Awatere River

18/01/2008

Awatere River
The Awatere River, looking north west with the unique
road/rail bridge near the centre.
© Marlborough Online

The Awatere is one of Marlborough's four largest rivers. Like the Wairau it flows down a filled fault line, a splinter of the alpine fault. To the south is the Inland Kaikoura Range and Mt. Tapuae-O-Uenuku and to the north is the Black Birch Range. Awatere means 'fast flowing stream' but an attempt was made by The New Zealand Company to change it to the Wakefield River.

Most of the rocks in the lower Awatere Valley are mudstones and conglomerates, some of which contain fossils. Further up the valley there are a number of volcanic extrusions on the hills. At the time Europeans began exploring the valley was mainly tussock but many of the side valleys and hills contained beach forest. Much of this has been burnt but in some more inaccessible places there are sizeable remnants. Until the late 20th Century, most of the economic use of the Awatere Valley was for pastoral farming but since then much of the valley has been planted in vineyards, and a number of wineries have been built. Some parts of the valley furthest inland are marginal for grapes due to the risk of frost.

 hodder_bridge.JPG
The Hodder Bridge, upper Awatere Valley.
©C. Cookson

Until late 2007 the only bridge crossing the lower Awatere was a unique road/rail bridge with the railway crossing on an upper deck, and State Highway One crossing on a wooden lower deck. The bridge was the cause of much lobbying central government as it was only a single lane, and caused delays for traffic travelling north and south. A temporary solution involved installing traffic lights at each end of the bridge to help improve traffic flow, and finally in late 2007 a new two lane concrete bridge was completed along side.

After the new bridge was completed, there was initially strong interest in keeping the old bridge open to foot and cycle traffic, however claims that the cost of annual inspections would amount to tens of thousands of dollars resulted in the wooden decking being pulled up, bringing to a close nearly a century of service, although the upper deck continues to be used by the railway.

Turning off State Highway One, a few kilometres before the Awatere bridge, the Awatere Valley Road continues south-wast past numerous vineyards, until it eventually arrives at Molesworth Station, New Zealand's largest farm. Part way along, the road crosses the Hodder Bridge, a suspension bridge, and a starting point for climbers intending to climb Tapuae-O-Uenuku. On the other side of State Highway One, the Awatere Valley Road continues west until eventually it meets the Redwood Pass Road, an alternative, unsealed road that leads to Blenheim.

 

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