Newspaper Article 2015 – Spadework propelled road to peak

Spadework propelled road to peak

Michael Fowler
Historic Hawke’s Bay

As part of the ongoing digital preservation of history, Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank at Stoneycroft in Omahu Rd has recently come into possession a collection of photos by Herbert [Hubert] Lovell-Smith, a prominent Hastings professional photographer of the early and mid-1900s.

Volunteer Katrina Barrett has been scanning digitally this collection with the latest technology. I will be sharing some of these in the column, and we start with my favourite—the building of the Peak Rd.

When Havelock was surveyed in 1859, the land which is now Te Mata Park on Te Mata Peak was rural section number 44.

John Chambers (1819-1897) of Te Mata Station – which surrounded Havelock North – added to this land when he bought section 44 and others in 1862.

John’s son Bernard (1859-1931), who had received a share of his father’s land in 1886, sold in 1918 the 2,853 acre (1155 hectares) Te Mata Station to meat baron William Richmond for around £100,000 ($11.2 million in 2015). However, in 1920 three of John Chambers’ sons, John, Bernard and Mason had bought back the land which now forms Te Mata Park from William Richmond.

At the time of the purchase the men stated that it was their intention to give the land to the people of Hawke’s Bay. Mason Chambers had taken Hastings Mayor George Ebbett up to the area. In 1920 there was a private road that went onto the proposed park, but not up to the trig station at the top. Mason said he had surveyed a route to the top of the park.

Mayor Ebbett remarked the possibilities were great for the area, and that in the valleys and terraces trees of many kinds could be grown in the rich soil. He also said that someone could drive to the park from the Hastings Post Office and be there in 20 minutes, with only another 5 to 10 minutes to the top of the hill.

Mason’s idea was to plant trees and graze the remaining land, and the upkeep of the park would be minimal. In 1927 a trust deed was created and a trust board set up for the 242 acres (99 hectares). Under the deed, the board must include a male descendant of the original donors, and currently that is Bruno Chambers.

The road to the top of the Te Mata Peak was formed in the 1930s by relief workers as part of a work scheme during the Great Depression; it likely started around 1935/36.

In 1937, as the road crept further toward the top, the sustenance workers (the first Labour Government had changed the scheme’s name) began to complain about the two mile (1.6km) walk up the peak to get to the construction site, and said they wouldn’t work unless they had transport. This raised the wrath in September 1937 of the Hawke’s Bay County Council chairman, who stated “New Zealand was not made by men who were afraid of a two-mile walk”.

Mason Chambers was also on the council at that time, and said it was up to the Te Mata Trust Board to arrange transport, not the county – but even this did not impress the Chairman.

The Peak road was constructed by manual labour. Using labour-saving machinery such as graders would have shortened the process, but the objective at this time was to provide work for as long as possible. A few weeks later government approval was given to finish the road right to the summit using sustenance labour.

The Te Mata Trust Board would be responsible, not the county as planned. Moreover, the board would provide transport for the men each day from Hastings to the point of work. All this was likely a result of the conversations held by the county some weeks earlier.

The first task was for the men to create a four foot track on the route of the road. The sides of the track would then be built up, enabling motorists to reach the top of the summit. The work was expected to take six to eight months, and be opened in 1938.

Trees were planted in the late 1930s by the workers and some volunteers. A wide variety were planted, including acacia, pinus insignus, macrocarpa, kowhai, peppers, redwoods, poplars, she oaks, willows, silver birch and chestnuts. The board received some finance from local bodies, donations, grazing rent and even the sale of firewood.

In 1954 entrance memorial gates designed by Eric Phillips were erected that recognised the gift by the Chambers brothers of the Te Mata Park land, and the earlier land ownership of their father John. Peak House was built and opened in 1967, financed through an interest-free loan from the Hawke’s Bay County Council.

Work has continued on the park over the years, some of it by volunteers and periodic detention workers. Many walking tracks now cover the peak, as well as mountain bike tracks.

J M Chambers, Chairman of the Te Mata Peak Trust Board from 1952–1968 said in 1967 at the opening of Peak House: “The value of this park and its charm lie in the extent of its land and its very ruggedness and the fact that for all time it is secure as a wide open space when these hills below us, much sooner than we may think, will be a fully stocked residential area.”

Three more Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank, Lovell-Smith photographs of the Peak road building are included in Michael Fowler’s new book Hastings, Havelock North and Napier: A Collage of History. This book features his Hawke’s Bay Today articles, but with more photos and some new content. Due out late October, it is hard cover and 168 pages, Price $72 including postage. Send cheques to Michael Fowler, PO Box 8947, Havelock North 4157 or email [email protected] for bank account details. Please include return address.

Photo caption – HARD GOING: Men with spades manually create the Te Mata Peak Rd.   PHOTO/HAWKE’S BAY KNOWLEDGE BANK LOVELL-SMITH COLLECTION 0996

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Te Mata Trust Board

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Newspaper article

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5 September 2015

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Hawke's Bay Today


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today and Michael Fowler

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