The historic Tauranga Bridge was built to provide access to farms in the Tauranga Valley. Today it is the only surviving harp suspension bridge left in New Zealand.
Farming in the Tauranga Valley
The valley was subdivided in 1906 and settled under a government scheme to create farms from unproductive forest land. The rugged landscape proved unsuitable for farming and the settlers struggled with the difficult conditions.
In 1918 a flood swept away the original suspension bridge across the Waioeka River. A temporary crossing was used until 1922 when the Public Works Department built the present bridge.
Ultimately the farms failed and from the late 1920s farmers began to abandon their properties with little to show for their efforts. By the early 1970s the Crown once again owned all the blocks. Today the area forms the Waioeka Gorge Scenic Reserve.
Protected as an Historic Place
The bridge is registered as a Category I Historic Place by the Historic Places Trust and is of national significance for its engineering design and appearance.
From a tower at one end, each suspension cable passes under a different bridge crosspiece, before rising to the tower at the other end. This creates an unusual and attractive 'harp-like' pattern, hence the term harp suspension bridge.
The bridge spans the Waioeka River
The bridge survives as a monument to early farming in the Waioeka area and dates to a time when the Waioeka Gorge was remote and inaccessible, covered mostly in bush.
The bridge is a significant tourist attraction on the Opotiki to Gisborne highway. From the bridge you can see stunning views of the Waioeka River and surrounding native bush. The bridge marks the start of the popular 5km Tauranga Track which passes through the remains of the farming settlement.
In the 1970’s when farming in the valley was abandoned, vehicles stopped using the bridge, and it was no longer maintained. By the 1990’s, the bridge was near to collapse. However, in 1994, significant structural work was carried out on the bridge, followed by further restoration in 1996.
With the support of Environment Bay of Plenty further work and routine maintenance was completed in 2002-2004 and 2008.
The Waioeka Journey
The bridge is one site on the Waioeka Journey -Te Awa a Tamatea heritage trail. This multi-agency project led by NZ Transport Agency and DOC aims to reduce the road toll on a challenging highway and give travellers in the Waioeka Gorge an appreciation of the historic, cultural and ecological significance of the area. Seven rest areas have been created along the road. Information panels at each provide stories of the area, including traditional tales of iwi, settler and road-building history and ecological information.
The Tauranga Bridge is located 27 kilometres from Opotiki off State Highway 2 in the Waioeka Gorge. The bridge is a five minute walk from the car park.