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Olympian and engineer new to Walk of Fame

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
Andrew Nicholson
Andrew Nicholson

International eventer Andrew Nicholson and engineer and surveyor John Rochfort are the newest additions to Te Awamutu’s walk of Fame.

The induction was held last week as part of Te Awamutu Alive’s LJ Hooker Pride of Te Awamutu Awards. As well as being new inductees, current Olympian Mr Nicholson and 19th century Mr Rochfort share something else in common — their strong link to Kihikihi. And both inductions are relevant this year — the year of the Beijing Olympics and the 100th celebration of the opening of the North Island Main Trunk Railway.

Born in 1961, Andrew is a member of the Nicholson family of Kihikihi, a family that has been heavily involved in the equestrian field for a long period. Mr Nicholson first competed overseas in 1984 and has now made Wiltshire in England his home so that he is able to compete in international competitions in Britain, Europe and the United States.

While the fall at the second to last jump on the demanding cross country section of the three-day event at Beijing was a huge disappointment for Mr Nicholson and his horse Lord Killinghurst, there is no doubting this vastly experienced combination was driving for a fast time as part of the New Zealand team plan. And there is no doubting the fantastic record that Mr Nicholson has established over the past 25 years of competing on the tough international eventing stage. His status in world eventing is highlighted by the fact that he has held an FEI world ranking within the top 10 since 1990 — 18 years of being amongst the very best in the world at your sport is a superb record to be proud of.

Mr Nicholson has represented New Zealand at six Olympic Games and won team silver in Barcelona and team bronze in Atlanta. He has represented New Zealand at five World Equestrian Champs, including winning team gold at Stockholm in 1990 and Rome in 1998. Mr Nicholson has the honour of holding the record for contesting Badminton the most times (26), although he has never won. He has often entered two mounts to ensure qualification and has seven top 10 finishes. He also holds the record for contesting Burghley, which he won in 1995 and 2000, and has 14 top 10 finishes.

With the likes of Mark Todd, Blyth Tait and Vaughan Jeffries, Mr Nicholson has established New Zealand as a horse eventing power. Individually his regular competition at top events throughout the world and his status as one of the worlds top eventing riders of almost two decades makes Mr Nicholson a most deserving inductee into the Te Awamutu Walk of Fame.

John Rochfort
John Rochfort

Surveyor and engineer John Rochfort (1832- 1893) is a worthy addition to membership in Te Awamutu’s Walk of Fame in that he began what was probably the most important achievement of many in his life right here in Te Awamutu and that he is buried in the Kihikihi Cemetery.

Mr Rochfort carried out the original survey for the North Island Main Trunk from Te Awamutu to Marton. Born in England in 1832 , he served his apprenticeship as a Civil Engineer under Isambard Kingdom Brunel one of the 19th century’s most imaginative and versatile engineers. No doubt he learnt from Brunel the values of persistence and zest for the unknown so ably demonstrated by that great man.

Mr Rochfort came to New Zealand in 1851 to work as a surveyor. After a brief spell in the Victorian goldfields he returned to New Zealand and worked a surveyor for the Nelson Provincial Government involving some daring explorations around the Taramakau and Buller Rivers and leading to the discovery of gold and coal in the Buller and Denniston areas. He also examined the port potential of the all West Coast rivers, and laid out the town of Greymouth. He also surveyed the lines of the Rimutaka and the Buller Gorge railways. All these activities involved encountering real hardships in bush and rough country.

On June 26, 1883, he began what turned out to be his greatest achievement, an engineering reconnaissance of the route of the proposed Main Trunk Railway from Te Awamutu to Marton. This was to be a daunting task. Not only did he have to find his way through dense bush, steep ravines and mountainous country, but he had to deal with considerable opposition from the Maori. Three times his party was forced back at gunpoint and he was once held prisoner for three days. They would not divulge the Maori names for geographical features and, in general did all they could to make an already difficult task even more challenging.

However, no doubt well-trained through his previous experiences of exploration and surveying, Mr Rochfort persevered and the survey was finally completed in only fifteen months. He presented his report for the 212 mile line on September 9, 1884.

Mr Rochfort spent his later years in surveys in Westland and in mining investigations in Nelson and in the southern Auckland area. While engaged in a survey of land in the Mokau area, he made his headquarters in the Star Hotel, Kihikihi and it was in that building that he died of a heart attack on March 8, 1893. He was laid to rest in the Kihikihi Cemetery.