Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bridging moan

Although Auckland has never been half-hearted when it comes to rain, the city outdid itself a couple of days ago, when we had a downpour that was both startlingly torrential and unusually lengthy. There were flash floods all over the place, and here all the guttering on the house overflowed, naturally; but the real drama was happening in the back garden, where an open storm-water drain runs through the hen-run. Where our privileged neighbour's underground pipe debouches into our garden, it was spectacular: torrents of water raging out, scouring the stream-bed even deeper and picking up so much debris that when it hit the wire mesh fence at the bottom corner, it pushed a big hole underneath. 

I haven't seen that much water since I was at, cough, Iguassu Falls a few months ago. Yes, slightly tenuous connection, but it's just a matter of scale. Anyway, Iguassu is totally over the top, spectacle-wise: even standing there looking at it, it's hard to get your head around that much water, 1.5 million litres per second thundering over the 2.7 kilometre length of the Falls. Even more astonishing, in a way, were the hundreds of tourists like me who were standing, quite at our ease, on walkways built literally on the very edge of the falls, right above the 60-80 metre drop to the churning foam below. Especially since, on our way to this point on the Argentinian side, we'd passed the foundation stones of a previous walkway that had been swept away in a flood. Never underestimate the peace of mind afforded by a lack of imagination.


Cave Creek did pass through my mind, though: a terrible event on the West Coast in 1995 when 14 young people died when a viewing platform over a chasm collapsed and fell 30 metres to the bottom. The enquiry found that the platform hadn't been properly secured, there was a huge scandal, and ever since then every Dept of Conservation structure has been inspected and plastered with warning signs - inevitably, over-correcting. So now, all the bridges in the bush are allowed to have only restricted numbers on them at any one time, no matter how strongly they've been built. It's silly, but I saw it on the Hollyford Track, on all the sturdy wire swing bridges we had to queue to cross; and I've seen it in the Waioeka Gorge between Gisborne and Opotiki, where there's an old wooden bridge that's immense, built of thick timber and strung with huge cables, with a bossy yellow sign on it saying that no more than 10 people should be on it at any one time. Pft.

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