Kuripapango Bridge, some 57 kilometres from Hastings on the Napier-Taihape Rd, is currently undergoing strengthening work to be able to increase its carrying load from 44 tonnes to 62 tonnes.
Also included in the work is approaches to and from the bridge being made more accessible.
Changes to the Government's Land Transport Rule-Vehicle Dimension and Mass 2016 required to provide for bigger weights and dimensions for the bridge.
The project is jointly funded between the Hastings District Council, Rangitikei District Council and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
A bridge at Kuripapango over the Ngaruroro River for the route into the Inland Patea over the Napier-Taihape Rd was first mooted in 1880 when a road was surveyed by Charles D Kennedy from Napier to Kuripapango (Kennedy Rd in Napier is named after him) for the Hawke's Bay County Council. The road was opened in early 1881.
While it is hard to believe now, Kuripapango, in the later part of the 19th century was promoted as a resort with a hotel where its higher altitude led settlers to believe its air would provide health-giving qualities.
The Kuripapango Hotel, when it burned down in 1901 was never replaced, thus ending its relatively short period as a destination.
In 1880, Hawke's Bay boundaries, under the auspices of the Hawke's Bay County Council, extended well into the Inland Patea area (Taihape did not begin to be settled until 1894).
Understandably, when Inland Patea farmers wanted a bridge over the Ngaruroro River at Kuripapango and to create a dray road from the present track to get the wool clip to Napier easier, the Hawke's County Council was not overly keen to spend significant money for a small number of settlers.
Those with property past Kuripapango ended up contributing towards the cost of the bridge, with Renata Kawepo and G P Donnelly each giving £200 (2020: $34,000), John Studholme and the Birches £300 ($51,000) between them, and the government contributing a grant of £600 ($103,000).
There was only one tender to build the bridge, and that was from Angus McKay, which was accepted. He apparently struggled for six weeks to get the timber bridge built, completing it in August 1881.
The construction was fraught with difficulties, as it was hard to estimate the problems that might occur building it, and it was hard to get labour. Within a year it had to be raised and lengthened.
There would be four bridges built over the Ngaruroro River. The first was washed away by the floods of 1897 and replaced with a temporary suspension bridge in August that year.
A permanent bridge was built slightly downstream from this in 1899, and included a rabbit fence – in a rather optimistic attempt to prevent them getting into the inland Patea.
Vehicles had to stop and open and close the rabbit fence in the middle of the bridge. The temporary suspension bridge was removed to become the Rangitikei bridge in 1903.
The present bridge opened in 1961, and remains today.
Kuripapango resident Rosie Macdonald, in a 1956 de Soto, was the first to drive across the bridge and as a resident with a long family history in the area, she opened the bridge by cutting the ribbon.
A road into Inland Patea after the 1881 bridge was built proved a more difficult task, but fear in Napier of the wool clip going to Wanganui and in the future, meat, and the prospect of significant gold in the Kaimanawa ranges led to the government promising funds in August 1881.
Political connections in securing the funds for the road for an insignificant number of few large farms would have almost certainly occurred.
A road, terminating at Erewhon Station in Inland Patea was completed around early 1884, with settler Azim Birch and his family the first to travel on it by coach.
When Taihape was formed in 1894, the Hawke's Bay County was not keen to pay for bridges and roads deep in the Patea high country towards that town.
Settlers in the Inland Patea petitioned to have the boundary changed in the area so it went from Hawke's Bay to Rangitikei County, who were more agreeable to funding the infrastructure.
Eventually, in 1919, the boundary between Hawke's Bay County and Rangitikei County was moved to the Ngaruroro River at Kuripapango, relieving the Hawke's Bay County Council of any obligation in the Inland Patea.
*Michael Fowler and Wendy Campbell's book, The Road to Erewhon: People and Places of the Inland Patea, will be available in early November this year.
Michael Fowler (email@example.com) is a contract researcher and commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history. Follow him on facebook.com/michaelfowlerhistory