Kawarau Bridge
Image: Mat79 | Creative Commons 

Introduction

A leap in innovation.

Highlights

A bridge was needed to improve access to and from the Otago goldfields during the 1860s gold rush. The challenge for engineer Harry Higginson was a sheer rocky gorge 42 m deep that funnelled destructive side winds.

The triumph is a design that’s innovative, economical and enduring. It won the world’s top engineering award in London in 1882.

In 1988 it became the world's first commercial bungy jumping site. A leap you can still make today. 

The gold rush

The discovery of gold in 1861 transformed New Zealand. The resulting economic growth inspired construction of this bridge to improve road access to the Otago goldfields.

The initial gold rush attracted fortune-seeking miners. They combed rugged landscapes on foot armed with simple gold pans. During this heady first decade some lucky miners made fortunes collecting the easily won gold from the surface of the ground.

However, most of the gold lay deeper and required heavy machinery to recover. Mining companies were formed to raise capital and this created the first New Zealand stock exchanges.

The early miners’ tracks were no longer adequate to bring in the heavy equipment: Railways, roads and bridges were needed. 

A bridge for Nevis Bluff

In 1869 the railway reached the lake at Kingston and shipping enabled a link to Queenstown. Gold wealth enabled the County Council to make road making a priority. To reach further inland a road had to be chipped out of the rugged Kawarau Gorge.

Nevis Bluff: provided a real challenge  with a 42 m high and 120 m long span. The solution was to build a suspension bridge.

At times wind gales blasted this site. New Zealand engineers were aware that overseas, some near-new bridges had been destroyed by high winds.  Engineer Harry Higginson was up for this challenge and combined a range of innovative strengthening solutions like inward sloping cables.

The innovations were so valuable that the design won the world’s top engineering Telford award in London in 1882. These innovations have enabled the bridge to stand up to well over a century of winds since it opened in 1880.

A scenic attraction and bungy jumping site

In 1963 the bridge was replaced to meet the demands of heavier and increased traffic but remained a scenic attraction for traffic passing by.

In 1988 another innovation came along – the bridge jumped into the world spotlight again as the first permanent commercial bungy site.

Today, at a site where innovation has continually pushed the limits, visitors from around the world now push their own limits, to take the courageous step off the Kawarau Bridge.

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