Punt operator has back and forth days

Tuapeka Punt operator Peter Dickson, with his dog Mission (7), has been ferrying people and cars...
Tuapeka Punt operator Peter Dickson, with his dog Mission (7), has been ferrying people and cars across the Clutha River for 16 years. Photo by Rachel Taylor.
In the proud tradition of Tuapeka puntmen, Peter Dickson has been travelling across the same section of Clutha River twice each day for 16 years.

Mr Dickson (75) is the 13th puntman in a line of succession that stretches back to 1896.

Since he began in 1994, he has carried large numbers of people, cars, horses, carriages and even a full wedding party across the river.

The punt is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, and its novelty is not lost on tourists.

"I'm more photographed than Princess Di," Mr Dickson said.

The load he carries varies from day to day.

Some days he might get two people wanting to cross the river; some days he might get 15.

One of Mr Dickson's more unusual loads consisted of five E-type Jaguars.

"I was only supposed to carry four, but I managed to get the fifth one on."

In 1995, just after he started, Mr Dickson said there was a full wedding out in the middle of the river.

He estimates there may have been a few more on board than there should have been.

The punt is only supposed to carry about 30 people.

One year, it was also included in one of the Otago Goldfields Cavalcade wagon trails.

"I had to do 13 trips," he said.

"I could only get one wagon and horse on at a time."

The punt is considered to be part of the Clutha roading network and is free to use.

Flotation pontoons under the punt are manoeuvered by the puntman, using the river's current to push the craft from bank to bank.

Wire ropes strung across the river, up-stream and down, stop the punt from floating away.

During a period of high water flow in 2009, the punt was pulled out of the river which uncovered some maintenance issues.

The punt had been out of the water occasionally, because the council did not like spending too much on it, Mr Dickson said.

Clutha District Council (CDC) district assets manager Jules Witt said in December there were concerns about spending money on the punt, which he described as a "novelty feature", when there were other bridges in the area that urgently needed repairs.

In trying to decide if it was worth repairing it, the council conducted a survey of punt usage over 10 months.

It found 1619 vehicles and 3667 people used the punt, which worked out to a daily average of 135 vehicles and 314 people.

"If we renew the Clydevale bridge, it would be good to have the punt operational to assist with traffic flows across the river," Mr Witt said.

The punt had its future secured until the next CDC long-term plan in 2020, with the council awarding SouthRoads a $95,000 contract to repair the ferry.

Because the punt is a historic feature of the Tuapeka Mouth area, Mr Witt said the council would consult the community on any changes in the way it operates, or the possibility of its closure.

Mr Dickson said he was not too worried by any talk of the punt closing.

"I don't think they are going to do away with it, because it's a historical thing," he said.

Tuapeka Puntmen:

1896-1900 W.G. Buchan
1900-24 W. (Bill) Nehoff
1925-45 W. (Bill) Latimer
1945-46 W.S. Whitty
1947-50 D.A. Houliston
1950-58 W. (Bill) H J Small
1958-75 W. (Bill) Gray
1975-77 E.R. Tallentire
1977-(short period) McGowan
1977-(short period) R.Sell
1977-84 R.Dodds
1984-94 L.E.Thompson
1994-2010 P.J.Dickson


Add a Comment