History & heritage  |  2 Feb 2022

We have a number of key arterial routes in Christchurch but the one with arguably the longest and most interesting history is Ferry Road.

It was one of our first roads and began to be formed in 1851, just months after settlers from the first four ships of the Canterbury Association arrived in Lyttelton Harbour.

Originally called Sumner Road, it was renamed when a ferry service was established to transport goods across the Heathcote River.

The ferry was needed because the original plan - to site Christchurch city at Teddington and allow ready access from the port – was discarded when it became clear there was little room for expansion.

Hence the site for the new city was shifted over the hill, much further away from the port.

Transporting goods over the hills proved challenging however and with only two land routes - one over the Port Hills to Heathcote and the other via Evan Pass to Sumner – the alternative was to use the sea and river.

Small vessels would take on cargo from the overseas ships and proceed down the harbour to Sumner Bay.

Looking north across the Ferrymead Bridge, 1977. Christchurch City Libraries CCL-StarP-03664A

At high tide they crossed the bar to enter the Estuary and followed the channel to the mouth of the Heathcote River.

The boats tied up near where the Sumner Road met the Bridle Path and a ferry transported timber, luggage, cattle and goods to the other side.

From there, horse and bullock wagons carted the many commodities needed for the growing city.

When a bridge was built across the Heathcote in 1864 it put the ferry out of business.

However, boats were still able to use the river as a waterway as the bridge swung on a pivot.

It lasted for forty years, before being partly replaced to carry the electrified tramway to Sumner.

Ferry Road continues to play an important role in the city, as it has done for over 170 years. It remains very busy with multiple commercial sections at Ferrymead, Woolston Village and Phillipstown and connects the city to the seaside villages of Redliffs and Sumner.

Main image: An electric tram crosses the Ferrymead Bridge on the road to Sumner, 1909. Christchurch City Libraries CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0045