OPENING HOURS: Monday – Friday 10am-4pm, Weekends and public holidays 10am-2pm

Monday – Friday 10am-4pm, Weekends and public holidays 10am-2pm

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Cambridge Historical Society

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Waikato River

The Waikato River, flowing through Cambridge runs for 425 km from Tongariro north to the Waikato Heads and into the Tasman Sea. The first European river transport to Camp Cambridge in 1864 was a Paddle Steamer and crossing the river was done by punt.

View “Heritage Walk – River” in a larger map.

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1.  Riverside Park

Riverside Park in Dominion Avenue (originally Wharf Street ) is the original wharf area which was serviced by the paddle steamers Rangiriri, Blue Nose, Delta etc. Now a very popular picnic area and jetty for canoeing and Jet Boat rides.

A memorial was erected in 1982 commemorating the forward-thinking work the surveyors did under Charles Heaphy, when they surveyed the Cambridge area. Their provision for parks, reserves and the Green Belt will always be appreciated by Cambridge residents.

2. Karapiro Creek Bridge  

The first Karapiro Creek Bridge, built by Mr Greville, was swept away in a flood in 1869. It was replaced in the same year by one built on a much higher level by Philip Cooper.

The third bridge was built in 1882/83 with totara timber, 14 feet wide and 12 feet higher than the previous one. Cooper again was the overseer.

In October 1938 the frame of the present bridge’s main arch was in position and the two cantilevers were being prepared.

New steel handrails replaced the concrete in July 1960 and the four concrete light pillars were cut down to the same height as the rails.

3.   Fergusson Bridge

Early in 1870 the site for a bridge over the Waikato River was surveyed by Captain Rickards. The river was at a record low level so it was easy to bore holes into the rocks at the bottom of the river to put in the foundation piles.

Sub-Inspector Newall and Sergeant Chitty of the Armed Constabulary superintended the job, which was completed in 1871.

On 17 November 1874 the river rose 25 feet in a few hours. The flood lifted the bridge and floated it down the Waikato River to Hamilton, where it was rescued by the Armed Constabulary.
The old punt was brought back into service.

Towards the end of 1876 a tender was let to Mr Brittan for a Howe Truss Girder bridge, 144 feet long, 14 feet wide and 12 feet above the level of the original bridge. This became known as The Red Bridge. (Kauri piles were driven into the banks of the river – found in 1962 when the Fergusson Bridge was built). It cost £2345 – the government promising half.

Richard Reynolds was the first to take a herd of stock across the bridge.

The Red Bridge was deteriorating by the end of the 1890s and a bridge on a higher level was mooted in 1899. The Red Bridge was dismantled around 1909 and it is believed that some of the timber is used in the inner chamber of the Alpha Lodge on the corner of Queen and Bryce Streets.) The Fergusson Bridge, named after Governor General Sir Bernard Fergusson, has been built on the exact site of the Old Red Bridge and was opened in 1964.

4.  Soldiers Track

A walking track named the Soldiers Track, which starts below the Kauri Grove in Leamington, was upgraded in the 1980s and follows the original cart track from the river’s edge to Cook Street. This track also follows the river towards Victoria Bridge.

5.  Victoria Bridge

Cambridge Victoria Bridge was the first hinged braced arch bridge in Australasia.

The bridge pieces were shipped to New Zealand as a kit set and railed to Cambridge and Te Awamutu on both sides of the river. Construction started in May 1907. It was erected by cantilevering – building out from each bank – over the river without scaffolding, until connection was made in the centre. The anchorages at the banks were then slackened off, allowing the full weight of the bridge to settle on the arch, making the structure rigid. This was a pioneer work for New Zealand.

The total length is 462 feet (140.8 m) and 17 feet wide. The decking was six inch thick heart totara which was tarred and sanded.

The steel weighed 330 tons and there were about 20,000 rivets driven by pneumatic hammers. The concrete pillars were made with both New Zealand and English cement, Te Kuiti limestone and Cambridge sand. The whole of the ironwork was painted with Gohen’s carbonising coating and it was estimated that it would only have to be painted every twenty years.

It was recorded on 14 December that the first motor car to cross the bridge was driven by Miss Jeffries, with the mayor W F Buckland, Robert Fisher and John Ferguson having the honour of driving the first buggy across.

The Waikato Independent newspaper, on 21 December 1907, recorded the opening ceremony – ‘The town was gay with bunting, and streamers were hung across Victoria and Duke Streets, and flags were flying from the clock tower of the new Post Office building, Fire Brigade station, the flag-staff in Jubilee Gardens, and from a number of business places. During the morning a large number of country people flocked into Cambridge, and the town presented a very lively appearance. His Excellency the Governor, Lord Plunket arrived by special train from Auckland at 1pm. The D Mounted Squadron escorted the Governor’s carriage from the station along Queen Street, Victoria Street, Duke Street and over the two lower bridges to the west side. During the procession there was a light drizzle but not enough to dampen proceedings. A large crowd had assembled at both ends of the new bridge and gaily coloured streamers at either end of the structure waved in the breeze.

In the course of his speech Lord Plunket paid flattering tribute to the designer of the bridge and congratulated the local bodies and all concerned in its erection, saying the structure was a beautiful ornament. He also said, “The Victoria Bridge was not only a means of communication for the present settlers, but also for their children’s children.”

The Governor cut the ribbon held at either end by Mrs Elizabeth Buckland (the Cambridge Mayor’s wife) and Mrs Marion Fisher (wife of Robert Fisher, chairman of the Pukekura Road Board). Headed by the town band the procession reformed and proceeded over the bridge’.

The NZ Historic Places Trust placed the bridge on their register as being a national structure worthy of preservation for its historical significance and architectural quality.

6.  Bath Street Track  

One track under the Victoria Bridge comes out at Bath Street. This street was thus named as Major Wilson roped off an area of the Waikato River for swimming and this was the track down for a dip.  Now the Poplar Track wends its way from here through the trees, down to the Waikato River and under the Victoria Bridge.

7.  Wilson Street Track

Wilson Street was named after Major John Wilson who lived here with his family at their ‘Waterside’ home. Once a palatial residence with stately trees and beautifully kept grounds, it later became a dance studio and boarding house.   Now there is The Warehouse.

8.  Settlers Track

Another track, the Settlers Track, starts from under the Victoria Bridge and follows the river to the Riverside Park.