Thursday 11 April 2013

People = pigs

Despite being much more plainly named, I reckon Daniel Reese and John Craig were, together, New Zealand's own Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Way down in Southland, tucked away on the coast are the remains of some very big thinking indeed from back early last century when these two men, in the timber business in Marlborough, decided that the Waitutu Forest was going to be the big new thing. Totally undaunted by logistics, they built (or, had Irish immigrant navvies build for them) over 23km of tramway through the bush which had to cross four rivers. Viaducts were the answer, so they built (er, had built) huge structures, the biggest at Percy Burn, 125m long and 36m above the river, strong enough to bear the weight of an 80 tonne log-hauler they imported from North America.
Impressive, considering they were so very far from established centres of commerce - so it was a shame that it all turned to custard, the usable timber less abundant than they'd thought and the demand also smaller: by 1930 it was all over. Now all that's left are the viaducts and the path of the tramway, marked only by the sleepers. At Port Craig, once a bustling little town, there's just a schoolhouse and a collection of rusting relics. That's where we stayed our second night on the Hump Ridge Track, back down at sea level after climbing up to 1000m the previous day, which was a pretty decent workout.
It was much easier, walking along the tramway, despite the treacherous dogspikes that were still embedded in the sleepers, all too easy to trip over - but, churlish to say, it was a bit boring as there was nothing much to look at. I missed the moment of excitement reported by the person walking up ahead, who said he'd surprised a wild pig rooting through the undergrowth and looking very irritable about the cloud of fantails that were twittering and peeping along behind him, scooping up the insects that he'd disturbed. But then, I didn't see a squashed stoat inside any of the scores of traps we walked past either, so that was a plus. There were just lots and lots of birds: tui, bellbirds, fantails, grey warblers, tomtits and robins, all excited to see us - but only because of the insects. How insulting, that despite all that Brunel stuff, to them we were just on a par with the pigs.

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