Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ambition goes bankrupt - the story of Port Craig

In the middle of the second decade of the 1900s, The Marlborough Timber Company began looking at Fiordland as a potential new site for expanding their logging and saw milling enterprise. Directors John Craig and Daniel Reese envisaged an ambitious plan to build a state of the art business to log high quality Rimu from a remote part of the South Island.

In order to create this business they needed to build a port to bring in all the infrastructure. They purchased the latest technology from the United States to improve their production rates, requiring new ways to haul the logs out of the forests and back to the saw mill, and the building of an extensive tramway to support it. They also needed the port to export the timber, and were unable to use a fixed wharf due to the wild weather and unpredictable seas.

The sheer ambition could be seen as somewhat reckless, as within 8 years the entire enterprise was bankrupt, and the settlement abandoned. But some of the methods they imported to New Zealand were adopted elsewhere, and did result in improved production, but not at Port Craig.

John Craig actually drowned during the creation of the settlement, but Reese survived the project and subsequently pulled the pin in 1928. It must have been a dreadful disappointment...

So let's have a look around and learn a little more...

Down on the beach are the remains of a wharf. This wharf wasn't used to load logs, these were loaded  one by one via a cable to a ship anchored off shore. So there needed to be specialised equipment to do this.

In order to log the forests, the Company built a tramway to transport a Lidgerwood Hauler, especially imported from the US, where they were used to haul huge Redwoods from the North American forests. Using an aerial cable, cut timber could be hauled back to the tramway up to 800m away. That's a full circle within 800m radius from the tramway, a massive area that can be logged from just one spot.

The Lidgerwood, however, was a very big, heavy piece of machinery. It required the bridges over the streams on the tramway to be very strong, so they were built of imported Australian hardwood, and cost a lot of money to build.

Then, to make things worse, the Rimu they were logging wasn't of the quality the Timber Company was used to up in the Marlborough region. The trees were much smaller, and the technology being used was too big to provide the sort of production figures that would make the operation viable. Maybe if they had been less ambitious, used smaller machines that didn't require such expensive infrastructure, they might have survived. But a bit more exploration in the first place to discover the trees just weren't worth the investment may have sunk the project before it started. Instead, we are left with a ghost town and some very impressive viaducts on a tramping track....

After the abandonment of Port Craig there was some salvage of equipment in the 30s, but soon the forest took over. The viaducts were saved through efforts by DOC and community input, as the area became part of DOCs network of tramping tracks. The area is also heavily used by hunters.

Twice more there were plans to log further along the coast into Fiordland, but neither happened, and now it is either National Park or Maori land and the forests have survived totally intact.

I was offered a chance to see these pristine forests. So I went.

That's next.....

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Humping the Ridge

The Humpridge Track is right down the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, and the only community managed track which traverses both private and Dept of Conservation Land. The lodges are privately owned and managed, and allow you to either book a luxury package, including helicopter lifting your bag up to the first lodge on Day 1, or humping your own food and sleeping gear up 1000m to the spectacularly situated Okaka Lodge nestled just below a tor lined ridge with sweeping ocean views. They even have a liquor licence, so you can sup a wee beverage, relax on comfy sofas by the fire, and get to know your fellow trampers.

Of course I brought all my own gear, and was clearly in the minority. The walk starts 27km west of Tuatapere at sea level, crosses a number of streams using small swing bridges, passes some holiday cribs and hunting lodges, involves some stretches of beach walking if the tide is out, and also some walking through lush coastal vegetation, before the track turns inland.

From the coast the track follows a ridge the entire way up, but it is a gentle ascent over about 10km, with only one stretch being noticeably steep. Thankfully I didn't find it anywhere near as steep as some of the other walks I've done in the last few months! Much of the way has been boardwalked, to protect the fragile ecosystem, which is a mixed podocarp forest on the lower slopes, beeches higher up, and alpine plants above the treeline on the very tops. The moss and lichen encrusted gnarled mountain beeches really fuelled my imagination.

I met only one other group of trampers on the way up, whilst I was having lunch at the shelter provided, as all the others had left before me. I was the final tramper to arrive at the lodge, in fact the final tramper of the summer season, as the lodge was closing for the winter the next day. Okaka Lodge actually stays partially open over winter, with access to a bunk room, winter toilet, and kitchen area, but the lounge area, cooking facilities, running water and hot showers are all turned off and locked up, and there is no caretaker to welcome you, cook your breakfast porridge, or sell you wine to have with your dinner!

I may not have stumped up for the luxury package, but I did pay for a hot shower, a wonderful luxury when the temperature drops at such altitude. The sleeping areas are unheated, but I stay warm and snug in my sleeping bag and liner overnight.

The next day I walk around the tor lined ridge just above the Lodge. There are a couple of tarns and the views in all directions are gorgeous.

Then it's on along the ridgeline, mostly on boardwalks, past a lunch shelter (but too early in the day to stop at for more than a snack and toilet use), then a gradual descent to the final 9km of flat trail to Port Craig.

This part of the trail is flat because it follows an old tram line, over huge viaducts and through deep cuttings, that was built in the 1920s to service an ambitious logging enterprise. Ambitious, but doomed, due to the quality of the timber being not good enough, and the scale of the project being too ambitious as a result. The story of Port Craig and the failed logging and saw milling company deserves it's own post.

Due to the trail being of historic significance, the track can't be upgraded, making it a bit of a monotonous and muddy walk along railway sleepers with iron nails sticking up ready to trip the unwary. The huge viaducts spanning the creeks are magnificent, made of imported Australian hardwood and still going strong. I'd hazard a guess it's all West Australian Jarrah by the colour of it.

Port Craig has a DOC hut (the old schoolhouse), the Port Craig Lodge and a few historic relics, which I'll talk more about in the post about Port Craig. The Lodge here closes completely over winter, as trampers have access to the DOC hut year round, so we are the final occupants for the season. The next day they will be locking it up and shipping out all the gas bottles by helicopter, but that evening we still have access to hot showers, and a few wee beverages with our dinners.

My original plan had been to stay an extra night at the DOC hut, to give me time to explore the area, rest my legs a little, and just chill, then walk the 20km back to the carpark the following day. But a group of fellow trampers had other plans and invited me to join them.

That's next....