These days Aucklanders tend to refer to “the bridge” with exasperation, it being the structure that represents all that is wrong with living in a big city in which there are too many cars and not enough roads. It is Auckland’s iconic bottle-neck; when commuters talk about “getting over the bridge”—usually in a tone of great resentment and accompanied by a sigh—they are imagining spending an hour or so of the day inching along, not just over the bridge, but for several kilometres leading up to it.
But this is not a structure that should be taken for granted. After all, the idea of linking the North Shore with the rest of the city was first mooted by a group of North Shore farmers back in 1860, but it wasn’t until 1951 that the Auckland Harbour Bridge Authority was established to get the project off the ground, and it took another three years before a loan of £5,002,000 was approved to pay for it. Two men lost their lives during its construction, and several people lost their homes to make way for it.
Week-long celebrations marked the completion of the four-lane steel truss cantilever bridge, beginning on May 25, 1959, with a public walk during which 106,500 members of the public streamed across the Waitemata. It was formally opened by Governor-General Lord Cobham on May 30, followed by a fly-by of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, a firefighting display from Harbour Board tugs and fireworks being set off from a barge. Within 24 hours of the 3pm opening, more than 34,000 vehicles had made the trip across the bridge.
But, as noted by Renee Lang in Auckland Harbour Bridge: 50 Years a City Icon, it was the “cavalcade of progress” on June 1 that drew what was estimated to be the city’s biggest-ever Auckland crowd, a parade involving veteran cars (including one driven by the oldest licensed driver in the world at the time, Mr W. Reid of Herne Bay), motorcycles, various bands, floats and horse-drawn vehicles. Life on the bridge had already begun as it would carry on: several of the old cars broke down, traffic soon banked up all around the city and cars within the immediate vicinity were reduced to travelling at less than two kilometres per hour.