ROADING IN AHUROA

The following is an in-depth and very interesting piece by the late Bruce Jenkins written in 2003. 
There are lots of historical photos included.


Introduction:

To the readers of this (& Transport in Ahuroa) I would warn that the early history as given is based, as it can now only be, on assumptions of what may have happened, supported in part by half remembered and fairly sparse reminiscences gleaned from an earlier generation.

There is a lack of social history describing how the early settlers lived, what their hopes and aspirations were and what they achieved. Their world was very different to ours and this loss can only now be filled by reasonable assumptions.

The facts that are recorded are the formal ones, the membership of the boards and committees that served the settlers, the recording of important but isolated happenings such as the opening of the railway station. Even here there are gaps and those who could have filled them in are long gone. My generation, the next, who could have asked and noted were too busy with the here and now, too concerned with the future not the past, to enquire.

What I have tried to do is to show with reasonable but not strict historical accuracy what might have happened and the sequence of events as they probably occurred, with a few stories on the side, in the development of roading and transport in the valley. In attempting something like this one thing soon becomes apparent, more questions are raised than there are answers for. With these qualifications in mind please read on.

Roading In the Beginning:

Roads perform several functions for us. They are fundamental to the granting of title to the private ownership of land, firstly by providing access to it and then by providing the means for the public to travel from place to place without infringing that private ownership. To achieve the former every allotment must abut a legal road to validate its title. Equally important is the function of a road to provide practical public access between places and it is the development of this aspect in Ahuroa with which I am here concerned.

When this district was first surveyed, sometime in the 1850s, the dedication of roads would seem to have been designed to serve the first rather than the second purpose. For the allotment of sections to settlers it had to be surveyed before settlement and the surveyors could only hazard a guess as to where the settlers would want or need to travel. I suspect it wasn’t a major consideration. Remember also that under the circumstances applying at the time of the survey almost all rural travel was by walking. Thus provided a road could be walked it was adequate for the purposes of dedication and the validation of titles. This associated with the physical difficulties of surveying bush and scrub country of fairly rugged contour would account for what, to our minds, now seem highly unlikely routes. There was, of course, no way that those early surveyors could possibly have foreseen and provided for the tremendous impact and revolution that the advent of the motor vehicle fifty years later would have on travelling and thus roading, something we are still struggling with today.

All this meant, of course, was that when the first settlers arrived in the valley they found that the original surveyed roads were of no practical use to them and although most are still in existence today as “paper roads” their purpose now as then is to validate land titles. On the matter of roading the early settlers would have had two main concerns – access within the district, as between settlers, and the ingress and egress to places outside the valley of economic or social importance to them. In practical terms this meant some form of roading basically along the valley floor and access to Puhoi and Warkworth over the two intervening hills. Since these weren’t in existence the settlers set to work to provide them for themselves.


Stagecoach service between Kaipara Flats and Warkworth

It is presumed that these roads started as walking tracks through the bush, scrub and fern, some possibly of Maori origin, some possibly using lines cut by the surveyors, with new ones added by the settlers according to their needs. Later, in the 1870’s through to the 1890’s, these were upgraded into formed clay roads providing for horse and bullock drawn carts and other conveyances and dedicated as public roads. These, with modifications, form the basis of our present roading system.

Trains & Automobiles:

In the early 1900’s two things happened which would greatly influence the direction of roading in the district for the next thirty or more years and one of which still does today. The first was the arrival at Ahuroa of the northern railway in 1902/3, a hundred years ago.


The opening of the Ahuroa Station 1903

It is hard for us now to appreciate the enormous impact this must have had on the lives of the settlers. Now they had a quick, easy and reliable means of accessing the outside world. No longer were they reliant on the ports of Puhoi or Warkworth to get goods in and out. Just as important also was the end of their previous dependence on the eight or twelve miles of muddy clay roads, including on both routes substantial hills, involved in the use of these ports. The development of better access to Puhoi and Warkworth while still desirable, mainly now for social reasons, was no longer so important. That didn’t mean that work on these roads ceased; far from it, but the emphasis was now on getting good access to the railway station and the facilities, such as the post office, general store and passenger and goods services, that it brought.


Waiting for the train at Ahuroa Station

The second event, albeit somewhat later, was the introduction of the motor vehicle to the valley some time after World War I, in the early to mid 1920’s. This again influenced the direction in roading, this time in providing all-weather metalled roads, without which the full potential of the motor vehicle could not be realised. It also redirected attention back to ingress/egress of the valley; that is its access to Warkworth, Puhoi and the west coast. It would be more than thirty years from the arrival of the rail before all this could be said to have been achieved, just a few years before World War II. Until well into the 1930’s clay roads would continue to serve the needs of the settlers even though the motor vehicle was steadily overtaking the horse drawn traffic.


Cars stuck in the mud on the Ahuroa Road

But whether horse drawn or motorised those clay roads often presented difficulties to their users, especially in the muddy conditions of winter. I recall seeing a photograph of Tommy Ramsbottom driving his coach on the service between Warkworth and the Kaipara Flats railway station before that road was metalled showing the team up to its hocks and the coach halfway up to its axles in mud. There is a picture which also comes to mind of a team of bullocks trying to extricate a coach from the mud of a similar road. Not at all unusual I should think and there is no reason to suppose that the roads of Ahuroa were any better.

A Trip to Warkworth:

While under these conditions horses or bullocks would generally get through the same could not be said of the motor vehicle, even with the aid of rear wheel chains. I can still remember my mother and me being offered a ride to Warkworth on, what seemed in memory to be, a fine afternoon by my grandfather in his open tourer Dodge, he to attend a meeting of the Rodney County Council of which he was a member, we presumably to do some shopping. At that time what is now called the West Coast road from Woodcocks to the Araparera was still a clay road. In those days the road over the hill, then always referred to as the “Valley” road presumably because it wound its way up the narrow valley to the saddle before descending to Woodcocks, crossed the Araparera river by means of a high wooden truss bridge, approximately where its concrete replacement now is. Immediately after crossing the bridge the road, when travelling towards Woodcocks, took a sharp left turn to parallel the river for a short distance before making a big right hand hairpin turn around a high side cutting under what is now the metal dump, before rejoining the present road further up.


The Bridge, Warkworth

Presumably we made the relatively level road from our place to the bridge in the Dodge in fairly good order but chains or no chains we bogged to the axles on the other side of the bridge, not even making the big hairpin bend. With no quick way to get the car out, that had to wait until next day, my grandfather walked the one and a half miles back to his farm to catch his horse and ride to his meeting, his late arrival adding, we would hope, some weight to his representations for the early metalling of this road! In the meantime my mother, who was pregnant and I, aged three, were faced with either a muddy walk back to meet my father, who was to come and pick us up, or a lengthy wait on the side of the road. In the event Mervyn and Chrissie Sanderson invited us to wait at their place close by until my father’s eventual arrival. I can still remember, while waiting, the smell of Chrissie’s fresh baked scones, hot from the wood stove oven.

A Trip to Waiwera - There And Back In A Day!

Of course not all journeys ended like that one. When the ravages of winter were repaired, the surfaces restored and the road hard and dry a journey could be contemplated in the reasonable expectation of its successful completion. As an example I can recall my father telling us of his family’s annual outing around the turn of the century, a trip to Waiwera, there and back in one day, by horses and wagonette.


Settlers on their way to a picnic

Preparations were made the day beforehand and it is not hard to imagine the suppressed excitement as the boys helped their father check and polish the harness and the wagonette, groom and check the horses and prepare their nose-bags of hard feed for the next day. The girls would be helping their mother prepare the picnic to be taken and the clothes to be worn – their best of course. Bright and early next morning having (hand) milked the cows and done any other chores it was off to Waiwera some fourteen miles away. Several hours later, having walked up all the steeper inclines to help the horses they would arrive at Waiwera, there to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the seaside, to swim in salt water, play in the sand, walk the pier and listen to the unfamiliar screech of the gulls. At Waiwera they would also smell the hydrogen sulphide and feel the warmth of the thermal seepages crossing the sand.


Waiwera Hotel

Then all to soon it would be time to re-harness the horses, climb back into the wagonette and start the journey back home, again walking up the steeper hills but this time sunburnt, tired and probably cross. On arriving home there would be the cows to milk and other chores to complete before tea, bed and the oblivion of exhausted sleep. Was it worth it? My father thought so, at least in retrospect. It was after all a journey successfully completed and, like boys of every generation, he may have even gotten to drive.

When talking of helping the horses a habit which intrigued me when young was that of the early drivers, those who learned to drive after years of driving horses, of leaning or rocking forward when approaching or climbing a hill in a car. Said to have been derived from the habit of urging the horses up the hill, I rather think it had more to do with the hope of avoiding changing down gears on the old “crash box” of those early cars - no synchromesh then. Few if any of the old timers really mastered the art of “double declutching” needed to avoid the clash of gears when changing them, in fact they had probably never heard of it. But the look of total and grim concentration on the face of the driver when climbing a hill, leaning or rocking forward and tightly gripping the steering wheel remains a persistent memory of my father and other drivers of his generation, as does the painful grinding sounds emanating from the gear box which followed the inevitable need to change down, moments before the engine stalled.

Formation Of The Local Roads & Road Boards:

Who, then, was responsible for the upgrading of the original tracks into formed clay roads and their subsequent maintenance? It would seem that the initial impetus came from a policy for roading and bridging introduced into Parliament by Sir Julius Vogel in 1868-9 which may have had a “grants” component to it. While the impetus may have come from the policy the initiative for its implementation came from the settlers themselves through the formation of local roads boards.

History records three such authorities set up in Ahuroa, starting with the Komokoriki Highway Board constituted in 1867, the demise of which doesn’t appear to be recorded but probably about 1890. This was followed by the Ahuroa Road Board from 1892 to 1907 and then by the Komokoriki Road Board from 1907 to 1923 when its functions were taken over by the Rodney County Council. From the dates of their constitutions and demises it would seem that these three boards served the district consecutively from 1867 to 1923, a period of some fifty-six years over an area extending from the Puhoi/Ahuroa hill in the east, over the hill to Woodcocks in the north, to the Burnside creek in the south and Araparera in the west, extending at times, as indicated by the names of some of the members, into Glorit. Why three boards I don’t know except to suggest that it may reflect some settlers leaving the valley resulting in a loss of support or initiative at certain times.

Much of the work in constructing these early roads would have been undertaken by the settlers themselves under contract to the boards, supplementing the meagre earnings derived from their small and only partially developed farms. Payment for this work was said to have been from four to five shillings a day in the early 1870s, a most welcome addition to their incomes. Their tools would have been picks and shovels, wheel barrows and later, because horses were not common in those very early days, horse scoops and horse or bullock drawn carts. As an indication of the size of these undertakings a look at the side cuttings and fills on, say, the Puhoi /Ahuroa, Woodcocks or Komokoriki hill roads indicates the volume of clay, rock and spoil navvied out with only the aforesaid tools to aid in their construction. Given the relatively small population available to do the work, mainly settlers who were also occupied in developing their farms or working as bushmen, it represents no mean achievement. In general the basis they provided required little modification to meet the needs of our present day use. I take my hat off to them!

The membership of the boards referred to above reads like a who’s who of the early settlers. They include the names of Chaplin, (RCC’s first county clerk incidentally); Glenny ; Laybourne ; Pettigrew; Woodcock; Poyner; Hudson; Armstrong; Parker; Ellen; Palmer; Turvery; Marmont and Moir. Also recorded as having served on one or other of these boards are the names of Gardner, Hooper, Sanderson, Burns, Davie-Martin. Dunningham and Jenkins.

Of all of those settlers only the names of Parker, Sanderson, Davie-Martin and Jenkins continue in the district. The most recent to leave were the Poyners when Ken sold out in 1995.

The Flaxmill At Komokoriki:

By way of a small diversion perhaps it could be mentioned here that the Poyner family can probably lay claim to being the first European settlers in the valley, when George Poyner was sent up to establish a flax mill at Komokoriki in the early/mid 1850s. This he did and to power it he diverted, by means of a water-race, the small stream which flows under the present West Coast road a hundred or so meters south east of its junction with the Komokoriki road, on property now owned by K. and F.E. Dixon. I don’t know how long the mill operated but George Poyner stayed to become one of, if not the earliest, settler in the valley.

The Amalgamation of the Road Boards:

With the demise of the Komokoriki Road Board in 1923 the interests of Ahuroa were represented on the Rodney County Council by the riding member for the Kaipara Riding. It was in the early part of the county council’s regime, whose concerns at that time were almost exclusively roading and bridging, that the start was made on metalling the district’s roads. Only three councillors represented the riding over the fifty year period from 1923 to 1973, when the northern part of the old Waitemata County was amalgamated with the original Rodney County to form what is now the Rodney District. They were T.O.(Thomas) Jenkins who succeeded H.A.(Harry) Hooper in 1923, T.O.L.(Lynn) Jenkins who succeeded his father on his death in 1934 and J.B.(John) Hooper who succeeded T.O.L. Jenkins on his retirement in 1967.


The 29th Council, 1959-62. T.O.L Jenkins (Chairman) is 2nd from left in front row.

With the amalgamation of the Puhoi and Kaipara ridings in the enlarged Rodney County of 1973-4 Ahuroa was represented by W.O.(“young” Bill) Schollum and later by J.B. (Peter) Schischka.

In possible deference to the needs of the newly introduced motor vehicle some sections of the road up the valley were re-routed. These diversions can be traced by a series of closed road titles indicating the old route superimposed on the original survey. One with which I am familiar was the re-routing of the road between Parker and Hawken roads to take advantage of easier grades along the valley floor nearer the river. Originally routed from Glenny’s bridge up through my grandfather’s property to cross Stoney Creek, another tributary of the Araparera, on a rock ford, it then had to climb very steeply up over a hill before descending through the properties of Ted Dunningham and William Sanderson, to rejoin the present road at the bottom of Hawken road. Much of the old route can still be traced from the evidence of road formation and deeply scoured water-tables. Some of it, in fact, is still in use as the access road to the Soffes’ new house.

There is a local story that Ted Dunningham, an Auckland lawyer as well as an Ahuroa landowner, stopped the new road proceeding through his property after an argument with his uncle, Herbert Armstrong, who was probably chairman of the Komokoriki Road Board at the time. Whatever – to make use of that part of the new route already completed it needed a diversion back to the old road through property then belonging to my grandfather and now to Brian and Linda Wright. The diversion ran from the top of the rise just past the “frog pond” corner, a devil’s elbow now part of Daniel and Kiri Fletcher’s access, along a more or less straight line to the Dunningham boundary, there to rejoin the original road. The need for this diversion of a diversion (rather like Orewa’s Grand Drive and the Alpurt motorway) was finally resolved some four years later and the low level road allowed to proceed. The route of the diversion can still be traced from a row of Benthamii stumps, part of a windbreak that once grew there.

Metalling The Roads:

The first section of road down the valley to be metalled was said to have been for a mile or so on either side of the railway station, with metal railed up from Mt. Eden, probably in the late 1920’s. When and how the rest of this road was metalled I am not able to say, except that I seem to recall freshly spread metal past our place on the (now) West Coast road when I first went to school late in 1935. Certainly the section of this road down to Araparera would have been metalled, at least to its western junction with the Komokoriki road, to have enabled the school bus , which started in late 1936 or early 1937 to pick up the children from that road at that junction. Similarly metalling to the Araparera junction with what was then called the West Coast road, now SH16 or the Kaipara Coast Highway, would have been completed before the Ahuroa cream collection was taken directly by truck to the Kaipara Co-op Dairy Co. at Helensville. Prior to this it had gone by rail from the Ahuroa railway station. Both these services were dependant on all weather roading.

I have no recollection of the metalling of the “Valley” road, that is Woodcock’s hill, apart from remembering a newly opened quarry part way up the hill on the Ahuroa side. It may have been metalled by the time of George VI’s coronation in 1937 when we children were all taken to Warkworth in the school bus to celebrate the occasion. I don’t remember much about that event except that the front of the Warkworth Town Hall was being rebuilt and our bus driver’s idea for achieving a safe crossing of the railway line was to place his hand firmly on the horn fifty or so meters before the crossing and leaving it there until we were safely on the other side! We children were most impressed. I should add that the driver was known for being somewhat deaf. Nor can I recall the metalling of the Puhoi/Ahuroa hill but again it would have been all weather before the cream run was extended to start at Puhoi.

The Clifford, Hawken, Parker and Wilson side roads, the Komokoriki and Ahuroa Valley roads were all metalled by relief gangs employing the unemployed, hand knapping sandstone spawls carted from Clifford’s and Sanderson’s quarries, about 1938-9. These men were accommodated in groups of canvas roofed huts at various places along the main road and presumably were able to go home by rail on week-ends.

Blasting At Sanderson's Quarry:

When blasting was being carried out in Sanderson’s quarry which was just up behind the school all the children, on hearing the blast, would wait with baited breath for pieces of rock to land on the school roof, which went to prove that the speed of sound was greater than the velocity of those rocks. What price Health and Safety in those days?

The metalling of Wech’s and Martin’s Access roads, while started in the late 1940s to accommodate new settlers, was not completed until the 1970s and it was sometime later before the metalling of Poyner Road finally completed the metalling of all the district’s roads.

Now, in 2003, we anticipate the completion of the sealing of the road from SH1 at Warkworth to SH16 at Araparera and more, it is noted, is promised for further up the valley. Hopefully a year or two will largely see an end to the potholes, corrugations , the dust clouds when dry and splattering mud when wet of what remains of our unsealed main roads and their now over used metalled surfaces. When completed the roads serving the district will have graduated from the muddy walking tracks of the 1850’s/60’s through the era of the even muddier formed clay roads from then until the 1930’s, to the all weather metalled roads of the next seventy years, to finally the sealing of our main roads over the next few years. This represents a transformation from the time when their passage was only possible on foot and the loads limited to what could be carried on the settler’s back to their present ability to cater for the high speeds of the modern motor car and the forty tonne loads of the multi-axle truck and trailer unit, a transition involving one hundred and fifty years of local roading history.

The photos used in this article were:
Stage Coach Service Between Kaipara Flats & Warkworth, Warkworth Museum
Opening of the Ahuroa Station courtesy of Noel & Toni Sanderson
Waiting for the train at Ahuroa Station, Warkworth Museum
Cars stuck on Ahuroa Road, Warkworth Museum
The Bridge Warkworth, Warkworth Museum
Settlers on their way to a Picnic, courtesy of Cally Whitham
Waiwera Hotel, courtesy of Cally Whitham
The 29th Council Road Board, Rock in the Sky By H Mabbett