Prior to 1890 the only method of crossing the Mokau River was by canoe until a privately owned punt was built. It was a contrivance shaped like a big box, 15 feet by 12 feet in area, fitted with an endless chain, and designed to be worked with the tides.
As often as not it proved an endless job to get the punt across, and instead of it being worked by the tides it was found half a dozen men could work it much better. In rough weather it took as long as one hour and twenty minutes for the punt to cross.
This punt fell into disrepair and when the Public Works Department took over the crossing in 1895 it had already been laying rotting for over a year. There were many mishaps especially when moving stock across the river on the punt. Overcrowding caused animals to panic and upend the punt or it would simply tip over half way across the river. Many animals were lost in this manner.
On one occasion in 1899, the ferry operator refused to carry a passenger, the Right Hon. Richard Seddon. He ended up being rowed across the river with his horse swimming behind the rowboat.
In 1913 the government proposed to build a better punt to ferry traffic across the river. This news was not received well as the government had already promised to build a bridge back in 1908. Now public money was to be spent on a new Mokau River punt instead of putting towards the bridge. This would mean the bridge would take even longer to eventuate.
A new punt however, had to be built in 1915 when a devastating flood swept the old punt out to sea. The new one was much sturdier, had stronger sides and included pontoons. It still used the overhead cable for guidance but now the winches were motorised. There were still plenty of accidents however and it wasn’t uncommon for a car to fail to stop once on the punt and end up in the river. Minor damage was also often incurred as the bump getting on and off the punt could be quite severe at times.
Work began in 1925 on the bridge but this wouldn’t be complete until October 1927, so the punt was still in use up until then. Once the bridge opened there was no longer a need for the punt and so the locals organised an unofficial closing ceremony that was well attended. It included the ferry being swathed in garlands, free rides and the placing of a wreath on her deck before being sent to her final mooring.
The Mokau River punt was put up for sale but before anyone could buy it a flood came through and washed it out to sea, never to be seen again.