Auckland: The final crossing

By Sue Courtney

As Auckland merges to create a supercity, the Herald looks back at how Auckland has changed over the years. Click here to view the full series.

The vehicular ferry stopped sailing once the Auckland
Harbour Bridge was opened. File photo / NZ Herald
The vehicular ferry stopped sailing once the Auckland Harbour Bridge was opened. File photo / NZ Herald

"Hurry up," said Dad, holding the car door open, "If we miss this
one there won't be another."

I was seven years old and we were going on the last "vehicular" crossing from Devonport to Auckland. The new harbour bridge was being opened that day.

We had watched the bridge being built from Uncle Frank's house up on Stanley Pt. He had a superb view of Northcote Pt and St Marys Bay.

We saw huge support towers rise out of the sea and stand like frozen sentries. Then bits of the bridge, like giant Meccano structures, arrived on barges for tugs with full heads of steam to position them in place.

Now the bridge was finished and our way of travelling to town to visit Nana and Grandma, or to go away for the holidays, was about to change forever.

We all piled into the Austin A70. Mum, as usual, had a hamper of food and games for the journey.

Often the queue for the car ferry would stretch from Victoria Wharf along King Edward Parade past the Masonic Hotel and almost to North Head. Cars could be stopped for 10 to 15 minutes at a time before edging forward a few hundred metres.

Sometimes Mum prepared the vegetables for dinner while we waited. Sometimes she brushed my long hair and tied it back with ribbons.

I liked to get out of the car and do flips on the railing between the footpath and the beach.

Sometimes travelling on the ferry scared me. I liked it best when our car was in the middle of the boat, on the inside, tucked up against the wall of the throbbing engine. My brother was more daring. He liked to peer over the side of the low deck wall in the middle and watch the mesmerising water pass by.

We drove on to the ferry named after the company's founder, Ewen W. Allison. The skipper who took the wheel for the final crossing was Jack Mc-Carron.

My sister and I eagerly climbed on to the wheelhouse deck while my brother went to the stern, where a chain between metal posts was the only safety barrier.

Dad stood on top of the car to take movies while Mum stayed inside. It was a surprisingly mild, late-autumn day.

At 3.30pm the gangway was raised and some of the people on the wharf ran down the ramp to take photos or wave. Others waved from the wharf above. I waved back to everyone.

The trip to Mechanics Bay was fast and, as usual, the smell of diesel, oil and brine accompanied the crossing.

More photographers were waiting on the gangway at Mechanics Bay. We scrambled back into the car and after we had driven off the ferry Dad parked the car to one side. He took a movie of the ferry's mate shutting
the gangway gate and hammering a sign on it. It said, "closed".

Then we joined a queue in St Marys Bay to become part of the first traffic jam on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Sue Courtney is an Albany writer.

- NZ Herald

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