Historical Significance or Value
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty has historical significance as the sole surviving reaction cable ferry, or indeed public punt in New Zealand. With the service dating from 1896, it represents what was the most common means by which swift flowing rivers could be crossed safely, of which there were numerous examples throughout the country. They were an integral part of the developing transport infrastructure. As the punts were replaced by bridges these services were closed, until today only Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty survives.
Technological Significance or Value
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty has special technological significance. As New Zealand’s only surviving public punt and only reaction ferry, this place represents a largely forgotten technology. The punt is still in operation and provides a special working example of this simple technology which recalls the vital importance of punts and river crossing in New Zealand.
Social Significance or Value
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty has social significance as a connection between communities on either side of the great barrier of the Clutha/Mata-au River. The punt keeper is a long standing community role which is a significant link to the past. Its significance has been recognised more recently by the celebration of the 116 years of operation of the punt by the Clutha Valley Tuapeka Heritage Trust.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty reflect the importance of New Zealand’s transport infrastructure, and particularly river crossing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Rivers were major barriers to getting around, and the Clutha/Mata-au is one of the most formidable rivers in the country. Once common, punts are now a largely forgotten aspect of New Zealand’s transport history.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt is a unique survivor and one which is valued by locals and visitors alike. The associated heritage values have been recognised since the 1970s.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt has on site interpretation explaining the history of the place and so already provides some public education.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt is a reaction ferry, one which relies on the current of the river to push it across to its two mooring sites. Reaction ferries were once common, but with the replacement by motorised punts, as technology developed, they became obsolete. Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty has special technological significance as a representative of this now largely abandoned system.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty is the remnant of a network of punt sites up and down the Clutha/Mata-au River in Otago and the sole surviving public punt still in operation in New Zealand, as such it is a rare type of historic place.
Summary of Significance or Values
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty, a reaction cable ferry which began service in 1897, is a remnant of what was once a network of punt sites up and down the Clutha/Mata-au River in Otago, and is now the sole surviving public punt still in operation in New Zealand, and as such it is of special heritage significance.
Maori had long recognised that rivers were a key to traversing inland areas of the Otago and Southland, particularly the mighty Clutha/Mata-au, one of the world’s top ten swiftest rivers, which runs 338 kilometres from Wanaka to the sea. Guides like Te Raki shared their knowledge of routes with Europeans, giving them their first glimpse of the interior of Otago in 1853. Maori made use of ara, pathways or routes, such as that up the Nevis Valley which used a natural rock bridge to cross the Kawarau River, and relied on their knowledge, experience and skill.
For European pastoralist and miners the need for safe crossing was also vital to enable them and, in the case of pastoralists, their stock, around the province. New Zealand rivers were faster and more changeable than many settlers had been used to. Water transport, including ferries and punts, was vital when roads and bridges were poor or non-existent. A network of ferries and punts grew up at crossing places on rivers. The increasing numbers of wagons and other wheeled traffic that came with a settled population made formed routes and crossings even more important.
The earliest ferries were privately owned and operated. The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 delegated the management of ferry crossing to the Provincial Councils. The Provincial Councils imposed rules and regulations as well as boat or punt and wire-rope installations and accommodation for operators which were leased out.
In Clyde a new type of punt with twin pontoons, spanned by a flat deck improved on earlier models (a ‘transverse, self-driving punt’). Early ferries were designed to carry only pedestrians, their horses, drays and light wagons. With the discovery of gold and the settled farming population the transport needs changed – there were heavy bullock wagons and carts. The technology had to change. The Vogel public works scheme in the 1870s saw a great push in infrastructure development, including bridge building. In the Clutha District the County Councils took over the responsibility for such projects, and in the wake of the 1878 flood on the Clutha/Mata-au which saw many of the first bridges washed downstream or destroyed, waited for the new cast iron technology before building replacements. Other means of river crossing, such as punts, therefore, remained significant.
In the Clutha district, punts at Beaumont, Millers Flat and Roxburgh catered for commuters as well as travellers – regular road users could cross and re-cross the river. Townships grew up around those crossing places – such as Tuapeka Mouth. The first ferry at Tuapeka Mouth was reputedly a privately owned whaleboat in 1871, although there is a request for a ferryman’s house at the junction of the Tuapeka and Clutha Rivers in 1862 indicating perhaps the existence of a ferry.
It was not until the 1890s, however, that residents petitioned the Tuapeka County Council for a public ferry – in this case a reaction cable ferry was chosed because of the power of the river. With a Government subsidy and backing also from Clutha County council, the project went ahead. Tenders were called in August 1895, and the building contract let to Tyson and Dunlop for £333. The service officially opened on 22 February 1896. Initial rates were 6d for passengers and horses, with a sliding scale for various numbers of sheep, and 3d a head for cattle. The first month saw 336 passengers and 225 horses. By 1901 a six month tally saw 984 people carried from Tuapeka to Clutha, 751 horses, 149 vehicles and 200 sheep; the reverse voyage saw 918 people, 689 horses, 104 vehicles and 425 sheep. Transporting animals on the punt was challenging and unpredictable – horses were known to perform a ‘two-legged ballet’ or just jump overboard (or stand quietly with their blinkers on). Sheep, pigs, hens, cattle – all crossed by the punt – a ‘circus-like performance’ at times.
There was stiff local competition as the Clutha County operated the Clydevale punt only 11 kilometres downstream. The Rongahaere punt was only 3.2km upstream. Clutha County did, however, provide some money towards the cost and maintenance of the Tuapeka Mouth service as well as providing plans of the Clydevale punt and engineering advice.
In 1902 the punt was vested officially in the Tuapeka County Council. By 1908 this was a 50/50 funding split with Clutha County. Once motor vehicles became more common, a Government subsidy was replaced with annual subsidies from the Main Highways Board and later still, the National Roads Board.
The Tuapeka Punt operated as a platform on two boats, with improvements made from time to time. Major repairs were made in 1908; around 1915 the boats were enlarged and the decking lengthened. In February 1915 the Waiau River at Tuatapere was bridged and the punt there became available. It was dismantled and railed to Balclutha and taken by river steamer to Tuapeka Mouth.
The new punt had twin iron-hulled boats. The punt in use today is, according to historian A.R. Tyrrell, substantially the craft introduced in 1915. The Marine Department certifies the craft annually. There was a major overhaul in the 1980s, with new runners, new sides and new decking. For a time from the early 1940s the punt operated with an engine, but this was taken out.
Residents were not always happy with the punt; they petitioned for a bridge at various times. The resignation of the puntman in 1947 saw the service closed, but there was a petition and deputation and the punt was restored to service. In May 1956 the punt was again closed for repairs.
Conditions were not easy – high winds meant that the punt could not work itself away from the Wharetoa bank, though a hand winch and a wire rope attached to the cable downstream of the punt did much to solve the problem. Floods meant that the punt was closed, and low water levels could, and indeed, did, lead to mid-river strandings. In 1928 a woman drowned when the car she was in failed to stop and plunged into the river. As a result two lifebuoys were installed.
In 1960 steel decking was installed on the punt-boats and life rafts were provided. Focus then turned to the puntman’s house which was in poor condition. After minor administrative kafuffle and some more petitions the service was restored. The puntman’s house was later destroyed by fire. It appears to have been replaced by a shed.
In the 1978 floods the punt slipped its moorings and shot across the river. When the Clydevale bridge was washed out in the same flood, traffic was diverted to the punt. Other punts on the Clutha closed and were replaced with bridges. Historian Evelyn McClay writing in 1977 indicated that the Tuapeka Mouth Punt was the sole survivor on the Clutha/Mata-au and it was hoped that the punt would be preserved, with public meetings supporting its retention, ‘as one of the most important relics in Otago’ and nationally significant.’
In 2009 substantial maintenance and repair work was completed. The puntman’s shed was demolished due to health and safety issues in August 2011.
In 2012 the Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty, owned and operated by the Clutha District Council with financial assistance from the New Zealand Transport Agency, is New Zealand’s last public punt and has a special place in New Zealand’s transport history. A celebration of 116 years of service was held in February 2012 by the Clutha Valley Tuapeka Heritage Trust.
The Tuapeka Punt and Jetty is located at Tuapeka Mouth and provides a crossing point over the Clutha/Mata-au River. The Punt and Jetty (approach ramps) is about 30km upriver from Balclutha and 30km south of Beaumont Bridge, and 10 kilometres above the Clydevale Bridge. In 2012-2013 the punt runs seven days a week from 8am to 10am and 4pm to 6pm, times where the water flow is highest from the Roxburgh Hydro Dam upstream.
The jetty sites are at the base of cuttings through the riverbank. At both jetties there is a post to which the cable for the punt is anchored. The jetty is on piles with a timber decking. A new puntman’s shed was moved onto the site in 2011, replacing the one demolished for safety reasons.
The Tuapeka Mouth Punt is a cable ferry or chain ferry. The craft is guided across the river by means of cables attached to both shores. Ferries of this type are often called punts in New Zealand and Australia, referring to the flat bottomed vessels. Cable ferries were common in areas where there was little other water borne traffic which could get snagged on the wires, or where the water was too shallow for other options, or where the current was too strong to permit safe crossing where the ferry was not attached to the bank.
There are three types of cable ferry – the reaction ferry (which uses the power of the river to tack across the current); the powered cable ferry (using an engine or electric motor) to wind itself across the river; and the hand-operated ferry which used a hand winch to pull the vessel across the river). Tuapeka Mouth Ferry is a reaction ferry.
A typical reaction ferry consists of two pontoons with a wooden deck bridging them. They usually have overhead cables suspended from structures anchored on either bank of the river. A ‘traveller’ is installed on the cable and the ferry is attached to the traveller by a bridle cable. The bridle cable is adjusted to angle the pontoons into the current, causing the force of the current to move the ferry across the river. A simple wooden dock on each side of the river provides a docking area for the ferry and approach ramps to load vehicles and passengers. The side rails are constructed of timber post and rail.
To cross the river, the rudder at the forward end of the ferry is lowered which turns the ferry at an angle to the current. The cable prevents the ferry from being pushed downstream, and instead the force of the current propels the ferry across the river.
Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty has been identified by both Te Ara (The Encyclopedia of New Zealand) and ferry and punt historian A.R. Tyrrell as the only operating public punt surviving in New Zealand. This makes it a special and rare survivor of an era where ferries and punts were central to navigating this river-riven land.
Internationally, public punts still operate, particularly in areas where there are extensive river systems – such as the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales (where there are five vehicular powered cable ferries in operation, of the ten still operating in New South Wales as a whole). The historic and aesthetic importance of these are recognised as recalling the history of what was the earliest and most prevalent forms of river crossing in that state. Reaction ferries are less common but still operate in British Columbia (five), Germany (nine – all across the Elbe River) and Poland (twenty five – across the Oder, Vistula and Warta Rivers).
1895 - 1896
Tenders for construction called for in August 1895. Tuapeka Mouth Punt and Jetty entered service February 1896.
Replaced with Tuatapere punt.
Steel decking installed.
1980 - 1989
Steel decking installed.
Maintenance and repairs.
Puntman’s shed demolished.
Further repairs on the punt.
5th February 2013
Report Written By
A.R. Tyrrell, River Punts and Ferries of Southern New Zealand, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1996
Evelyn McLay, Stepping Out: A history of Clutha County Council, Clutha County Council, Balclutha, 1977
A fully referenced regsitration report is available from the Otago/Southland Office of the NZHPT.
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.