Friday, 22 February 2019

The Kaimai Road (Part I)

In the 1880s settlers in the new borough of Tauranga wanted progress. They wanted a freezing works, more land for settlement, bridges, the railway. Above all, they wanted a coach road across the Kaimai range, to link the Bay of Plenty to the Waikato. They would have to wait a long time.

Workers on Kaimai road. These men were working on the Kaimai road some time between 1906 and 1915. They would have faced just as much mud and hard work as the group in 1883, but it is to be hoped that they were better fed. Photo: Tauranga City Libraries. Ref. 02-196
Everyone recognised that a road was necessary, but there were strong and differing opinions as to where it should go. Captain A. C. Turner, in his capacity as district surveyor and county engineer, had recommended the Kaimai track to Cambridge as the most cost-effective option – the present Cambridge Road is a remnant of its original route. Accordingly, money was spent on the Kaimai track. Bush was cleared and bridges were built. Working on those remote roads was no picnic, especially when the food ran out:
[The workers] were left about a week ago with half a bag of potatoes and a small pig, and when that ran out they had to do the best they could with baked meal, and not even a drop of tea or coffee to wash it down. Bay of Plenty Times, 3 March 1883, page 2.
But there was fierce competition for roading funds, and the Tauranga to Cambridge route was not the only candidate. A strong push for Thompson’s Track, from Katikati to Te Aroha, was made by notable Katikati residents such as George Vesey Stewart and John Killen. A petition for Government funding for the Thompson’s Track option circulated in 1892, and was signed by many Tauranga people.

Mr David Lundon, Katikati, 1899, five years after Mr Lundon's heroic crossing of the Kaimai road in a one-horse sulky, Emily Surtees' Photographic Collection, Tauranga City Libraries, Ref. 13-206
Emily Surtees (nee Stewart) made a visit to Katikati around 1899-1900 and photographed many of the early settlers living there as well as the local points of interest. These images courtesy of Elizabeth Smith and Ellen McCormack in 2012.
Tauranga public opinion shifted away from Thompson’s Track towards the Kaimai Road option in May 1894 after Mr David Lundon, chairman of the Tauranga County Council at the time, successfully negotiated the road in a one-horse sulky. Not that it was a quick trip. He met with no fewer than fourteen big trees lying across the track, which meant that fourteen times he had to unharness the horse and lift the sulky over the tree. It took him twelve hours to get to Cambridge. When he arrived he was met by the Mayor and Councillors and received a well-deserved ovation.

Public meetings were held, the Government was petitioned, the Premier made the right noises, and everything looked hopeful for the completion of the road. But then came an unexpected setback:
Much public surprise and disappointment was felt here when it became known that a sum of £1500 had been put on the Estimates for Thompson's track, between Katikati and Te Aroha; and that the Kaimai road, between Tauranga and Cambridge, had been left out in the cold, and no money voted for it at all, after all the promises that had been made. New Zealand Herald, 19 October 1894, page 5.
(To be continued.)

1 comment: