The Moutohora bridge is a truss design, with the supporting framework forming two giant crosses on each side. It’s the most striking remnant of a distant vision to link Gisborne and Auckland by railway line.

This November, it’s 100 years since a Poverty Bay Herald journalist wrote about the opening of a new section of railway from Matawai to Moutohora (for many years, ‘Motuhora’). “The section is … five miles in length, and ending at Motuhora Station marks the present terminus of railway construction.”

What soon became known as ‘the Motuhora line’ stretched all the way back to Gisborne, some 78km.

Moutohora rail bridge: a symbol of bygone dreams

Moutohora bridge was almost at the railhead. It was reported in the 1917 article as “the usual substantial type, and in this case built with ironbark trusses and steel lower cords. It has a total length of 168ft [51 metres], including one 80ft [24 metre] span. The bridge is 28ft [8.5 metres] above the ordinary water level, thus placing it well clear of floods … the structure was built by Mr J A Nicol, who experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining steel due to the war.”

The adjoining railway – as with the steep climb up from the Gisborne plains – required massive development, largely because the line had to stay above the Motu River’s flood zone.

There are many construction markings on the timber

At one point near Moutohora, “What was formerly a most picturesque road crossing of a beautifully clear stream that poured into the Motu River … has been completely changed. Indeed, the landscape presents a transformation. An enormous bank, fully 50ft [15 metres] above the [old] roadway, has been thrown across the creek, and the water from the valley at the back emerges through a massive circular culvert.”

Today, much of the back-country road to Motu sits over the top of where the railway ran. In places, you can still see the scale of the earthworks.  The circular culvert is still in place and just out of Matawai the old station platform is clearly visible.

The bridge’s Australian hardwood timber is still sound after 100 years


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