ANZAC Bridge – leading to a brighter future
by Alex Wall
Photos contributed by Esther Bunning and Friends of ANZAC Bridge
A short drive north along State Highway 2, just 2.7 kilometres past Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre sits ANZAC Bridge at Kaiparoro. The bridge was originally opened in 1922 to provide safe one-lane passage over the Makakahi river and to serve as a memorial to local soldiers that didn’t return from the Great War. In later years, plaques were added to commemorate fallen WW2 veterans.
The bridge remained in service until 1956 when it was eventually replaced by current modern-day roading infrastructure. The original bridge wasn’t destroyed, just de-commissioned and still sits a stone’s throw off State Highway 2. The idyllic backdrop of the Tararua ranges and grassy farming paddocks now providing peace and serenity for those it commemorates and also to those who wish to visit. And visit they do.
In 2006 the bridge was rededicated as a war memorial site, and an annual ANZAC Day service has been held every year since, attracting around 300 attendees. The service is run by a special group called the committee of the Friends Of the ANZAC Bridge (FOAB). Their members live throughout New Zealand but each year they gather to pay their respects and to do regular maintenance. They keep the bridge alive so that its memories can remind visitors to be grateful for all that they have today.
FOAB chairperson, Peter Bryson encapsulates their commitment and dedication very simply. “We’re all standing here today because others gave their lives for us.”
It’s no surprise the Friends undertake great acts of kindness within the community. Building nature trails that link with the bridge or generously offering a yearly artist-in-resident scholarship that helps inform the theme of that year’s ANZAC Day event.
They also use the conference room facilities at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre throughout the year on a gratis basis to do their planning and to host attendees for refreshments after each service.
ANZAC Bridge may no longer be an official portage carriageway, but it still acts as a conduit, linking today’s community through connections both past and present. Together with the help of FOAB, new generations of people are becoming more informed and stepping into a kinder, brighter future than those that went before them.
While all 2020 public Anzac Day services nationwide may have been cancelled due to Covid-19, that doesn’t stop us from paying our respects or remembering the special groups around New Zealand like FOAB who make these services possible. This year, we stand together, but apart, safely in our homes, to honour the sacrifice of our ANZACs. On Saturday 25th April, we will remember them.
Directions to ANZAC Bridge are available from Visitor Centre staff at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre.