In the 1890s parts of the Ōtira gorge section of the road through Arthur’s Pass clung to the rock wall. When first built in 1865, the road's construction was regarded as remarkable. Its engineers dealt with mountainous topography, geological instability and narrow corridors. The labourers and others on site struggled with snow, heavy rain and temperatures below zero. Tools used were picks, shovels and two-horse drays. Deaths were common during construction, often through drowning. In one particularly disastrous week, six men lost their lives.
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