This article was written with the assistance of Bill Cowan, a former resident of Tuapeka Mouth.
For about three decades, Tuapeka Mouth and the surrounding district fought long and hard for a railway to serve the area.
During a visit to the area by then Minister of Public Works, the Hon. J. G. Coates, in February 1924, the alternative of a suitable road was raised by the minister because he was far from satisfied a Tuapeka Mouth railway would earn its keep.
At the time, Balclutha was 35km away via a reasonably flat road, except for the climb up to Hillend. It seems a bridle track was the only access via the cliffs beyond Moores Flat, which was the route of the proposed highway.
The following year, the minister, on revisiting the district, re-affirmed his promise to construct a good road between Tuapeka Mouth and Balclutha costing about £30,000 (about $3.5 million today).
Local sentiment was now moving strongly in favour of an improved road.
Authority to build the road, which extended 33km and 20 chains to the Tuapeka Mouth bridge, was approved in 1925.
Initially, workers were lodging in and around Balclutha, though 200 wooden-framed tents were in the process of erection at various sites.
A quarry had been opened and a coal store, smithy, main store, magazine and offices were being built.
Estimates for buildings and accommodation, formation, crushing and metalling, surveying, interest, contingencies and depreciation totalled £31,219.
In September 1926, it was intended that the road would take two years to construct, though this depended on the number of unemployed men taken on. About 200 men were being employed, and there was an emphasis on the use of manual labour.
But there was some mechanical plant, the piece de resistance being the 13-tonne, steam-powered, dragline excavator situated beside the Clutha River at Moores Flat, used to haul gravel out of the river.
Other items of plant included a Collett crusher, a Garrett steam tractor, a Ford Grader, three Dennis lorries, a Wallis and Stevens roller, a Marshall roller and two cars.
The project, which was finished in April 1928, not only provided a first-class road but also employment when jobs were scarce.
But there were continuing disputes between the Public Works Department HQ in Wellington and the local office regarding the number to be employed, rates of pay and cost over-runs, which looked to double the original estimate.
Accusations of gross over-expenditure and mismanagement continued, one consequence being the highway was built to a higher standard than required; i.e. to railway standards of grade and alignment.
There is a certain irony that Tuapeka Mouth finally received its railway, but in the form of an over-engineered highway.