Bridge to Nowhere. Photo: Kim Purdy.
Bridge to Nowhere, Whanganui National

Because of its climate and topography, New Zealand has more bridges, on a population basis, than any other country in the world.

Bridges of many styles and designs were built for railway, road, horse and foot traffic. Today New Zealanders take most of these bridges for granted. However when a pioneer bridge opened it was often a cause for a district celebration because locals had been living with the brutal realities of life without it.

Because we had so many bridges to build and were not a prosperous country, many cost saving approaches were necessary: wooden bridges, suspension bridges, single lane bridges and combined road / rail bridges. New Zealand engineers went to great lengths to develop economic designs as epitomised by the ‘multiple cable’ suspension bridge which was the subject of a 1922 paper to the Institution of Civil Engineers in London.

In time many of the pioneer bridges have been replaced making the early cost-saving designs just history. The Department of Conservation is a major manager of bridge heritage which includes a representative collection of pioneering bridges. A few have become regional icons such as the:

  • Bridge to Nowhere which is a symbol of the Whanganui National Park,
  • Kawarau Bridge the home of bungee, and
  • Percy Burn viaduct.

Others are quiet treasures awaiting your discovery.


Bay of Plenty

  • Karangahake Railway No 3 Western Portal, 1905
  • Karangahake Railway No.4 Eastern Portal, 1905
  • Karangahake Railway Bridge No 6 Owharoa, 1905
  • Karangahake Railway Bridge No 8 Waikino, 1905

East Coast/Hawke’s Bay




  • Baton Miners’ Bridge, 1880
  • Kawatiri Bridge, 1920

West Coast

  • Brunner Bridge, 1877, Managed by Grey District Council
  • Callery Bridge, 1900
  • Douglas Bridge, 1900
  • Fox River Footbridge, 1938
  • Hendes Gallery, 1907
  • Mahinapua Creek Railway Bridge, 1905
  • Nelson Creek Suspension Bridge, 1872
  • Totara River Railway Bridge, 1905, Owned by WC County Council
  • Upper Waiho Suspension Bridge, 1900
  • Welcome Flat Bridge, 1918


  • Central Otago Rail Trail Bridges, 1894-1906
  • Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, 1880


  • Cleddau Horse Bridge, Grave Talbot Track, 1932
  • Edwin Burn Viaduct, 1916, Private Land
  • Francis Burn Viaduct, 1916, Owned by Soutland District Council
  • Island Hill Run Road Bridge
  • Percy Burn Viaduct, 1916, Owned by Soutland District Council
  • Sandhill Point Viaduct, 1916, Owned by Soutland District Council
  • Tutoko Suspension Bridge, Milford Road, 1940

Further reading:

Thornton, Geoffrey. (2001). Bridging the Gap: Early bridges in New Zealand 1830 - 1939. (Reed, Auckland).

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