|HISTORY OF THE BULLER GORGE
From its source at Lake Rotoiti the Buller River cuts a westward course to reach the Tasman Sea at Westport. Scene of earthquakes, floods, and home to hundreds of transient workers during goldmining times, the gorge has been a challenge to horsemen, coach drivers, roadmakers and bridge builders.
Maori travellers used the river as a highway and helped early European explorers and goldminers to negotiate the treacherous rapids. Todays road travellers can take time to enjoy the scenery and features between Murchison and Inangahua Junction in a split fraction of the seven weeks it took Thomas Brunner to make the journey in 1847.
Built in 1890 the bridge replaced a punt that operated on the river for many years. No longer did horse and carriage have to board a wooden pontoon that, linked to cables spanning the river, employed the force and angle of the current against its hull to move across the river.
Below In this 1890 photograph of the Iron Bridge, the operator and his wife pump out the punts hull, probably for the last time, with the access track blocked off and the newly completed bridge awaiting travellers.
View the huge slip which began as a result of the 1968 Inangahua Earthquake, completely damming the river and creating a temporary lake. Today the slip is partly covered in native forest.
Newman Brothers Coachlines Coaches would stop at various vantage points along the gorge. Their passenger and mail run through the upper Buller Gorge began in 1883. A full day was needed to travel by horse and coach from Longford (near Murchison) to Lyell.
Pull off the road to visit Lyell with its wealth of on-site information about the once-thriving town and goldmine. Walk to the old cemetery where headstones mingle with beech forest understorey.
When a pair of Maori prospectors found gold in Lyell Creek late in 1862, they sparked off some of the richest discoveries in New Zealand mining history. Despite the steep hillside, the town grew rapidly to meet the demands of miners and their families. By 1873 there were six hotels, three stores, one drapery and ironmongery store, three butchers, one baker, two bootmakers, two agency offices, a blacksmith shop and a school.