Newsletter 4

Newsletter 4

6th September 2022

I've been concentrating on the New Cemetery at Port Chalmers recently - it's my intention to take tours around it for cruise ship passengers when the season is on. My work on this is mostly done at home, going through photos I've taken months - if not years - ago and digging out the stories there.

Last Wednesday I decided, as the weather was looking ok, to go to Port and start roughing out the most efficient route around the cemetery to take in the stories I'll be covering. Arriving, I drove instead around to Back Beach, to see if Rachel and "Sootychaser" were at the dock there. I just wanted to touch base and let her know I was still keen to plan something involving her operation.

They were there at Back Beach but Rachel couldn't chat - she was taking a family group out to the Heads for some sight-seeing and bird watching. Would I like to come along? I couldn't think of a reason why not. The cemetery will be waiting for me another day - the boat was going. I quickly grabbed my jacket, camera and some water and got aboard.

Bird-watching was the main purpose of the voyage but I had more than that to see in the historical line - an invaders'-eye view of the Harrington Point fortifications - built for the Russian threat that never came and extended for the World Wars. I aimed my camera at the birds too, of course, probably fired off 300 shots at them for three or four decent photos. I greatly admired the skill of Rachel in positing her boat in the path of incoming albatrosses - I guess she can't chase them down - it would be unethical and unlawful - but to place her passengers in their path as they came skimming over the sea definitely gave them their money's worth.

She was able to point out a returning albatross which, having skimmed the sea and gained height to reach its landing area and chick, was flying around the hill of Taiaroa Head, carefully judging height and speed, deploying legs and feet as air brakes, deciding to go around again and finally using those long, long wings to flap "in reverse" to land. She was also able to point out a nearly matured chick working its wings in preparation for eventual flight.

Beyond Taiaroa Head, Rachel took us to the east and south, past the breeding grounds of the Royal Spoonbill and in sight of the little-known Rerewahine Battery, only reachable as part of a tour of the "Nature's Wonders" area.

Coming back past Harrington Point and along Te Rauone Beach I saw something I hadn't noticed before. Below and almost parallel to the road that goes up and over the hill of Harrington Point to Pilots Beach and Taiaroa Head was what looked like a track. I had a fair idea of what it was. I'd read about the haul road at Taiaroa Head - an evenly-sloping track, as straight as possible, cut so that the heavy guns for the emplacements there could be dragged up to the top of the hill. This must have been the haul road for Harrington Point.

A few days later I drove to the Point, found a convenient park and walked up the road past the large concrete cylinders and the barrier they would complete if pulled over the road. Looking down at roughly the lower end of the haul road I saw a projection of the shore and a couple of old wooden posts in the water. Reaching further up I saw a recently used track heading down the steep slope. That's going my way, I thought, and left the road to follow it down. Before long I reached what must be the haul road, and turned to follow it down. There was a little gorse, flax and other vegetation in the way but nothing serious.

I soon reached the shore and it was obviously a landing stage for a wharf or jetty, with retaining walls half intact after more than a century. The tide was coming in and the sea anemones, which look like blobs of wet liver when exposed to the air, were greeting the sea with their red tentacles. I moved around the shore a little to get shots of the intact portion of the retaining wall.

Eventually I was done, and made my way back up the haul road, walking (I learned later) in the steps of Horatio, Lord Kitchener, when he made his inspection of the place in 1910. Back down at the beach, I looked for a door on which to knock, found someone in front of her house, with a dock and got permission to walk out on the dock for another photo of the landing stage.

Further research is in the pipeline - I've read of the prison labour used for the making of roads, the "cut-and-cover" tunnel from the emplacements to the shoreline for power and access to the searchlight mounted there. And, of course, there was quite a little community in the area to serve the forts and the lighthouse - more of one during the wars.

As well as finding the haul road on that day I visited some of the abandoned buildings I've previously explored on the Peninsula that I hope will be part of an "Abandoned Houses" tour. There are inherent problems with this kind of tour, which are briefly that: 1, they tend to be on private land; 2, they tend to be in a deteriorating condition; and 3, they tend not to be close together. Problem 1 means I have to get permission, of course and that's complicated by problem 2 - there are usually dangers involved in exploring them. I've put my foot through rotting floorboards more times than I can remember and property owners are usually aware of what their liability is. I've seldom been refused access when I ask but access on a commercial basis might be different. Problem 3 just means some careful planning and timing are needed. Fortunately, there are a number of abandoned structures on a DCC reserve on the Peninsula and the DCC were very cooperative when asked about taking paying customers around cemeteries.   Here's hoping I can make progress on that, as I know there's been a lot of interest in it. Until then, I'm also hoping to explore further afield when I get time and the weather cooperates. I still have a few abandoned places around Palmerston/Waikouaiti on my list, including the dam in the hills built about 110 years ago for the Waikouaiti water supply. Until then, keep warm and safe. 


Cheers, Gregor.