the Tapu-Coroglen road..

The opening ceremony was attended by approximately 250 people, including the Hikuai School pupils. Speeches were held then the youngest pupil (Emmett McHardy) helped by Mrs Allen (wife of the Ministry of Works cut the ribbon that crossed the road. A scroll was presented to Master McHardy to remember the big day. (photo right)

The New Zealand Herald 25 March 1967, reported on the challenges of the day and the drive home. “Those who returned to the Thames side of the Coromandel Peninsula in the afternoon found the heavily metalled surface, yet to be sealed for eight miles on the Tairua side, hard going.” The unsealed sections were due for sealing during the 1968 season. “Mr W Brunton, Mayor of Thames described the opening of the road as the ‘most glorious golden egg ever given at Easter’”

The first map is from the 1960s, showing the road access around the Kopu to Hikuai area.

Below is part of a Ministry Works Map used during the construction of the road. The full map show s the different routes proposed and taken as the road was constructed. (Map available to view at The Treasury Thames)
 Below a google map view of the road as it is today - State Highway 25A.

Further information available:

State Highway 25A Kopu-Hikuai, Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 38, September 1994

(c) A Barker 2017