The English Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope visited New Zealand in 1872, when the country was more suitable for intrepid travellers than “tourists”. To make things even more difficult for himself, he arrived in the middle of winter.
Travelling north from Dunedin in a stagecoach he found the road “as good as any in England” as far as Palmerston “but then there comes a change, and thence on into the bounds of the province the road was very bad indeed”. There was an overnight stop at “a small town called Oamaru” and then….
“Twelve miles of as miserable a road as ever I travelled brought us to the Waitaki river, which is the boundary of the [Otago] province”.
“It was a piercingly cold morning, and we felt aggrieved greatly when we found that we had to leave the coach and get into a boat. But the dimensions of our own hardships lessened themselves to our imagination when we found that two of the boatmen descended into the river, and pushed the boat for half a mile up the stream. During a part of the way three men were in the water, and yet the boat hardly seemed to move. For this service we were charged 2s [shillings] apiece which sum was not included in the coach fare. …..
There are many such rivers as the Waitaki running into the sea on the eastern coast of New Zealand, very dangerous in crossing, and the cause of many accidents. We were then in the depth of winter, and they are not then full. It is after the winter rains, and after the snows, when the mountains give up their load of waters, that the streams become full, and the banks overflow. In the spring the coaches often cannot pass, and are occasionally washed away bodily when the attempt is made. At other rivers besides the Waitaki there is a custodian, who is in some degree responsible for the safety of travellers, and who seems always to charge 2s a head, whether he presides over a ferry, with boat, and boatmen, or simply over a ford, across which he rides on horseback showing the way”.
‘With Anthony Trollope in New Zealand 1872’ Ed. A. H. Reed. 1969.
Modern travellers have a convenient bridge for crossing the river – no charge.
The Waitaki today provides much of New Zealand’s hydro power from a network of eight dams upstream.