Monday, 25 November 2019

Historic Kopu Bridge - Firsts and Records

The  historic Kopu Bridge was opened on 11 May 1928.  Since then it has been a very relevant part of our New Zealand history. Back in October 1926, the Auckland Weekly News reported the first pile of the Kopu Bridge being driven. The then Minister of Public Works, K.S. Williams, is attributed with driving the first pile of this  bridge.

From the first day the bridge opened it was a first for this bridge's span across the waters of  Te Waihou River at Kopu. 

A RED – LETTER DAY FOR THE THAMES DISTRICT: FURTHER SCENES AT THE OPENING OF THE NEW HAURAKI BRIDGE – YESTERDAY* Left: The first cars to cross the splendid concrete structure.New Zealand Herald,  12 May 1928 Courtesy Papers Past NZ National Library

Until the opening of a new Kopu Bridge in 2011,  the historic Kopu Bridge was part of State Highway 25 - the total length of the single-lane bridge being  463 metres (m) - made up of  made up of twenty-three 18.2 metre plate girder spans, with a central swing span of 42.6 metres Significant for this bridge was the central swing span to allow shipping vessels on the Waihou through. The first of these was S.S.Taniwha in March 1928. It was reported by the Thames Star that the "local maori felt the Kopu Bridge was going to be a very lucky one". Not so lucky for the S.S. Taniwha, a Northern Steamship vessel  which sunk at moorings , after hitting a snag near Puriri Beacon , in  September 1930

This central span drew the attention of a number of " parliamentary  dignataries:" of that era- amongst them R A Wright - the then minister of education. Another first for this area of the Coromandel Peninsula.

The 11 October 1928 saw the first 11,000 volt cable across the Waihou River into service  at the Kopu Bridge - of benefit to the Thames Borough.

Historic Kopu Bridge March 2019 looking toward wheel house - photo courtesy Chris Ball
Captain Cook Obelisk

About 200 people, attended the unveiling of a memorial on a November  Saturday, 1941. This a 10ft stone obelisk, unveiled  by Mr J. Thorn, M.P., at a spot at Kopu near the Kopu Bridge, on the eastern bank  Waihou River . The memorial  took the form of a rock obelisk, triangular in shape, with 2ft sides and rising to a height of 9 feet from ground level. Goral stone from a quarry on the Kauaeranga Valley road was used, and  the pile carried  a bronze plaque, suitably inscribed  -  "Near this spot James Cook, with the naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, landed while exploring the River Thames in the ship's boats of HMS Endeavour, 21 November, 1769."

Here this memorial rock obelisk sat for some 40 years on the road reserve at the eastern end of the Kopu Bridge. That was until the early 1980's when it was moved, as a result of some roading renoations, to a site in front of the Kopu Hall, adjacent to the Kopu Station Hotel. Since then the obelisk has moved again and is said to be returning some time in the future.

Into a new century and 2011 saw a new bridge adjacent, opened. Along with ownership of the historic Kopu Bridge,  passing on 18 March, 2018, from NZTA to the Kopu Bridge and Community Trust, via a MOU signed between the two parties. It would seem that with this change, has come some breaking of records with a different sort of traffic using the bridge and enjoying the natural surroundings of the Te Waihou River and its banks.

Last Saturday  fortnight ( 9th November 2019 ) another world record was broken on the historic Kopu Bridge - a category 1 Heritage NZ structure at Thames, New Zealand. This was  Steampunk  the Thames attempt to break the Guiness  World Record for the largest Steampunks gathering. The organisers of the Steampunk Festival and historic Kopu Bridge think they may have just achieved this with   252  steampunks in one place, on the  heritage bridge.

Steampunk Festival 2018 Thames NZ - photo courtesy Chris Ball

Back on 15 February 2019, the well known Brits at the Beach festival, celebrating all things British, held a fundraiser for Kopu Bridge and Community Bridge Trust for bridge repairs. Also part of this fund raiser was a world record attempt - the most British cars on a single lane bridge -  they achieved this with 60 cars.

Collage for Brits on the Bridge

Thus the historic Kopu Bridge - this iconic and significant category 1 heritage structure which is a tribute to the engineers who built it - remains a relevant part of our New Zealand history with many stories yet to be told.

Historic Kopu Bridge adjacent to new Kopu Bridge - photo courtesy Chris Ball

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