History Archive

A punt operated from the site prior to the opening of the Luggate Grandview Bridge (Red Bridge) in 1915. Subsequently, the property was divided into 4 lots, 3 with a cottage. The land was seized or purchased in the 1980s when the intention was to build a series of hydro dams on the Clutha, including one at Luggate. Lewis Verduyn-Cassels began living on one of the properties in 1991, and soon started a native restoration project removing wilding pines, briars, Vinca major (periwinkle), blackberry, and other invasive species that were intermixed with dying remnant kanuka and Chinese gold-workings. Since 1991, he has removed most of the large pines on the northern part of the site, establishing areas of kanuka, cordyline australis, and flax, via an on-site native nursery.

Contact Energy inherited the Red Bridge land in 1996, and dusted off the former dam plans in 2009. The Clutha River Forum, an alliance of river conservation groups and individuals, co-ordinated by Lewis Verduyn-Cassels, opposed further Clutha dams. Finally, Contact Energy abandoned all hydro dam options in 2012. In July of 2012, the Otago Daily Times reported:

'The database shows Contact has 147 individual properties in Otago, covering 13,912.25ha, and valued at $700,860,500. Included are $432,450,000 for the Clyde Dam and $200,000,000 for the Lake Roxburgh village. 'The dams aside, the capital value of Contact's Otago properties is $68,410,500. The property is almost entirely between Luggate and Beaumont, with a small amount in Dunedin. Contact has previously declined to comment on the size or value of its Clutha portfolio but has stated it inherited the land from the Government-owned Electricity Corporation of New Zealand, which was split up in 1996. Although figures from the database do not show what improvements have been made to the land, most values now are considerably higher than the "gross purchase prices" listed: A 1.8ha property at Luggate bought in 1982 for $30,246 is now valued at $365,000. A 88.83ha property at Mt Pisa bought in 1989 for $871,875 is now valued at $1,183,000. A 5.6ha property bought at Wye Creek, Queenstown Lakes, for $8500 in 1985 is now valued at $1,025,000.'

The river park contains significant archaeological features evidencing the occupation of Chinese gold-miners. The Chinese occupation of the site was recorded in newspapers by reporters who travelled the goldfields, but the site has never undergone an archaeological assessment. Fortunately, most of the features are in an area that has been restored to native vegetation, preventing wilding pine damage.

Chinese hut pits within mature kanuka, upstream

A puntman and his family lived on the site while the Chinese goldminers lived and worked nearby. The punt was established in 1882, taking advantage of the narrow river crossing and the high, relatively stable escarpments to provide flood-free access.

In 1888, the punt reportedly sank when the Luggate flour mill’s fully laden wagon caused the front of the punt to dip under the water. It was salvaged and returned to service, but the following year it suffered a more serious mishap when the “traveler” on the cable jammed, tearing out one of the cable anchors and releasing the punt on the river, complete with a loaded wagon, horses and men. The teamster quickly cut the horses free, and all swam for the riverbank while the punt was swept around the bend into the Devil's Nook, where it was wrecked against the bluff.

Although the punt was re-instated, it was obvious that a bridge would be needed because the Upper Clutha Valley was continuing to grow. By the turn of the century, the punt was struggling to cope with the increase in traffic. The monthly tally for the punt in 1910 was 400 people on foot, 250 on horseback, and 500 vehicles.

 Luggate Punt, circa 1910

The local community had lobbied for a bridge since 1877, and finally on 11 April, 1913, the Otago Daily Times reported that the Vincent County Council had accepted a tender from Mr T. Wilkinson, of Clyde, ‘for the erection of a steel traffic bridge over the Clutha River at Luggate, the contract price for the supply and erection of the bridge being £9,508.’ 

The steel work was fabricated in Dunedin by A & T Burt and Company. Construction of the bridge was difficult because of the swift current, particularly through the spring when the river levels were high. Two rows of temporary piles were needed to support the steel beams during assembly. It was reported that ‘Wilkinson intends to erect a temporary structure across the 200 ft span and has taken up these old suction dredge pontoons to carry the pile driver’. 

The three spans, a 61metre Baltimore truss, a 30.5metre truss, and a 12.2metre rolled steel joist end span, totaling 103.7metres, were painstakingly maneuvered into position for bolting and riveting while suspended from cables attached between steel posts temporarily mounted at either end of the bridge.

After assembly, the steelwork was painted in traditional red oxide. The original wooden decking was Australian Jarrah hardwood, and the wooden side railings were painted white, all of which completed an attractive, well-engineered bridge in a scenic location against the backdrop of Mt Grandview and the adjacent peaks.

The official opening on 28 October, 1915, was attended by some 200 people from around the region. A red, white and blue ribbon, stretched across the bridge, was cut by Mrs Sheppard, wife of the County Chairman, John Sheppard. After which the Hon. William Fraser, Vincent County Chairman, local Member of Parliament and Minister of Public Works, named it “Grand View Bridge” amid much applause from the crowd. The bridge was named in honour of John Kane of nearby Grandview Station, who had been the County representative for 20 years (1890 – 1911). Mr Fraser complimented the engineer and the contractor for their work, noting that he had opened a good many bridges in the dominion, of which this was one of the biggest and finest looking.

The Otago Daily Times reported that: ‘A picnic was then held, and beautiful, sunny weather made things very enjoyable. During the afternoon Mr Fraser, on behalf of local residents, presented Mr J. Smith, for over 30 years as ferryman, with a handsome gold watch and chain, and Miss Nina Smith, his daughter, with a purse of sovereigns, in recognition of their services. Speeches were made highly eulogistic of the courteous and efficient manner in which Mr Smith had discharged his duties, and of the way in which Miss Smith had assisted him. … In the evening a banquet was held in the Luggate Hall with a very large attendance.’

Grandview Bridge construction, 1914-15

 Grandview Bridge construction, 1914-15

 Grandview Bridge, from upstream, circa 1920

Grandview Bridge, from downstream, circa 1920 


Manaaki Tuna

Clutha River Guardian