1880: The Opening of a New Zealand Bridge Built at “a Most Picturesque and Striking” Site

December 30, 1880

The Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge in the Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island was formally dedicated. By that time, the bridge – situated 141 feet (43 meters) above the Kawarau River — had already been in use for a month.

This bridge was named for the river gorge where it is located. When the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge made its debut, New Zealand was still a British colony and that section of South Island had already been a part of Lake County for four years. This county owed its name to the major lakes within its boundaries. The area is now part of Queenstown-Lakes District; Queenstown is a local resort town.   

The Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge was designed by civil engineer Harry Higginson, and it has been widely regarded as one of his major achievements. An image of the bridge, as a matter of fact, is featured on a stained glass window that was created to commemorate Higginson and can be seen today at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul in New Zealand’s capital city.

Higginson was among the approximately 500 people attending the Thursday afternoon dedication ceremony for the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge. Others on hand for the event included Frederick H. Daniel, chairman of the Lake County Council, and his wife Clare. She christened the new structure and, as reported by the Otago Daily Times, he “gave an address detailing the history of the work.” The day’s festivities also consisted of music performed by the Queenstown Brass Band.

In its article about the bridge’s opening, the Otago Daily Times also noted that the setting for the structure “is a most picturesque and striking one.” This newspaper further stated, “The river runs at a great depth between perpendicular rocky walls, and from the bridge, at any rate in wet weather, a pretty waterfall is in view. The road-line, too, leading to the bridge from the Arrow [a tributary of the Kawarau River], winds through some remarkably rough country, and the engineer who first conceived the possibility of making a road through such a locality can lay down to genius of a daring order.”

The Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge has since been designated a Category 1 historic place by the organization now known as Heritage New Zealand (previously called the New Zealand Historic Places Trust). With the construction of a highway bridge in that vicinity, the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge no longer carries vehicular traffic. It is now used instead as a key link for bicyclists, walkers, and runners traveling on the Queenstown Trail. The bridge has also achieved considerable popularity as the world’s first commercial site for bungee jumping.

Photo Credit: Steve & Jem Copley (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

For more information on the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kawarau_Gorge_Suspension_Bridge

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