Welcome to Wairoa, Northern Hawkes Bay. New Zealand.
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Cyclone Bola

Chapter 1   Inundation & Devastation  -  Introduction and background information regarding Cyclone Bola throughout New Zealand.

Chapter 2   Disintegration & Destruction  -  The collapse of the Wairoa Bridge and all Service Utilities.

Chapter 3   Survival & Tragedy  -  The conditions and heartbreak in the first week after Cyclone Bola.

Chapter 4   Isolation & Transitional  -  Initial response to Wairoa's total isolation from the outside world.

Chapter 5   Provisional & Interim  -  Alternative transport routes provided to access both Wairoa north and south.

Chapter 6   Restoration & Construction  -  The planning and contruction of the new High Level Wairoa Bridge.

Chapter 7   Unification & Celebration  -  The Opening of the new Wairoa Bridge and the unity of the Wairoa township.

Chapter 8   Memories & Recollections  -  Personal stories and recollections contributed by our Readers.

Chapter 5 - Provisional and Interim

Wairoa Railway

Alternative routes bypassing the Wairoa Bridge were sort as completion of the new bridge was predicted to take from 18 months to 24 months. The National Roads Board and the Railways Corporation came to an agreement to convert the township's central rail bridge for vehicular traffic with in days of Cyclone Bola washing away the town bridge. It was decided to reinforce the Railway Bridge as had been done in 1931 after the Napier earthquake. Although sited some distance from the town, this would shorten the route from one side to the other down to 12km. Drawings of the rail bridge used in 1931 were available to the Works Consultancy Services designers and it was also fortuitous that an identical bridge spanned the Esk River near Napier, allowing study of its structural form and the taking of measurements.

Wairoa Railway

The main challenge was to design a vehicle deck wide enough to carry class 1 traffic loads as well as rail traffic. Every second stringer was replaced with a longer 3.6m sleeper on which the timber deck was laid. A skid-resistant was laid over the decking and kerbing built along each side.

Wairoa Railway

The timber arrived in March 1988 and work on the alterations began, More than 14,000 nails were driven in by hand to complete the conversion of the rail bridge which carried around 2800 vehicles per day. Traffic Lights were used to control the flow of traffic with the north and sound bound trains as the bridge obviously was only 1 lane as seen in the photo above. Traffic detectors were installed at both ends of the road approaches to the bridge and also on the bridge itself. The automatic traffic control system was also wired in to the Railways Corporation's signalling system and train detectors placed along the rail approaches. The system was designed to minimise traffic delays and also for safety.

Wairoa Railway

Access to the bridge from the north was at the end of Railway Road, off Carroll Street as shown in the photo above. The local property owner allowed access down the side of his boundary leading up to the rail bridge. Once the new bridge was in operation the fence along the train track was reinstated. Works Hawkes Bay had to bring in almost 10,000 cubic metres of fill to lay the roading and build the culvert on each side. The tar seal road was laid beside the rail tracks leading up to the bridge and off on the other side making the crossing smoother and safer. The construction of both approaches, which were both 600 metres in length, was one of the most expensive facets of the entire emergency restoration program. The photo below shows the entrance from Railway Road as it is now. You can see where the road ran parallel to the train tracks.

Wairoa Railway

On the other side of the Railways Bridge the road came out along Awamate Road and headed towards the Napier Road turn off. This made a huge difference to the locals cutting the traveling time by 2 thirds. This new shorter route across the rail bridge was completed and open on the 24th of May 1988. Initially the bridge was open to class 1 traffic, subject to the height restriction. Because of cross bracing on the main beams of the bridge, only vehicles of 3.1 metres height maximum were able to use the it. By the following month Works Consultancy had negotiated with the Railways Corporation and the bracing was replaced allowing vehicles of 4.25 metres to also use the bridge.

Teams of Works staff and contractors worked 24 hour days, seven days a week to complete the Rail bridge. Their progress was impeded by a wetter than usual April. Wairoa received almost double its April average Rainfall during the construction period and two out of every three days work was distrupted by rain.

The rail bridge and traffic lights became part of traveling from south to north and visa versa for around 18 months until the new bridge was completed. It was believed to be the only road-rail bridge in the North Island at the time. If you go back up and have a look at the Map, this route is sketched in blue.

Wairoa Footbridge

Although the ferry was maintaining a relatively safe access across the river, too often mechanical failure or flooding prevented the ferry from running. This in turn meant employees not arriving for work, supplies not being delivered and disruption to daily life. Construction of the new bridge had yet to begin and the community was becoming demoralised.

Works Consultancy Services were commissioned to investigate the possibility of a footbridge. A Bailley Suspension Bridge was considered by local authorities to be the most appropriate as consideration had to be given to the poor foundation, high river levels, flooding and debris flowing down the Wairoa River.

A Bailley Bridge had previously been used to span the Clutha River when the Roxbugh Power Station was built and was being held in storage. It was decided to use this and make the necessary alterations for Wairoa. In July 1988 work began. The bridge span was increased to a 134m with alterations made concerning the load factor, cable positioning and anchoring as shown above.

Wairoa Footbridge

The new Suspension Footbridge Bridge was in use from the 29th August 1988 and once again the town was linked. The official opening was on September the 3rd and part of a town gala. The Mayor Clifford Owen cut the ribbon announcing the new Wairoa Bailey Bridge was open for business. This took an enormous load off the Ferry with many opting to walk or bike over the bridge for work or leisure.

Wairoa Foot bridge

A concrete footpath was laid from Marine Parade across to the bridge which on the south side was where the Skate Bowl is now. The north side the bridge met up with the bottom of Carroll Street.

A water pipe was also added to the side of the bridge gaining an increase in water flow to the south side tanks. This in turn meant water restrictions could finally be lifted. The Footbridge remained in place until May 1990 when it was disassembled, removed from the banks of Wairoa and put back into storage.

Even though the footbridge added a much quicker link between the two sides this did not affect north or south bound State Highway 2 traffic. This traffic still bypassed Wairoa and did so for 21 months.This was an enormous lost in revenue for the Wairoa Businesses. Many of the local shops rely on income from the many travelers passing through Wairoa as with the petrol stations, motels and hotels, supermarkets and food outlets. Wairoa was a lot quieter in that aspect but the influx of contractors and road workers made up the difference in numbers.


1.    Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

2.    Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

3.    The Wairoa Star.

4.    The New Zealand Herald.

5.    Television New Zealand Archives.

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