Opawa River Bridge

Grove Road; State Highway 1, Blenheim

  • Opawa River Bridge, Grove Road, Blenheim.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Alison Dangerfield. Date: 4/03/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 241 Date Entered 28th June 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Legal Road, Marlborough Land District and the structure known as Opawa River Bridge thereon, including its abutments. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero meeting on 8 June 2017.

City/District Council

Marlborough District


Marlborough Region

Legal description

Legal Road, Marlborough Land District


The first bridge over the Ōpaoa River at this point was built in 1869. It collapsed in 1878 and from then traffic was taken across the river by the nearby narrow railway bridge, by punt, or by fording when water levels were low enough. Planning for a new road bridge had commenced by 1913. Construction proper began in 1915 but because of the War, the bridge was not completed until the end of 1917. It then provided the much needed road link between Blenheim and the settlements to the north.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Opawa River bridge was designed at a time of international experimentation in the use of reinforced concrete in such engineering structures, especially by Swiss, French and German engineers. The bowstring arch design in concrete enjoyed a period of popularity in New Zealand through to the 1930s. The bridge is still an important part of the South Island State Highway 1.


The Opawa River bridge was one of the first bowstring arch bridges in reinforced concrete to be built in New Zealand. Despite the somewhat heavy nature of its construction, the low bold arches in sequence give it an overall rhythmic architectural elegance, although it does lack the refinement of later bowstring arch bridges in New Zealand, such as the former Fitzherbert Bridge (Palmerston North 1935) and the Fairfield Bridge (Hamilton 1936).


The bridge is a well-known structure spanning the Ōpaoa River and is a significant local landmark.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Holmes, John Dudley and Robert West

John Dudley Holmes (1886-?) was educated at Wellington College and Canterbury University. He worked for the Railways Department (1902-1908) and the Public Works Department (1909-20). He held various positions, including District Engineer, Tauranga, and Resident Engineer to the Napier Harbour Board. He later engaged in private practice with his father as a consulting engineer. He was a member of the Institution of Engineers.

Robert West Holmes(1856-1936) was born and educated in London. He entered the New Zealand Public Works Department in 1872 and rose to the position of Under-Secretary before retiring in 1920.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The bridge which carries State Highway 1 over the Ōpaoa River at Blenheim, has a total length of 170 metres. It has eight bow-string arch trusses of equal length. Each span has eight vertical hangers and diagonal reinforcing members, supporting the heavier lower chords, which carry the roadway. Heavy posts form the ends of each truss, which are supported on reinforced concrete piers, each having three converging flanges with their upstream faces formed at diagonals to assist water flow. A footpath is cantilevered on the downstream side of the bridge and horizontal iron bars have been placed between the truss hangers to form a barrier between the footpath and the roadway.


No significant modifications have been made.

Notable Features

Early use of reinforced concrete in a new form of bridge design.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1917 -

Construction Details

Trusses and piers of reinforced concrete.

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives


Furkert, 1953

Frederick William Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953

Marlborough Express

Marlborough Express

11 December 1917

29 December 1982

New Zealand Gazette

New Zealand Gazette

21 May 1914

New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal

New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal (NZIA)

Thornton, G.G. 'New Zealand Bridges', Vol. 25, No. 6, July 1958

Billington, 1986

D Billington. The Tower and the Bridge, Basic Books Inc, New York, 1983

Who's Who in NZ

Who's Who in New Zealand

1925, 1941, 1951

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Won a commendation for the 'Enduring Concrete Award' in 2010 from the NZ Concrete Society

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.