Saturday, June 30, 2018

Thames (NZ): Thames Coast Road Postcard

The Thames Coast Road on the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula has always been a challenge, but the past year saw storms continually wreck havoc along the narrow pathway. It was good news to hear that the reconstruction work had been completed, and Mayor Sandra Goudie recently took the opportunity to thank all involved.

A report by STUFF 20 June 2018 summarised events:
"It took six months and $18.9 million to repair what nature destroyed in one day on the Thames Coast Rd.  Repairs to the stretch of State Highway 25 since the January 5 storm include 3km of resealing, 4 km of new pavement constructed, 41 culverts repaired, four new crossings, 70 rock walls, and many kilometres of rock protection, using 1700 tonnes of rock brought in by truck, more than 65 contractors and about 70,000 man hours. The rebuild is now complete, apart from an additional 3km of resealing scheduled for finer weather next summer."

The postcard below highlights the perfect day and drive down the Thames Coast Road to Coromandel. Pohutakawa cling to the rocks, while the driver of a few decades past, makes their way carefully around the narrow bends.

A Barker Postcard Collection
Since the Thames Goldfield was opened, roading issues have been a priority. While the early miners relied on sea transport like the local iwi, slowly tracks were developed along the coast as we know it today.

Reverend Lush for instance recalls in his diaries travelling north to Coromandel and making use of the low tide to walk along the beach. Over the decades, tracks were widened to the extent that horse and gig could travel up the coast to the more popular destinations. Car travel brought new challenges.

Biking was a popular way to travel the coast road, 
while cyclists reported punctures were a frequent occurrence.

During one week Dec 1921-Jan 1922, 1172 vehicles passed along the coast road. The majority were cars; along with lorrys, buses, motorbikes - but there were still 103 horse drawn vehicles.

1931 view of the Coromandel to Colville section of the coast road.

In 1929, concern was raised over the speed limit on the coast road. Four motorbikes had been seen doing 45 miles per hour - it was felt this was highly unsafe and that the speed limit should be reduced to 15 miles per hour. Twenty miles per hour the maximum!! Well known coast resident Mr McMahon confirmed the problem and felt some were using the coast road as a speed track!

In April 1930, the coast road was widened in places with some corners removed. Despite heavy metalling, motorists had been advised to carry chains for use in wet weather.

In 1933, a travel writer to the Thames Star extolled the virtues of travelling on the Thames Coast Road, and in particular the beauty of the pohutakawa. "Road Royal - That is the name by which men will one day acclaim the beauty of the Thames Coast Road." Thames Star 13 December 1933.

During the Depression years of the 1930s, gangs of labourers worked on the road, metalling and maintaining the road. Sea walls were built at various locations to try and protect the road from the sea.

In 1936 the news was imminent that the coast road was to be tarsealed, prior to this large sections were metalled. The people of Tapu appealed for the seal to reach them and not to stop at Thornton Bay!

A similar event had happened as during the 2018 King Tide event; the road in 1936 had been covered with silt and sand and it was feared that no would be able to gain access to the coast over the summer months.

In January 1937, a large landslide blocked the road just near the Puru Point - an event that had happened countless times and still happens to this day along the Thames Coast Road.

In March 1937 came the long awaited announcement that work was to begin on the sealing of the coast road. the first portion to be undertaken was to cost 950 Pounds. On going maintenance of the road was always a concern. in the same year 30 men were deployed to work trying to keep the road open and a public works camp was established to house them.

In 1939, Civil Engineer Mr J H Adams, raised the theory that some of the slips and landslides along the Thames Coast Road were due to seismic activity - the area had several fault lines.

Another constant over the years has been the tendency for cars to leave the road! and crash onto the rocks and into the sea. As was the case in 1939 when Mr J H Battson was a passenger in a car driven by Mr C Marshall of Paeroa.

Car nearly off the road in the 1950s.
Godwin Collection
Oral history accounts reported that during the war years 1939-1945, men were set to work to build  different structures Instead of trying to keep the road open, traps were set along the coast road, whereby the locals could block the road should it be deemed necessary to hinder foreign invaders!

The history of the coast road continues. While locals often wonder whether in their lifetime will it ever really change?