Newspaper Article – Road has seen plenty of travellers

Road has seen plenty of travellers

Michael Fowler
Historic Hawkes Bay

Over the next few weeks thousands of people will travel on the Napier-Taupo Rd (SH5) for their annual vacation. Many will have differing, early memories of travelling on that road which may include chugging up windy, steep gradients; boiling radiators; melting tar and bad cases of car sickness. The first car to travel over the road was in August 1903 when Auckland man Arthur Cleave travelled with his son from Auckland to Wellington in a locomobile. This was an American steam-powered vehicle which was a cross between a locomotive and an automobile, being steam powered and having the appearance of an automobile. The trip to Napier from Wairakei took two-and-a-half days. The most challenging part, said Arthur Cleave, was the climb up Mount Turangakumu, travelling 609m in 7km and encountering snow and ice at the summit.

In 1904, Napier woman Mrs H F Butcher, in her 1902 Oldsmobile, which the Napierites named ‘Reindeer’ due to its top speed on 25 miles/h (40km/h), travelled in convoy with her husband (who had an identical Oldsmobile) to Rotorua.

This feat made her the first woman to drive to Taupo in her 5hp, single cylinder vehicle. The Napier-Taupo Rd in those days was mostly pumice or clay. Unlike Arthur Cleave, the Butchers’ Oldsmobile was powered by gasoline, and supplies had to be sent ahead of them.

Nearing Taupo, and going down a steep hill, she lost her hat, ran off the road and was thrown out of the car after hitting a poplar tree.

She then got back in and backed the car out onto the road. Upon reaching Rotorua the car was sent by rail to Auckland to be repaired. Her journey also took a few days.

The bridge pictured in 1914 is the Mohaka Bridge on the Old Coach Rd. The automobile is on the Taupo side of the bridge, and the present bridge is at the top of the valley on the left. Around the 1870s the first bridge was built and replaced in 1895, to a design by C D Kennedy (Kennedy Rd in Napier is named for him), but this bridge was washed away by the great floods of 1897. It took some time for the bridge to be replaced, and was eventually opened in 1900. Until then the river had to be forded, and resulted in loss of life on one occasion.

The present Mohaka Bridge was opened in 1962.

Michael Fowler’s ([email protected]) new book Hastings, Havelock North and Napier: A Collage of History is for sale in Havelock North at Wardini Books, Poppies Books, Take Note and Birdwood’s Gallery; Hastings at Denton Wyatt, Hastings i-site, Whitcoulls, Plaza Books, Paper Plus; Taradale at Paper Plus and Napier at Beattie & Forbes, Whitcoulls, Napier l-site, Paper Plus, Art Deco Trust and Waipukurau at Paper Plus. This hardback book contains a pocket history of each location, and my favourite stories about people, places and events.

Photo caption – WELL TRAVELLED: The Mohaka Bridge on the Napier-Taupo Rd pictured in 1914.

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Napier-Taupo Road

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Newspaper article

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Hawke's Bay Today


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  • Mrs F H Butcher
  • Arthur Cleave
  • C D Kennedy

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