Search billions of records on

The Old Suspension Bridge over the Tekapo

1880-1951  (71 years)

Photos from 2015
The new footbridge.

Timaru Herald, 15 January 1875, Page 2

The monthly meeting of the above Board was held on January 6th. Present : — Messrs Luxmoore (chairman), Raine, Tancred, Mendelson, Manchester, Cliff, Russell, Teschemaker, Hall, and Cain.
"I now come to the question of the bridge over the Tekapo, in which there are three points for consideration, viz., length of road, cost of bridging, and greatest amount of traffic to be served.
Length and approximate cost of bridges—
Wooden bridge at lower crossing of Tekapo, 3103 feet, £38,000
Wooden bridge at Hall's crossing, 1832 feet, £22,000
Iron bridge at Tekapo Lake, 182 feet, £5500
Iron bridge at Pukaki Lake, 268 foot, £7500
Iron bridge at Pukaki river, 200 foot, £6,000.
The Mackenzie Country is generally very poor, and fit for little but sheep farming; there are only about 5,000 acres near Simon's Pass, and 5,000 near near Paterson's, fit for agricultural purposes. The winters are very severe With reference to the approximate traffic north of the Fork station, there are six stations near Lake Tekapo, which shear about 63,000 sheep. Between the Fork and Lake Pukaki there are also six stations, which shear about 38,000 sheep, making together about 101,000. All these would use a bridge placed either at the Lake or Hall's crossing. South of Simon's Pass there are three stations, which shear about 42,000 ; for these the lower crossing would be the best. A reference to the plan (furnished); will, show that the wool from the 63,000 sheep will cross the Tekapo at the Lake with advantage, that from the 38,000 will cross partly at Hall's cross neither, but ford as they have been accustomed at the lower crossing. Beyond the Ohau river, the wool will probably go to the Moeraki. The direct or lower crossing of the Tekapo being out of the question, on account of its great cost, the next best place would be at Hall's crossing. This would cost approximately £22,000, but bearing in mind the small number of settlers likely to use the bridge, and the cost, of maintenance of a wooden bridge, I am of opinion that it would be most serviceable, to put a substantial iron cantilever or a suspension bridge at the Lake, which would cost comparatively little, and could be used by the lower settlers in flood time. After crossing at Lake Tekapo, I inspected the two ways of reaching the Pukaki. The first goes behind the Mary range and along the shores of the Pukaki lake, crossing the river at its outlet from the lake. This is the best crossing, as the banks are secure, and the same as the lower one by Simon's Pass, but is broken by low downs at the back of the Mary Range. This road would serve all the stations except the one at Simon's Pass. The lower road by Simon's Pass is perfectly flat, and would probably be the most useful, because, it would also be available for the lower crossing of the Tekapo. If this latter road is adopted, the Pukaki should be bridged with an iron bridge of a single span of 200 feet, as the river is here very rough and rapid. The banks however can be made secure. A way is partly found by nature down the high terraces on either side, which would materially lessen the cost of approaches. Great inconvenience is experienced by persons travelling across the Pukaki, which is very dangerous from the rough nature of its bed, foot travellers having, to go round the head of Lake to Cross.  at the mouth of the Lake, which is the only place fit for that purpose. A small boat would be sufficient, or instead, a wire rope and cage might be placed at a spot marked in the plan. The latter would cost the most, but would require no attention. The former would require a man. I have, &.c, JOHN ROCHFORT.

Bridge over the Tekapo.
Mr Teschemaker proposed, Mr Raine seconded, and it was carried — "That the Engineer be instructed to prepare plans and specifications for the construction of a wooden bridge over the Tekapo river, at the site of the present ferry, for the approval of the Provincial Engineer." 

 Clutha Leader 4 October 1878, Page 6 Flood

In the Mackenzie Country rise three tributaries of the Waitaki— the Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau. Each of these is fed by a lake whose upper ends are embedded in glaciers or snow covered .mountains. The hot winds of last week, melting the winter's snows and glaciers; caused all the lakes to rise in an extraordinary manner. The Tekapo, Lake rose 7ft in about two hours on Saturday evening, the narrow chasm through which the waters find an exit by the Tekapo river being quite insufficient to carry them off. Cowan's accommodation house at the Ferry was flooded, and his and his family were forced to take to the high ground behind. The Pukaki and Ohau rivers rose simultaneously with the Tekapo, their combined collection of water pouring down the Waitaki on Sunday and Monday. It is to be hoped the worst now past, and that the great body of snow has been melted. The floods and gales during the past week have exceeded anything of the kind in the memory of the "oldest inhabitant."

Timaru Herald, 11 September 1880, Page 3
Opening of the Tekapo bridge.

The spirit of enterprise which has so vastly improved the means of communication on the coast country of this provincial district, has extended its influence into the wilds of the Mackenzie Country, and the three troublesome and dangerous rivers which intersect that extensive pastoral country are in a fair way to be deprived of their power to suspend traffic, by being spanned with bridges. On the northern river, the Tekapo, a fine suspension bridge, erected by the Mount Cock Road Board, has now replaced the primitive punt, and the settler and the traveller need no longer fear to be delayed in his journey by the impossibility of crossing it. The Tekapo river flows out of the extensive lake of the same name in a deep and narrow channel, and the stream continues so deep or so strong that even at its lowest it is unfordable until it has traversed ten or twelve miles, and then the bottom is so rough that the ford is almost impracticable for light vehicles. The greater part of the traffic over the river has, therefore, been carried on by means of a punt, placed a few chains below the - outlet of the lake, where the banks of the river are low, and the stream so confined as to give a good current. On many occasions during the prevalence of floods, or of nor'-westers — which blow with extreme violence down the lake — and especially where both were combined, it was impossible to work the punt, and travellers have frequently been delayed several days on its banks. It  is a boast of Mr Macleod — who has been in charge of the ferry for the last four years — that the tri-weekly mail, which necessitates the crossing of the river every week day, has never once been delayed ; but this boast itself implies that other travellers than the mailman bare not been so fortunate. These delays are now at an end, and thanks to the good bridge, the passage of the Tekapo, while it will continue to be an interesting incident in the journey across the Mackenzie Country, can no longer be a sensational on.

The bridge though not completed in details, is sufficiently so for traffic purposes, and on Tuesday last it was formally opened for use. The opening of the bridge was considered by the Board an event worthy of being celebrated in a marked manner, and arrangements were therefore made for a gathering of the settlers, and preparations made to entertain all comers at a dinner the little accommodation house near the bridge. The residents of Burke's Pass made holiday in honor of the occasion, and horses and buggies were requisitioned to convey them to the scene. Mr Hinckley's four-horse coach, with a spanking team tooled by Mr Frank Rossiter, was specially engaged to take Members of the Road Board and their friends.

When the hour of starting arrived, however, two of the members did not turn up, and Mr Macgregor being already at home at his station beyond the bridge, the Board was represented by Mr John Rains (the Chairman) , Mr R. Rutherford and Mr F. W. Marchant (Engineer to the Board, and designer of the bridge). Mr G. P. Clulee formerly Engineer to the Board, was also of the company. The coach was then filled up with persons who desired to go and had not made other arrangements, a. seat, being kindly reserved for the representative of the Timaru Herald. A start was made from the Pass at about ten o'clock, and the twelve miles to the lake was very pleasantly passed over in about an hour and a half. The weather was glorious, and the horses trotted along the metalled road in fine style. Arrived at the bridge, a gate at the further end was seen to be closed. Mr Marchant alighted, and clashing a bottle of champagne against it, flung back the gate, and declared the bridge open for traffic. The coach then dashed across, the cheers of its occupants startling the horses so that the last span was crossed at a hand gallop. Mr Macgregor, of Glenmore Station, a member of the Board, was already on the ground, as was also Mr Hecklar, a squatter beyond the Pukaki, and other conveyances presently came up by ones and twos. Among the early arrivals was the Rev. Mr Barclay, who happened to be in the neighborhood at the time, and whose frequent journeys through the district gave him as great an interest in the event as though he were a settler there. One of the visitors most deserving of mention was Mr John Burgess, now residing at Burkes Pass, who was the first to transport stores and produce across the river at this point. Nearly twenty-one years ago Mr Joseph Beswick stocked the station now owned by Mr Macgregor, calling it Castle Tekapo, and on the first day of the year 1860, Burgess unloaded from his bullock dray and launched on the north side of the river at the site of the present bridge, a whale boat which was to serve as a means of communication for some time then to come. He swam his bullocks over the river, and ferried over their gear and a sledge, on which he loaded his stores, and dragged them thence to the station, a distance of about six miles, meeting with serious mishaps by the way in the rough, untracked country, but finally landing his freight in fair condition at the station. When the shearing season came on, it was his duty to sledge the bales, two at a time, to the river, to boat them over, and when a dray load had been got across, to swim his team over and bring the load to Timaru. To Mr Burgess, with such recollections of the place, the opening of the bridge must have had a peculiar interest. It was much to be regretted that the contractor for the bridge, Mr Richard B. Sibley, was not present at the brief ceremony, and the congratulatory dinner which followed. He had been called to Timaru on the previous day and detained until after the evening train for Albury had left. Taking the morning train, however, and then making a push and changing horses at the Pass, he and Mr Spalding, who had been similarly detained, reached Tekapo by half-past one —doing the 38 miles or thereabouts of road in about four hours. Two other gentlemen rode from Albury without changing horses, arriving a few minutes after the coach, but they had the advantage of being able to make an early, start.

The simple ceremony of opening performed and the travellers' inner man refreshed, a close examination of the bridge was made. It is constructed on what is known as the Ordish suspension system. The Tekapo bridge if, we believe, the first of the kind erected m New Zealand. Most, suspension bridges are of one span, the supporting piers being placed at the ends. The supporting chains take a natural curve, and the roadway is suspended from them by perpendicular chains. This system requires the ends of the suspending chains to be very securely, anchored in the earth — a work of considerable expense— and the roadway requiring to be made very light, the necessary, stiffness to resist the fierce nor'-westers that frequently blow down the lake could not have been so well secured as under the system adopted. In the Ordish bridge the pillars are placed at one-fourth of; the length of the bridge from each end, and: the strain on the impending ropes ,on one side of the pillars is balanced by an equal weight of bridge on the other. The spans being shorter, a much stiffer girder can be used than in bridges of a single span, and the chains run directly from the roadway to the: top of the columns. From the nature of the stream — its width, depth, and ruggedness of channel— the erection of some kind of suspension bridge was unavoidable if the river was to be bridged at all ; and as not only; moving loads but also the powerful pressure of winds had to be taken into account, the Ordish principle recommended itself to the Engineer as the best suited to the circumstances of the case.

Taranaki Herald, 8 November 1880, Page 2

Mr. F. W. Marchant (well known in connection with the formation of the Waitara railway), is now engineer to the Mount Cook Road Board, in the Geraldine County, Canterbury District ; a Road Board we may state that is very wealthy — deriving a large income from lands which, during the days of the provinces, were made over to it. As an instance of the wealth of this Road Board, we may mention that Mr. Marchant has just completed the erection of a bridge over the river Tekapo, which has cost £5,000. The bridge spans a river that flows out of the extensive Lake Tekapo in a deep and narrow channel, and is so deep and strong that even at its lowest it is unfordable until it has been traversed ten or twelve miles, and then the bottom is so rough that it is almost impracticable for light vehicles. Owing to the prevalence of floods, travellers have been often delayed for days ; so the erection and opening of a bridge was considered an occasion worthy of celebrating by a champagne lunch, which took place a short time since. The Tekapo bridge is constructed on what is known as the Ordish suspension system — the oldest example of which is the modern Albert Bridge across the Thames at Chelsea, near London — and is the first that has been built in New Zealand. The bridge consists of a central span of 150 feet, and two end spans of 75 feet each. The piers consists of a pair of cement columns, 40 feet in height from the foundation block, 6 feet in diameter, and of circular section to the roadway, 21 feet above the foundation, and of decreasing diameter, with angular fluted section, to the summit. The road-way, which is 14 feet wide in the clear, is strongly bedded in the columns, and also into the concrete abutments. The weight of each column, exclusive of the foundation blocks, is about sixty tons. The foundations are very strong. For each column nine iron-bark piles were driven 18 feet into the bed of the river, and cut off 18 inches below low water level. A casing 12 feet square was then built about the piles, one angle being presented to the current, and this was filled with concrete to the height of 3 feet above the tops of the piles. There is then a block of concrete 12 feet in section resting on the bed of the river, and kept in place by the piles. The suspending material is galvanized wire rope of about 2 inches in diameter, of which there are two double and one treble set to each pier. The girders are of timber, with stout strings and strong diagonal bracings and iron ties. At a luncheon given on the opening of the bridge, in proposing Mr. Marchant's health, the Rev. Mr. Barclay said he must congratulate the Board on the possession of Mr. Marchant as engineer. The bridge was a pretty piece of workmanship, and for stability and elegance would compare with any structures in the Provincial District of Canterbury. It reflected great credit on the engineer, and would be found a great boom to the district.

Tekapo suspension bridge, which was opened 7 September, 1880, before Lake Tekapo was developed as a power source in 1940. The dam now also serves as a bridge. The Tekapo Hotel is the building to the left but has since been replaced. Mt John is the hill in the background. image opens in a new window   CHCH library 

Timaru Herald, 17 March 1882, Page 2 Timaru District Court
F. D. Slow v. J. Richmond — Claim, £77, damages. Mr Hamereley for plaintiff, Mr Tosswill for defendant. The plaintiff's evidence was to the effect that he was a shearer, and that on the evening of the 18th January last he came to the Tekapo bridge on his way from Ben Ohou station to his home at Burkes Pass.
In the course of his cross emanation by Mr Tosswill, plaintiff said he was known as Dick Johnson by some people. He had no money when going up country, and asked Richmond to trust him for the tolls till he came back from Ben Ohou. He did not try to get the horse put into a paddock, because none were to be had ; and he had not looked after it since he let it go because he supposed Richmond would not let him take it across the bridge. The horse was not a sound one ; was ring-boned "or something." He Could not, walk to Haldon and carry a swag on account of a sprained ankle. He did not go down to the river to the fords because it was high, and he did not know the fords, although he knew whereabouts they were generally to be found.
Henry Andrews, station cook, stated that he Accompanied Slow to the Tekapo, witness being on foot. Slow called Richmond aside and had some conversation with him, and witness saw him offer the latter a shilling for toll, which he refused to take, and Slow threw the coin down on the verandah. Richmond said he would not open the gate till the old debt was paid. Some high words then passed between them. In reply to Mr Tosswill, witness said Slow threw down the shilling at the time of the conversation, and he understood the two-thilling piece afterwards, when witness was on the bridge. They tried to get the horse to swim the river, but did not succeed. The horse was worth about £3. He was ring-honed, and " awful fat," but good enough for a station rouseabout. He would give £10 for him if he wanted to buy him.
Mr Tosswill also called :
Charles Cameron, a blacksmith at Tekapo.
F. W. Marchant, who valued the horse, which he characterised as a "regular screw," at £2 or £3.
Joseph Pledger, who was gardener at the hotel on the 18th January.
Mr Tosswill then called John Richmond, licensee of the Tekapo Hotel and toll-collector at the bridge, who stated that plaintiff had passed over the bridge several times before the 18th, and owed him for four tolls. The tollkeeper had no right to demand a past toll account, and refuse to let a person through until that past account was paid.

Ambiguous. — At the District Court yesterday an examining counsel, desiring to obtain evidence from a witness as to the state of a river— whether it was flooded or not — framed his quotation rather ambiguously, and rather improperly too, "Was the river fresh?" The witness looked puzzled for a while, as if considering why such a question was asked of a river, and then replied, " Oh, yes, the water was quite fresh. It always is. It's a snow river."

A Lawful Nuisance. — Some amusement was created in the District Court yesterday by Mr Tosswill arguing that the keeper of a toll-gate ought to be informed against for creating a nuisance by obstructing the highway, if he refused to open the toll-gate for a traveller. The Judge agreed with him that a closed toll-gate certainly obstructed the highway, and an obstruction to a highway was as certainly a nuisance, and creating nuisances generally were punishable by common law ; but this particular kind of nuisance was authorised by special law, and so the argument was of no avail.

"Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library". Ref. WA-28100-F
May 1951. Mouth of the Tekapo River, including bridge and temporary housing for workers on the hydro-electric power scheme and the Church of the Good Shepherd. It gives me and idea of what the lake level was before it was raised.

"Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library". WA-21217-F
July 1949 Suspension bridge, Lake Tekapo, with Church of the Good Shepherd in distance. Timbers from the dismantled bridge were used to build a vestry in The Church of the Good Shepherd.

"Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library". Ref. WA-21212-F
July 1949. Suspension bridge, Lake Tekapo "Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library"

Now the bridge is over the dam control gates.

Dam The construction of the Tekapo Power Station A (at Tekapo) started in 1938, delayed owing to the Second World War, commissioned in 1951. When the lake level rose, the bridge was demolished and a new hotel built and the main road was deviated across the new dam. Water was taken through a 1.6 km tunnel to the power station below the level of the lake.  Tekapo B (at Pukaki) 1977 (commissioned), and is supplied with water by a 25km long canal (1977) from Lake Tekapo to Tekapo B station, Lake Pukaki. Tekapo lies at an elevation of 2,346 feet (715 m). Tekapo B station is in the lake. The dam at Pukaki was increased in height. Water from Pukaki is then transferred into a canal which meets a canal from Lake Ohau, where it drops through Ohau A into Lake Ruataniwha. Lake Ruataniwha feeds a further canal, with Ohau B midway along, before emptying through Ohau C into Lake Benmore on  the Waitaki. map  from space  just Tekapo A normal operating range of 702.1 metres to 710.9 metres  above sea level.
Tekapo B station, Pukaki, normal operating range of between 518.2 metres and 532 metres above sea level.

Ref. No. WA-38426-F "Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library".
May 1955. Tekapo Dam, and temporary housing for workers on the hydro-electric power scheme. A bridge opened across the hydro dam on the Tekapo River and the suspension bridge was demolished by the NZ Army in 1954. The Tekapo Power Station was commissioned in 1951 but not completed until December 1953 when the Dam Bridge was completed and water flowed through a 1.6km tunnel from the lake to the Tekapo ‘A’ Powerhouse.

The Pukaki River was bridged in 1895

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project

"If we want to have the original detail in the landscape, we are 150 years too late," Mackenzie Mayor John O'Neill says about the Mackenzie Basin.  "There needs to be an understanding of what benefits strategic irrigation brings to the community including jobs, livelihood, soil protection and viability. Neither climate, topography, soils or available water quantity would allow, in my opinion, the Basin to resemble the Canterbury Plains. And I think some people need to realise that you need a little greening of the area, not just to provide nutrients to the soil, but to ensure the landscape is protected. If we don't have good stewardship of the land, everything will go to waste." April 2009