The Hastings Mail - - FRONT PAGE -

Bly’s grand­par­ents reg­u­larly trav­elled it on horse and cart, and in their time it was com­mon for peo­ple and stock to tramp the roughly 8-kilo­me­tre length.

‘‘The Sad­dle Rd wasn’t opened un­til the 1940s, so it’s a re­cent al­ter­na­tive.’’

When Bly started farm­ing in the 1960s, there was a stock yard at ev­ery ru­ral rail­way sta­tion to send an­i­mals for pro­cess­ing. Grad­u­ally, trucks be­came cheaper, and heavy ve­hi­cle traf­fic through the gorge has grown, while rail has dropped.

A ma­jor up­grade in the 1960s and 70s made a big dif­fer­ence to the speed and ease with which cars could travel on the gorge road.

‘‘When they put those new bridges in and took those lit­tle windy parts out that made a huge dif­fer­ence to the time and safety of the road. Some peo­ple don’t like driv­ing it, but there’s very few ac­ci­dents there.’’

An­other myth is that Amer­i­can troops sta­tioned in New Zealand dur­ing World War II planned to build a viaduct or bridges along the route.

‘‘It was talked about,’’ Bly says. ‘‘But it was prob­a­bly some­thing said over a pint of beer – ‘well if it was Amer­i­can we would have bridged it’. But the need wasn’t there then.’’

A search of of­fi­cial records has found no trace of the of­fer. Manawatu¯ Daily Times, Wi Duncan re­mem­bered walk­ing the gorge track in 1870 as a child.

His iwi group was head­ing west to the mouth of the Po­hang­ina River to har­vest white­bait, karaka berries and eels.

A group of Euro­peans were work­ing on the road at the Woodville end and it was the first time Duncan had met a Pa¯keha¯.

The scenery im­pressed him, but two years later, it was marred by dam­age from the road’s con­struc­tion.

Af­ter the road opened in 1872, there was still no bridge at ei­ther end, so trav­ellers faced pre­car­i­ous ar­range­ments to cross the river.

In 1875, a toll for the road was in­tro­duced, taken at a small set­tle­ment called Gorge, at the Woodville end.

At the same spot, a ca­ble was strung across the river and trav­ellers could be pulled across on a plank of wood, 20 me­tres up. A ferry ran at the Ash­hurst end.

In 1885, an English vis­i­tor said it was one of New Zealand’s ‘‘chiefest won­ders’’. He de­scribes land­slides, howls of wind and the car­riage’s close­ness to the cliff’s edge as ‘‘not 10 inches to spare at many a jut­ting an­gle’’, but also the nat­u­ral beauty.

‘‘Gi­ant to­taras, ragged with age, draped with moss and lichen, tower in masses above the lower bush, which is thickly clung, with creep­ers in­nu­mer­able.’’

Coach driver York said af­ter six months trav­el­ling the nar­row road it was still nerve-rack­ing, es­pe­cially with scared commentary from pas­sen­gers in the front seat.

The sheer drop was only inches from the wheels, and he would drive the coach and four horses ‘‘with the noses of the first horses pulled hard into the side of the bank’’.

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