Community rallies to save historic viaducts

A recent article from the Southland Times about the awesome community work going on to save the historic viaducts at Port Craig.

– Neil Ratley

A tramper crosses the Percy Burn viaduct

A tramper crosses the Percy Burn viaduct

Four historic viaducts along the Southland coastline look set to be saved from rot and ruin.

The Port Craig Viaduct Trust, the Department of Conservation, Tuatapere Amenities Trust, the Southland District Council, Tuatapere Hump Track Charitable Trust and Maori landowners from the Waitutu Incorporation have come together to restore and preserve the “historical treasures” for the next 10 years.

The Percy Burn Viaduct, one of the highest remaining timber trestle bridges in the world, was closed in May because it was not safe for trampers to cross, while the Edwin Burn, the Francis Burn and the Sandhill Point Viaducts required significant remedial work, estimated to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to keep them open

The four viaducts, 90km west of Riverton, were built in the 1920s on the bush tramway to service the Port Craig timber harvesting and milling operation.

In the first stage of the campaign $50,000 will be spent on the Edwin Burn viaduct – deemed the most critical of the three open structures – to keep them open to trampers. The funding has come from the Port Craig Viaduct Trust, DOC and the district council.

Port Craig Viaduct Trust secretary Steve Canny said the work on the Edwin Burn viaduct would inform the restoration work and costings for rest of the viaducts.

A team would start that work on January 13, Mr Canny said.

he said previous surveys of the four viaducts indicated more than $2 million would be needed to restore them.

A view of the Percy Burn Viaduct nestled amopngst the wilderness of the South Coast

A view of the Percy Burn Viaduct nestled amopngst the wilderness of the South Coast

However, DOC says $500,000 would be enough to buy the viaducts 10 years of life.

DOC southern region conservation services director Allan Munn said the department, with the support of Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith, was committed to being part of the solution.

The department expected to contribute a quarter of the $500,000 viaduct fighting fund, he said.

Annual maintenance of around $20,000 would also be needed to keep the viaducts from deteriorating.

DOC was forced to spend $50,000 on a track to bypass the Percy Burn viaduct when it was closed by the district council but Mr Munn said he would be happy if the Percy Burn was reopened and the track was only used to take photographs.

Dr Smith said coming from a family of bridge builders he had a “big soft spot” for the impressive viaducts.

“I am in awe of the engineering expertise of nearly 100 years ago that saw the viaducts built and it’s fantastic to see the Southland community rallying to their rescue,” he said.

Southland District Mayor Gary Tong said three of the viaducts were on road reserve and were owned by the district council.

In the past there had been some misunderstanding between the groups who all wanted to save the viaducts but now everyone was “singing off the same hymn sheet” in a bid to get the job done, he said.

It would be ideal to get the viaducts up to scratch, get people walking across them and subsidise their ongoing maintenance, he said. “Walk the viaducts needs to become a well-known catch phrase.”

Support would be sought from a wide range of potential funders, he said. “If we lose these historic treasures, there will be a huge hole in the region’s history.”

– © Fairfax NZ News

Abseilers inspecting one of the historic viaducts near Port Craig

Abseilers inspecting one of the historic viaducts near Port Craig

For those wanting to experience the old tramway and historic viaducts firsthand, see our information on the Waitutu Track