By Dorothy Preece
Lola McClung was born in the Bay. When she was growing up, the Tapu Road was the way to Thames, and the 309 was the way to Coromandel. Lola recalls the first time she drove over the Tapu Hill. “I had just had a baby at the Mercury Bay Hospital, and my husband Artie was in Thames hospital. So, I drove over the hill to introduce him to his new daughter, Catherine. It was a bit daunting, but I did it.”
“My husband’s brother, Owen McClung lived in Tairua. He was a builder by trade, but for a long time he worked on building the road over the Kopu-Hikuai hill. One Saturday when Artie and I took our boys to see their uncle in Tairua, Owen invited us to have a look at the road construction.
“We travelled over the newly-made road from Hikuai until we could go no further. Artie and Owen took our boys, David and Graham, out of the car to walk on a bit further. The boys would have been 8 and 10 at the time. Probably 1971?
“I stayed in the car with the baby, Catherine. We were sitting in the car on the high side of a big gully, with a stream running through. I remember watching them walk into a big tunnel, a culvert, I suppose it was, leading from the high side down into the bush. It was big. I’m pretty sure the men were able to stand up in there. The culvert was constructed of some kind of shiny metal. Maybe it was corrugated iron, I’m not sure.”
Lola says she has often recalled that day, and in recent times she always wondered where exactly that culvert was. “The road was built over the top of it. I’m not sure if it was where the new bridge is going in. There are so many streams flowing down the valleys under that road, there must have been many culverts built like that. Surely, they must all have rotted out by now, or been blocked by debris. It’s little wonder there have been so many slips over the years.
“I wonder if the men have found any old rusty iron pieces in that big slip?”
According to Lola, there was not a lot of hype locally about the new road. “Others might remember it differently, but I don’t remember us getting particularly excited the day they opened the road. We were happy driving over Tapu. We didn’t go tripping off to Thames all the time, unless we needed the dentist or a lawyer.”
Caption: Lola McClung.