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.....

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