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4 June 2019 Kate Palmer

Work to prepare a key Marlborough transport route for the future has shed new light on the past.

While doing excavation work, as part of the new Ōpaoa River Bridge construction, workers uncovered a 7m long wooden pile and called in archaeologists from WSP Opus.

Archaeologist Kirsty Sykes, who works at WSP Opus’ Blenheim office, says the pile is from the former Grove Road Bridge, which was constructed in 1868 and washed out by a flood in 1878.

“The exact location of this bridge was unknown until now, so this is a great find. Testing indicates the pile is Silver Beech, which is native to the area and the West Coast.”

Workers also uncovered several old glass beer bottles and Kirsty says this shows that some habits had stayed the same from the late 1800s through to the present.

“In the late 19th century people were dumping their rubbish in the area as shown by the find of a late 19th century rubbish pit. People were also having fires and leaving their rubbish, particularly alcohol bottles, behind. Alcohol bottles from the late 1800s, the 1920s, and up until the present day were found – and the odd Tui bottle from today indicates that people continue to use the river bank for the same purpose.”

Another interesting find, says Kirsty, is a 1920s rubbish pit filled with horse shoes.

“It shows the area continued to be a dumping ground despite the current bridge having been opened in 1917.”

The Ōpaoa River Bridge is a crucial part of the Picton to Christchurch state highway network and a vital freight link between the North and South Island.

However the NZ Transport Agency determined that the bridge, which opened in 1917, doesn’t meet today’s vehicle requirements – particularly for heavy commercial vehicles.Furthermore, the bridge’s structure would not be adequately able to withstand a significant earthquake and is vulnerable to significant flooding events.

Jim Harland, Director Regional Relationships for the NZ Transport Agency, says the new, nearly 11 metre-wide bridge is a long-awaited project for the Marlborough region which will improve safety, infrastructure resilience and everyone’s journey. The existing bridge, a Heritage NZ Category 1 Heritage Place, which is less than six metres wide between kerbs, will become a pedestrian and cycle facility.

Find more info on WSP Opus Archaeology services here