The Auckland Harbour Bridge turns 60 today. Don Rowe revisits some of its finest moments to celebrate.
Sixty years ago today, then-governor general Lord Cobham was chauffeured into the Northcote Toll Plaza, walked past a Navy guard of honour in his big bowler hat, and officially opened the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Aucklanders lined the streets in that weird/creepy 20th century way to watch a procession of cars, trucks and horse-drawn wagons make the first crossing. There was even a float shaped like a carton of eggs.
It took 1,000 men four years to build the bridge at a cost of more than £7.5m. The four-lane bridge reduced the journey to the North Shore by 50 kilometres, fast-tracking the pilgrimage from Mac’s Brew Bar in Takapuna down to Swashbucklers, or whatever the 1950s equivalent was. But because the government of the day ignored recommendations for six lanes and pedestrian access in the name of austerity, the miracle bridge had reached capacity within a decade. And so, in the late 60s, four Japanese-designed ‘Nippon clip-on’ lanes were installed, sans pedestrian access. The bridge remains largely the same in 2019, once again in the name of the all mighty dollar, but change may finally be on the horizon. Today, 170,000 vehicles cross the bridge every single day, but the total traffic volume has been static since 2006 – this is because the fucking thing is full. Again.
As well as tabling a second Waitematā crossing, last year, after literal decades of campaigning, the government announced they would fund and deliver a walking and biking crossing to the tune of $67m. Jolisa Gracewood wrote an incredible breakdown for what that means here on the Spinoff. But 60th birthdays, like funerals, are a time for looking back, not forward. Come with me as we revisit some of the Harbour Bridge’s defining moments.
Shortly before being accosted by Drew Neemia and being doused in L&P, but a bit after stealing a fundraiser chocky bar from a school in Karaka, a tiny 16-year-old “Justin Bieber” was seen plummeting towards the frothy waters of the Waitematā. “This isn’t me being scared,” he said, holding his trembling hands aloft, before leaping from the bridge with the piercing falsetto screech that made him famous.
But Justin Bieber is neither the only, nor most important celebrity, to manu off the bridge: New Zealand’s first couple celebrated their first date a few years later by hurling themselves off the AHB, as captured at the time by cub reporter Alex Casey on burgeoning youth blog the Spinoff:
“[Matilda] showed that she can be an edgy (beautiful) risk taker (beautiful), committing to the bungy and screaming “FUUUUCK” which was down-to-earth (beautiful).”
The birth of Johnny Danger, stuntman
Long before the Danger Swig was being performed everywhere from the NRL to the NFL, and a lager bearing his face was filling the gullets of youth the nation over, Johnny Danger Bennett was just a still-pissed dude on his way home from town when he climbed onto the roof of a taxi crossing the harbour bridge. The stunt made the national news and Bennett’s feigned apologies made him a star, albeit a grand out of pocket and disqualified from driving.
“If you drink and taxi surf,” he said, “you’re a bloody idiot”.
The Devil Dared Me To
The culmination of cult show Back of the Y was their 2007 movie The Devil Dared Me To, which followed New Zealand stuntman Randy Campbell in the lead-up to his greatest feat – jumping the Cook Strait in a rocket car.
“For years we milked one simple idea: ‘the stunt is about to go horribly wrong,’” Chris Stapp told Salient. “We decided to focus on Randy’s journey to the pinnacle of the New Zealand stunt world and the tragic consequences when stunts fuck up.”
Campbell’s arc has him fall in love with a one-legged stuntwoman, and together the pair attempt a warm-up jump of the Waitemata Harbour. The stunt is sabotaged, however, and Campbell’s lover is burned to a crisp.
“The whole thing was great fun,” Matt Heath said. “The scale of it was just twenty steps up from anything we’ve done before. We even got the Auckland harbour bridge closed down so we could film a massive explosion.”
This Acid Casualty
Last year, news broke that a man in the midst of a bad trip had leapt from a moving vehicle halfway across the Harbour Bridge, tumbled down the road, regained his feet and disappeared over the side, falling 43 metres to the water.
“All of a sudden, the back door of the car in front of us swings open and next thing I see is a guy stepping out and rolling down the side of the lane, just missing me as I hit the brakes,” a witness told Stuff.
The man survived, however, swimming for shore “as if he was in a pool going for a summer dip,” the witness said.
Sick of the government’s total inability to do something recommended 50 years in the fucking past (i.e. build the SkyPath), up to 2,000 protestors forced the closure of northbound lanes for an hour after forcing a police barricade and spilling onto the road. Police said they were “disappointed the protestors broke their word”, demonstrating a uniquely New Zealand take on the idea of protest. A similar march also planned for this month but was cancelled after the police said: “Nah lol”.
It took two months from the launch of Lime scooters in Auckland before someone fanged across the bridge on one. While everyone else was breaking their teeth and collarbones, packing emergency wards the city over, one solitary patriot made the kilometre-long journey across the Waitemata dressed in what appeared to be casual business wear. The man went north, hugging the left-most lane, buffeted by wind on an otherwise sunny day.
Earlier this month, around 7pm on the 15th, a copycat rider was spotted heading over the bridge and onwards into the inky night. Police are yet to locate the man, and some say he’s still out there, heading north, safe in anonymity, never to cross the bridge again.
Happy Birthday, Harbour Bridge, whether in our cars or on top of them – you really bring us together.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.