This week marks a significant milestone in the history of one of Coromandel Peninsula’s key access routes.
On a very wet day 50 years ago a ceremony was held to open 29 kilometres of state highway that connects the towns of Tairua and Hikuai and provides a route between Thames and the peninsula’s east coast.
“The opening of the highway known as State Highway 25A or the Kopu-Hikuai Road on Thursday 23 March 1967, changed the lives of those travelling across the Peninsula,” says Niclas Johansson the Transport Agency’s Highway Manager.
“Routes like this, which provide access between what would have otherwise been isolated townships, are a key driver in helping shape growth and development and opening up access to jobs, education and services.”
The towns of Tairua and Hikuai were founded on gold, kauri timber and gum and the origins of the state highway start as a foot track which was later used by gold prospectors, gum diggers and bush fellers.
During the 1800s the bush was dense and the only route between the two towns was a narrow dirt track that crossed swampland and steep hills.
By the early 1900s it would take a four-horse wagon laden with cargo five hours to travel between Hikuai and Broken Hill mine.
By the 1930s the track was used regularly and received its first coat of metal. But flooding and slips were a problem and school children chose to get to school on horseback rather than use the road which was thick with mud.
As soldiers returned from the war in the 1940s they settled on farms in Hikuai and the population of the area grew. Settlers needed better access to services such as the hospital in Thames.
Locals wanted better and in 1958 work began on a route up the Kirikiri Stream Valley.
It started at the Hikuai end and was followed by construction on the Kopu end in 1960.
Construction workers grappled with soil that was challenging to build on, tricky access on steep slopes and dense bush along with heavy rainfall which created slips and mudslides.
Millions of tonnes of earth were moved and by the time it was finished in 1967 the highway included seven bridges and had cost more than a million pounds to build.
Eventually in 1973, the road was sealed and to this day continues to make travel through this part of the region a world away from the dirt track it started as.
Caption: The tawa arch was a landmark feature on the Kopu-Hikuai Road until it was re-routed away from the structure
Both photos courtesy of Athol Trethowen.