Clifden Suspension Bridge

324 State Highway 99, Waiau River, Clifden

  • Clifden Suspension Bridge, Waiau River. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Bob Walker - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Bob Walker. Date: 23/09/2011.
  • Clifden Suspension Bridge, Waiau River. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Harald Selke - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Harald Selke. Date: 11/04/2011.
  • Clifden Suspension Bridge, Waiau River. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: itravelNZ®. Taken By: Natalia Volna - itravelNZ®. Date: 13/05/2016.
  • Clifden Suspension Bridge, Waiau River. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: itravelNZ®. Taken By: Natalia Volna - itravelNZ®. Date: 13/05/2016.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 4921 Date Entered 15th February 1990 Date of Effect 15th February 1990


City/District Council

Southland District


Southland Region

Legal description

Sec 38 Blk I Lillburn SD Mark A on SO 10343-Historic Reserve


(Information in [square brackets] below indicates a correction made to the summary)

Clifden Suspension Bridge Historic Reserve is located on State Highway [99], some 16km from Tuatapere, in Southland. It occupies an area of [5715m2] and was classified as an historic reserve in 1984 and vested in the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

The bridge was built in 1898-99 to span the Waiau River and replaced a punt which had operated since the early days of settlement. At that time the river was often swift and dangerous but the flow has been severely reduced by hydroelectric development on Lake Manapouri. The bridge was an important transport link and was influential in the opening up of the area east of the Waiau River.

[The total cost of the bridge was £5007, and it was officially opened by Sir Joseph Ward on 5 April 1899]. A single lane bridge, it was originally used by horse and cart traffic and later by vehicles. It remained in operation until 1978 when a new bridge was built some 130 metres downstream to cater for traffic to and from the Manapouri power project.

An unusual feature of the bridge is the Clifden Roll of Honour, a plaque commemorating those men from the district who gave their lives in World War 1. The plaque is attached to the north tower at the eastern end of the bridge.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This is a fine example of a suspension bridge and a worthy reminder of a feature of road communication rapidly becoming rare in New Zealand. This bridge was an important transport link in what was a relatively remote part of Southland.


This bridge represents a high standard of design and bridge carpentry. Although modest by international standards it was designed after the development of drawn wire construction for suspension bridges and new materials such as steel. The building of a bridge of this span was a significant local engineering feat made possible by the tensile properties of the steel cable.


The bridge is a commanding structure in the local Southland landscape.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Howarth, C.H.

Howarth was an engineer with the Southland County from 1880 to 1906. He was also a talented landscape artist and his paintings are held by both New Zealand and Australian art galleries.

He is responsible for the design of the Clifden Suspension Bridge over the Waiau River (1890-99).

Ussher, E.R.

Ussher came to New Zealand in 1861 from Canada and was appointed Surveyor of Roads for Otago Province. Based in Dunedin in 1871 he was a railway surveyor in the newly formed Public Works Department and two years later was Surveyor of Waste Lands. By 1878 he was working again for the Public Works Department as Resident Engineer on the construction of the Dunedin-Christchurch railway.

A short time after this he became District Engineer for Otago, remaining in this position for 47 years. He carried out rail construction in mid and north Canterbury and also for branch railways in Southland. In 1904 he assisted P.S. Hay with exploration and surveys for his monumental report on hydro-electric power resources. In 1886 Ussher was elected Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


C. H. HOWORTH - designed the bridge

E.R. USSHER - was responsible for its construction supervision


The Clifden suspension bridge has a span of about 110 metres (366 feet). It has Australian hardwood decking with totara stiffening trusses. An essential component of the structural system the trusses also provide balustrading. The bridge is suspended from 28 wire hanger ropes, with 14 being fixed to each of two wire cables. These cables are hung from sturdy stone towers at either end of the bridge. Each of the four towers is tapered, and capped and fluted at the point of intersection with the cables. The cables pass through the towers and are secured at ground level by anchors consisting of large stone blocks.


None known

Notable Features

This is one of New Zealand's longest extant suspension bridges.

The War Memorial plaque.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1899 -

Construction Details

The bridge is constructed from totara and Australian hardwood and is suspended from wire ropes which hang from towers of plastered stone.

Information Sources

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

File 8/24/4 NZHPT

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.

The Clifden Suspension bridge was entered into the Institute of Professional Engineers (IPENZ) heritage register in 2012.

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.