At that time, the Waiau River was often swift and dangerous. The flow has since been reduce by the hydroelectric development on Lake Manapouri. The bridge was an important transport link and was influential in the opening up of the area east of the Waiau River.
The 111 metre single lane bridge, was originally used by horse and cart traffic and later by motor vehicles. It remained in operation until 1978 when a new bridge was built 130 metres downstream to cater for traffic to and from the Manapouri power project.
The bridge is constructed from totara and Australian hardwood and is suspended from wire ropes which hang from towers of plastered stone. It is one of New Zealand’s longest suspension bridges still in existence.
In April 2010, the bridge was closed to pedestrian traffic due to safety concerns, however repair work was completed in 2013 and the bridge is again open to pedestrian traffic.
A toilet and small picnic/camping area is located beside the bridge.
Clifden Suspension Bridge Historic Reserve is located on State Highway 99, 16km north of Tuatapere, in Southland.