The isolated Tauranga Valley seems an unlikely place for the establishment of a farming settlement, being surrounded by imposing topography and a long way from the nearest town. Unsurprisingly, times were tough for the farming families, who battled with high rainfall, frequent frosts, steep shady land and extreme isolation. This walk is a reminder of tougher times.
Take a break from your drive along the Waioeka Gorge for a 5 minute stroll down to the historic Tauranga Bridge. It's worth the stop. If you want to walk further, then the loop track follows the Tauranga Stream up the valley.
The loop involves 2 river crossings. Only attempt these in a low flow. Come back the same way if unsafe or if you don't want to get your feet wet.
28 km from Opotiki along SH2 is the sign for the Tauranga Historic Bridge (on the right hand side). Follow the vehicle track to the parking area with picnic tables, from where the start of the track is signposted at the far end.
The wide track descend in one hairpin to the Tauranga Bridge and the interpretation panels. Shortly after crossing the bridge a signpost marks the forking of the track. Left is the South Loop, which follows the south side of the Tauranga Stream, right is the North Track, which descends shortly to the stream and follows the north side of the valley. The entire loop weaves up the Tauranga Valley and has stream crossings at both ends. Wet feet are unavoidable on both crossings.
Following the South Loop, it is interesting to note the recently colonised hill slopes above you. Bracken fern and wild blackberry form a low mantle only occasionally topped by rewarewa and one solitary rimu on the ridge. On the opposite hillside, which faces south, the forest is still intact. It was probably never cleared on account of the fact the land was too inhospitable to support pasture.
The small clearings bordering the Tauranga Stream were possibly the sites of the pioneer settlers dwellings’ and farm sheds, although little now remains except a few well-weathered fenceposts. The high hills completely enclose the valley and it is difficult not to spend a few moments in connection with the hardships the residents must have faced in inclement weather conditions. On a warm sunny day however, it is easy to understand why they stayed.
The grass track weaves above the tranquil Tauranga Stream, which can occasionally be heard pouring over small falls. Protruding spurs are easily negotiated before traversing a flat river terrace marked with large orange triangles. It is approximately 1 hour to the first crossing of the Tauranga Stream. You will get wet feet on the 10-metre-wide crossing as it cannot be accomplished entirely on stepping stones. If you don’t fancy wet feet, then turn around here and return via the same track.
The North Track is an entirely different proposition. The hills end at the Tauranga Stream in near vertical buffs and the track is cut into a notch on the stream bank. Being shaded from the sun and with less vegetation clearance, the track is both wetter and more forested than its counterpart. There are more intimate views of the Tauranga Stream on this side and more details of its course are witnessed. Deep holes border rocky bluffs and sections of light rapids are counterpoised with small waterfalls. The final crossing is at the confluence with the Waioeka River, approximately 1 hour from the first crossing. The water here is deeper than the first crossing, but the stream is narrower. It is 5 minutes back to the bridge.
The area was surveyed in 1888, after which it was bought by the Crown and subdivided for pastoral leasees. In 1906 the Hamilton, Lambert and Beaufoy families leased land and were followed in 1919 by the Moodys.
By 1927 the Beaufoys and Lamberts left, leaving the hardier Hamiltons and Moodys to continue the farming legacy. They persevered until the 1970s when the land was resold to the Crown when the Waioeka Scenic Reserve was formed.
The first bridge over the Tauranga River was built in around 1900 but destroyed in 1918 by a flood. Under pressure from the farming families, who were obviously becoming disgruntled at having to cross the sizeable Waioeka River every time they needed to move stock, the Public Works Department agreed to the construction of a new bridge. In the meantime, families erected a cage suspended by a cable. The new bridge was completed in 1924.
The design chosen was known as a Harp Suspension Bridge. Notice how the cables are anchored and pass over the towers, suspending the deck with 12 steel cables resembling harp strings. Interestingly the pier on the far side is concrete and on the near side is built of timber.
The bridge is 57.7 metres long and uses Australian hardwood. Despite it’s hardy construction, the bridge fell into disrepair. Being one of only 2 such designs still standing, the bridge was restored and reopened to foot traffic in 1995.
North Island ▷ Out East ▷ Opotiki
24Sept18. Nice stop on the way down the scenic road. Toilets ok. Interesting bridge and local history. We didn’t get far on the loop walk due to time but would like to do it sometime.
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24Sept18. We only did a short bit of the walk. It looked to me like it would be a good walk. The stream was wade-able. The bridge story is interesting and somewhat sad. The picnic area is good and the long drop was clean enough
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We had a great time. We stopped and swam in the river too.
Eric and Jen Popma
Enjoyed several short walks. All with historical information boards and bridge.
Unexpected goodness up here. Nothing too spectacular, but quiet, un-spoilt and very little likelyhood of seeing another soul. Great river swimming spots abound!
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍