Te Rewa Rewa Cluster refers to the mixtures of heritage located around the mouth of the Waiwhakaiho: it is the site of an important pah, the outlet of the Waiwhakaiho River to the sea and an important point in the much loved coastal walkway. Here the heritage of times past mixes with natural and human made waterways, fishing and recreation.
New Plymouth as a region has a long and distinct social history of bridges, particularly in relation to the Waiwhakaiho River. This history stems from early settler years and follows through to today, whereby the current Te Rewa Rewa Bridge continues to be well loved by many New Plymouth residents and remains a popular pedestrian bridge enjoyed by many on the weekends.
The concept of a bridge that crossed the mouth of the Waiwhakaiho River was first suggested in 1842 by Frederic Alonzo Carrington who was one of New Plymouth’s city fathers.
By 4 November Carrington had produced a map of the future New Plymouth. It included a suspension bridge that spanned across the mouth of the Waiwhakaiho River. However it is important to note that Carrington’s site was criticised by many residents for its lack of a harbour, additionally Maori disputed possession over their lands.
Originally a suspension bridge was built using chains and puketea timber. However over time the chains began to erode through the puketea timber supports and eventually The Bridge collapsed into the river and the remains of it were washed away. Other wooden suspension bridges were built to replace this bridge however they too slowly deteriorated over time and failed to with stand the force of the Waiwhakaiho River.
Years passed before anyone attempted to rebuild the bridge. During this period there were many fatalities as early settler communities struggled to cross the Waiwhakaiho River, particularly during winter when flooding occurred. Local government responded to this problem by commissioning the construction of a puri puri bridge in 1857.
This bridge was constructed on March 3, prior to the Maori land wars. Consequently during the land war battles of Taranaki in 1860 the army lost control of this bridge for a week, as Maori had seized control of Fitzroy. Taranaki Daily News reports:
“The commanding officer in New Plymouth, worried that the bridge had been burnt down, signalled volunteers from the Bell Block stockade to check the rumours. A small party of men rode into Fitzroy from Bell Block as far as the Mangaone hill and returned with the news the bridge was safe”(Taranaki Daily News, 2012).
Unfortunately in 1867 the puri puri bridge was badly damaged during a period of heavy flooding. During this time the use of concrete within engineering was a new and innovative concept. New Zealand began to commission the establishment of various concrete structures, many of which “were unique even in world terms” (Reed, Schoonees & Salmond, 2008, p. 12).
The New Plymouth district in particular pioneered several early concrete structures between 1850 and 1860 (Thornton, 1996). One such structure happens to be the refurbishment of the 1867 puri puri bridge. The remains of the 1867 bridge were rebuilt and reinforced by a ferro-concrete bridge.
“The structure comprised four arches, two of 10m span and two of 20m, with a 7m iron carriageway and two footways. The iron weighed 20kg a metre. More than 32 tonnes of steel were used in the construction (Taranaki Daily New, 2012).”
Here is a black and white etching of the former concrete bridge.
This bridge was opened in 1907 by Mr Brown, who was the chairman of the county council. Many of the local residents who had helped erect the old bridges were present as the concrete bridge was built.
To celebrate the construction of the new concrete bridge a parade which included members of the county council in bullock wagon drawn by two oxen, followed by local residents crossed the bridge. A public luncheon was then held along the Waiwakaiho River banks, followed later by a community ball at the Masonic Hotel (Taranaki Daily News, 2012).