Grafton Bridge an Auckland landmark

Friday, 21 August 2015 by Mark Sandiford

It takes a fair amount of skill to get from A to B in bustling inner-city Auckland. There's nothing quite like a major landmark to map out where you're going.  At 105 years old the Grafton Bridge is just that; a landmark and an icon of inner-city Auckland.

Used by thousands of people each day, the Grafton Bridge stands tall and sturdy over the deep Grafton Gully. The bridge is part of the main commute for many workers, university students and inner-city shoppers.  From 7am and 7pm Grafton Bridge is open to buses and motorcycles only but still sees plenty of foot traffic on its paths at each side.

With the Sky Tower in view you know you really are in the heart of New Zealand's largest city.

Grafton Bridge

A vital link in more ways than one

The Grafton Bridge connects the Auckland CBD and the famous Karangahape Road with the suburb of Grafton.

Grafton is home to some key places in Auckland such as the Auckland Domain, Auckland City Hospital, Starship Hospital and the Auckland Medical School.

Since 2009, the Grafton Bridge has been an essential part of the Central Connector bus route. The Central Connector sees approximately 65,000 passengers daily and links the CBD with the commercial suburb of Newmarket.

Not only providing a physical link within inner-city Auckland, the Grafton Bridge also symbolises a link between Australia and New Zealand. It stands strong on New Zealand soil but its two-year build was a huge undertaking by Australian company Ferro Concrete Company of Australasia who can be credited for its strength and longevity. 

It's not the first bridge to cross the Grafton Gully

Today's Grafton Bridge is the third to be constructed over the Grafton Gully. The first bridge, built in 1884, was a hazardous structure yet somehow lasted almost 20 years before it was deemed unsafe.  Made of wood, the pedestrian-only bridge saw a high amount of foot traffic each day and the public noticed it beginning to sway and creak each time it was used.

By the time the bridge was approaching its 20th year, police were stationed at each end after rugby matches as rowdy crowds were notorious for jumping on the bridge causing it to wobble.  The bridge was old and improvements were pointless. Authorities imposed a £5 fine for anyone caught jumping on the bridge until its future had been decided. 

By 1904, walking the frail bridge was nothing but a risky task and the structure was beyond repair. After much public outcry, the bridge was eventually closed.  It remains a wonder how it did not collapse prior to its closure.

Back to the drawing board

The old bridge stood unused until 1906 and a second pedestrian-only bridge was built on a temporary basis while engineers and council agreed on a permanent structure. Discussions about the permanent bridge dragged on causing the temporary bridge to require a rebuild. 

Finally, it was agreed that the new Grafton Bridge would no longer be pedestrian-only; it would become a road bridge.  Although more costly, it would be made of reinforced concrete as the repainting of steel would cost more in the long run. The estimated cost of this decision was £31,918 and the Auckland public considered it to be reckless spending. 

Auckland mayor Arthur Myers advocated for the bridge to be four lanes wide as he predicted the population to double over the next two decades. The bridge had already been dubbed "Myers Folly" for the general feeling that the cost of the new bridge was a representation of foolishness, so the narrower two-lane design was constructed. 

Interestingly Mayor Myers' predictions were correct. 

Grafton Bridge construction

New Zealand's greatest engineering achievement

After two and a half years of construction the Grafton Bridge opened in 1910. Its concrete arch span measured 97.6 metres - the largest in the world at the time.  The bridge stands at a height of 43.3 metres over the valley floor. At the time reinforced concrete had not yet been used to this capacity in New Zealand so this was a pioneering achievement in itself. The size, design and construction show great engineering enterprise. 

Skeptical of its strength and still questioning its necessity, the public were invited to witness elaborate testing at the bridge's open day in April, 1910.  Two steam rollers weighing a combined 32 tons were driven across the bridge, followed by a dumping of 292 tons of gravel to complete a dead load test. The results were deemed "extremely satisfactory". 

Grafton Bridge heritage

The greatest test of all has been the that of time and the Grafton Bridge has passed with flying colours. 

To this day the Grafton Bridge is considered to be one of New Zealand's greatest civil engineering achievements. It is listed on the NZ Historic Places Trust and IPENZ Engineering Heritage Register and it has become a special piece of New Zealand history. 

A bright future fOr the Grafton Bridge  

At over 100 years old the bridge holds so much value to both Auckland residents and tourists. There are also discussions about it becoming part of a future rail route. 

With all that it has endured, there is no doubt that the Grafton Bridge will still be going strong in another 100 years time.

Visit this special piece of New Zealand history  

The Kiwi International Hotel is only a short walk to the Grafton Bridge and provides the perfect accommodation for Auckland visitors. The central location makes the Kiwi Hotel the perfect base for those keen on splurge at the shops or a sightseeing adventure. 

Whether you're travelling alone or on a family holiday, the Kiwi Hotel has an accommodation option to suit you. 

If you choose to stay in the heart of Auckland at the Kiwi International Hotel, it is inevitable that you will pass over the Grafton Bridge. When you do, try to remember its size, age, and how it came to be. 

Grafton Bridge 2015

 
 

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