21 May, 2012

Bannockburn Bridge. Central Otago. The old and the new.

This peaceful scene at the Bannockburn bridge over the Kawarau, conceals a long history.   What is interesting is beneath the new lake. 
Todays Bannockburn bridge over Lake Dunstan conceals a history.
This beautiful new lake covers what was once a raging river in a deep gorge ('canyon' to Americans). The river posed a big challenge to the gold miners hordes as they crashed into this uninhabited area in 1862.

First there was a ferry, then five bridges.  Massive amounts of gold crossed the bridges here and the river below was the home of the 'Lady Ranfurly'  Possibly the worlds most successful gold dredge.
Bannockburn Bridge.  About the turn of the Century.  1900. (Bridge 3)
On the beach in the background of the photo above you can see one of the dredges that made this stretch of river famous.

First there was Stuarts ferry.  In 1874, John Richards and the Kawarau Bridge Company commissioned the original bridge. (Bridge 1)

That bridge was washed away in the great floods of 1878, and its wreckage destroyed the Clyde bridge on the Clutha, which in turn ruined the Roxburgh bridge, about 100 kilometers downstream.

Another bridge was erected using the original piers and wire ropes. (Bridge 2)  In the 1890s the bridge was in poor repair and was badly damaged by fire.  It reopened again in 1897. (Bridge 3)
Otago Witness , Issue 2185, 16 January 1896, Page 11

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Upstream from the bridge
The area was mined in various ways and the bridge was the essential infrastructure that made it possible.  The river below was one of the most prolific sources of gold.  Between 1900 and 1918 the Lady Ranfuly worked this stretch of water.  That wonderful piece of Victorian technology was possibly the most successful gold dredge of all time.

It wasn't all easy however.  The last gold dredge here, the Molyneux, equipped with state of art technology only lasted in operation a year and lies today under the water just two kilometers upstream.
The Molyneux Dredge. 1942..  Only one cable needs to let go.  And they will need yet another bridge.
Todays Bannockburn bridge in Winter. (bridge 5)
A modern replacement bridge was erected alongside in 1964.  It was made of prefrabricated steel girders at a cost of 35,000 pounds.  (bridge 4) 

When Lake Dunstan was formed by the Clyde Dam a new bridge was opened in 1989.  This present day bridge (bridge 5) cost 1,800,000 dollars and spans 140 metres.
A similar bridge near Middlemarch.  See the simple but brilliant steelwork.
Original pillars.  Note the iron work on top for the cables
In 1991 the Stone Pillars from the original bridge were salvaged and re-erected on the present site by Bannockburn residents.  The pillars are the only obvious relic of what was here before.
Not my photo.  Bannockburn Bridge in modern times.  Always great sky around here.
You can find this photo and other excellent local photos at the site linked below.

Finally.  An wonderful article from the Otago Witness on July 12th 1997.  The reopening of the bridge as a community event which using the language of the day can only be described as 'Splendid.'  'Spanking chestnuts'  'eatables and drinkables' and all.  Grand !  



  1. Interesting post Kerry - I've never thought of NZ as a mining country and was surprised to learn that so much gold was found there ... has it all been mined-out?

  2. Massive gold came from here. You can see that in various other posts on the blog. Yes there is still large amounts of gold here.

  3. I just found the comments you'd sent me in my email spam. So sorry, not sure how they got there. (I reald my comments in email, not on the blog.)

  4. Thank you Nicki. I really enjoy your daily photos. Kerry


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