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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 5, October 1985

Some Glimpses of History Along the Tua Marina-Picton Road

Some Glimpses of History Along the Tua Marina-Picton Road

page 23

From Tua Marina there was once an almost impenetrable swamp until the valley floor rose to higher ground at Para where there was heavy bush through Koromiko to Mount Pleasant, then a rise over the Elevation, still thickly wooded, then down to the Maori Pa of Waitohi, named after Te Rauparaha's sister. It is generally believed that Tua Marina means 'the Calm Beyond'. Could this refer to the relief of a traveller to Tua Marina after traversing the tangle of rough vegetation and uneven ground of the Swamp?

In December 1842 Frederick Tuckett, chief surveyor of the New Zealand Company, exploring up the Tua Marina stream, attempted to penetrate the swamp. At the best he considered he made progress of one mile per hour and gave up as he could afford no more time. Later, after the survey of the Tua Marina area was completed on 29 May 1843, Surveyor J. W. Barnicoat with two of his men climbed to the top of Strachan's Peak looking for a route through to Waitohi. From there they could not see the Sound and returned baffled to their camp at the foot of Massacre Hill. Had they climbed Dobson on the other side of the river the waters of the Sound would have been visible.

It was left for Company Surveyor Samuel Stephens with William Fox, Renwick, Jollie and Wells to find the way through. They arrived at Waitohi Pa on 5 March 1845 by boat. They were surprised to find a wide well-beaten track over the Elevation, this was used for dragging out totara logs for canoes. There were also extensive gardens particularly on the Waitohi side of the hill. It has been suggested that canoes were portaged to the Wairau river through the Swamp. As it had been a very dry summer the swamp would have been easier than usual. They did not retrace their steps but returned to Nelson via Tophouse. Four months later, in July, Dillon Bell led a party through. Both Fox and Dillon painted water colours of the plains from above Tua Marina, these are still in existence. No doubt other parties negotiated this route and Picton was surveyed in 1848 but there is record of only one pakeha family, McDonalds, living there.

The Road:

Roads are most important in opening up and sustaining a successful settlement. Lack of finance held up the project for some time, the shortage being blamed on the niggardly way the Nelson Provincial Council treated the Wairau. The Wairau flock owners, fed up with the treatment, offered to lend money to the Provincial Council if it completed the outlet from Wairau to Waitohi as promised by Sir George Grey when he purchased the Wairau Plains in 1847. The Council, shocked into action, called tenders for a cattle road for part of the way and a bridle track for the remainer, the expense to be defrayed from public funds — this money actually came from the sale of land at Tua Marina. In 1857 Contract No. 1 — Waitohi to Koromiko Stream — was let to Robert Blaymires for 390 pounds. This was the easy part. Contract No. 2 — Koromiko Stream to Wairau River — went to William Strachan for 2,850 pounds. In December 1857 Brunner, Commissioner of Public Works, drew up the plans; Strachan used page 24mainly Maori labour and followed a Maori track which was too low in the Swamp. He paid his workers between 4 and 6 shillings a day.

Negotiating the completed track proved a tedious, tortuous, frustrating adventure. In 1850 H. B. Huddlestone offered to upgrade the road at 2½% of total expenditure, this was not accepted. In 1859 Henry Handyside, who surveyed the original site of Tua Marina, supervised the upgrading of the road. On 1 November 1859 Marlborough seceded from Nelson and the only local body then was the Marlborough Provincial Council.

Waterways still remained to hold up travellers. A boat was kept on the Wairau for foot travellers, at the end of Steam Wharf Road, Grovetown, but proved hazardous on several occasions. The worst accident occurred when horses swimming behind pawed the boat smashing it and the passengers were drowned.

The new Marlborough Provincial Council now entered on a vigourous programme of road and rail bridges estimated at 21,008 pounds for the first year. Of this amount some 5,000 pounds was to be spent on the Picton road. 27 July 1860 tenders were called for erecting framework, rope and blocks, etc. for a cart ferry at Goulands — the site of the present ferry bridge. In April 1861 Mr Adams, the Superintendent, reported that the punt was very satisfactory and that dray traffic was increasing, but the Wairau was tidal and it was soon found that heavy drays could not cross between four hours before and three hours after high water! In 1884 the first ferry bridge was built. The tender for 3,599 pounds by Malcolm and Blaikes of Dunedin was successful. It was built of roughly squared birch and was about four feet higher than the present one. The Koromiko birch was not durable though strengthened with Australian hardwood and was replaced 24 years later.

Despite Mr Adams' optimism an amusing advertisement appeared in the Marlborough Press: "Sealed tenders will be received by the undersigned on the 29th. February next, 1861 (not a leap year) for constructing the following job. Building a new barge of sufficient tonnage to hold on the main deck six bullock drays each with a team of eight bullocks in yoke, the drays loaded with wool, soft soap or other Marlborough produce. The draft of water to be not more than 14 feet. Accommodation will be required 'tween decks for 25 men with storage room for provisions for themselves and bullocks for 21 days. The barge to be delivered to any place on the new canal — innocently called the Wairau Road — now in the course of construction from the new ferry to Picton. Suitable timber may be taken free of charge from the lot now floating in the canal. Plans, specifications and further particulars can be obtained at the office of Alfred Bungle Cyropenrojoe, Adam St, Bungle Hill, Marlb."

In 1875 the Picton paper printed: "The Picton to Blenheim Road is comprised of 40% mud and 20% water, 15% holes, 5% solid ground and 20% rotten bridges. If any person has time on his hands and wants excitement, travel to the Capital by coach." (At this time Picton and Blenheim were very much at loggerheads).

With few settlers there was little money available from rates but improvements were gradually made and in 1900 a four-horse grader driven by Mr George Home with Roads Board Inspector Charlie Western on the back working control wheels, was operating. The road was still low, narrow, winding and subject to floods and fog. The present modern road, realigned and tar sealed by the Public Works is a far cry from those days.