Supporters of Tuapeka Mouth Ferry

Contact Info

Heritage Hub: Skinner Road
Tuapeka Mouth,


Tuapeka Ferry: Ferry Road
Tuapeka Mouth,


Constructing the Balclutha – Tuapeka Mouth Highway


                                                                              W J Cowan


For about three decades Tuapeka Mouth and the surrounding district fought long and hard for a railway to serve the area. During a visit to the area by the Hon. J G Coates, Minister of Public Works in February 1924, the alternative of a suitable road was raised by the Minister because he was far from satisfied a Tuapeka Mouth railway would earn its keep.


At this time Balclutha was 22 miles away via a reasonably flat road except for the climb up to Hillend. It seems that a bridle track was the only access via the Cliffs beyond Moores Flat which was the route of the proposed highway. The following year the Minister on re-visiting the district, re-affirmed his promise to construct a good road between Tuapeka Mouth and Balclutha costing about £30 000. Local sentiment was now moving strongly in favour of an improved road rather than an underused railway. Authority to build the road, which extended 21 miles and 20 chains to the Tuapeka Mouth bridge was approved during 1925.


Initially, workers were lodging in and around Balclutha though 200 wooden-framed tents were in the process of erection at various sites. A quarry had been opened and a coal store, smithy, main store, magazine and offices were being built. Estimates for buildings and accommodation, formation, crushing and metaling, surveying, interest, contingencies and depreciation totalled £31 219.


During September 1926 it was intended that the road would take two years to construct though this depended on the number of unemployed men taken on. About 200 were being employed with an emphasis on the use of manual labour. But there was some mechanical plant, the piece de resistance being the thirteen ton, PWD-owned, Sauerman Bros, steam-powered, dragline excavator situated beside the Clutha at Moores Flat. This was used to haul gravel out of the Clutha. Other items of plant included a Collett crusher, a Garrett steam tractor, a Ford Grader, three Dennis lorries a Wallis and Stevens roller, a Marshall roller and two cars.


This project which was finished in April 1928 not only provided a first-class road but also much-needed employment when jobs were scarce. But it was not all smooth sailing. There were continuing disputes between the PWD HQ in Wellington and the local office regarding the number to be employed, rates of pay and cost over-runs which looked to double the original estimate.


Accusations of gross over-expenditure and mis-management continued to bounce back and forth, one consequence being that the new highway was built to a higher standard than required; i.e. ‘to railway standards of grade and alignment’. There is a certain irony that Tuapeka Mouth finally received its ‘railway’ but that it was in the form of an over-engineered highway.