Friday, 21 June 2019

Kaimai Road (Part 3)

Pile for new Hairini bridge, 80 feet long, weighed 13 tons,
fallen off its trailer on the Kaimai road, c 1950s
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 08-018
When the Minister of Public Works in the first Labour Government, Robert Semple, addressed the Kaimai road labourers in March 1937, he was greeted with enthusiastic applause. And no wonder: he had just told his audience that one navvy was worth ten bankers. (Exceptions to this praise were those the Minister called ‘dissipators’, i.e. drinkers and gamblers, who would be an unwelcome influence in the work camps.) Rather than struggling as relief workers on a stingy dole, the navvies – 40 of them, with the likelihood of an increase to 100 – were being paid a decent wage, and were acknowledged to be doing essential work. Perhaps as a result, progress on the road was described by the Bay of Plenty Times on 19 March 1937 as ‘excellent’ and ‘wonderful’. In December of the same year, the paper stated that the estimated cost of the Kaimai Road would be £63,000, £5,500 of which was to come from Tauranga County Council, and that the works would take about two years to complete.

Kaimai Road, taken by the Richardson family, 17 Nov 1947
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 02-022
This sounds like a happy ending to the story of the Kaimai Road. However, its steep and winding sections, its elevation, and its gravel surface continued to challenge motorists right through the 1960s and 1970s. Even in the 21st century it can be daunting to the timid driver. State Highway 29 now carries heavy freight to and from the Port of Tauranga, and traffic volumes that Bob Semple and his contemporaries could not even have imagined. Closures and delays due to adverse weather, rock falls, or serious crashes still happen. Travellers, take note:

While a novice was driving a car
Down the Kaimais, his son said, “Papa!
If you drive at this rate
We’re bound to be late.
Drive faster!” He did – and they are.
(Please contact us if you know who is responsible for this verse, as we would love to make proper acknowledgement.)

New cutting at the top of the Kaimai road, 1963
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library Ref. 04-037


  1. I remember that road so well because as a family we often drove to the Waikato. The Waioeka (sp?) Gorge to Gisborne was another horror story.

  2. Buster Dean, father of Western Bay DC Councillor Mark Dean, was short of petrol on a trip from Hamilton to Tauranga in the late 1950's. He made the Kaimai Road summit, and then took the car out of gear and coasted the rest of the way into Tauranga. (I surmise he re-fuelled at Tauriko.)