My sister the chef tramps in the same way I sew: slightly obsessively. So any road trip with the two of us involves me with a bag of hand sewing at the ready in the most accessible pocket of my backpack or suitcase, and frequent rambles and daywalks with the chef leading the way.
In the days before New Years eve we’d had nothing but tiny 20 minute explores to scenic locations, and sister was getting restive, so I promised her a proper long walk (a compromise between my ‘What about a museum? Is there a botanical garden around here?’ and her ‘Let’s stay in this great cabin I heard about! It’s only a five hour walk up a mountain – super easy!’). The weather threatened rain, but we both geared up with merino tops and waterproof jackets and set off on the Charming Creek walkway, which she had read about in a tramping book and I liked because it sounded charming.
The path began in a carpark literally next door to the coal mining buildings I showed you in Monday’s post, and wandered off along Ngakawau stream, up Ngakawau gorge.
Only 10 minutes into the walk we began to encounter the remains of the track’s coal and timber history. First wood and iron bins for ferrying coal and lumber down to the Ngakaway railyard, slowly rusting and rotting away in the wet weather, still on their train tracks.
From that point on the walk followed the old train tracks, part of a private railway that was built specifically to haul coal and lumber out of the narrow gorge. Most of the track was framed by the iron rail lines, but in places even the old wooden sleepers were extent, their tops worn shiny by the tread of thousands of hiking boots.
A few minutes up the track from from the coal bins a brick oven loomed out of the bush. I believe it was part of a foundry, for building and repairing parts for the railway.
In the same clearing were enormous bits of engineering: once essential parts of the railway and coal and lumber businesses. (and on I side note, I made the top I’m wearing in the photo not that long ago, but never got around to posting about it, because black merino knit, while iconically Kiwi, just isn’t that exciting. Also, it could use the tiniest bit more ease, or I could use a few less holiday treats and more of those tramps the Chef keeps advocating)
Uphill from the oven were the train engines themselves: abandoned when the lumber and coal ran out. A simple shelter had been built over them to protect them from the weather, but there were bits of iron flaking off them at every point.
After the excitement of industry we continued up the gorge along the river. The threatened rain never materialised, and instead the weather improved as we walked. Still, the ground looked damp: all dark and shiny, but instead of slipping as we walked over it, the soil crunched. I realised that we were literally walking on coal:
The track itself was made up of all the thousands of bits of coal that had spilled over the edges of the bins in their thousands of trips up and down the line, gathering in the centre of the track, and along the hollows on either side. It was quite surreal.
As we made our way up the gorge the track became wilder. There were sheer drop-offs, with the stream thundering below, and scrambles over boulders. The Department of Conservation helpfully posted signs to keep you safe as you walked, though, as I occasionally have the sense of humor of a 12 year old boy, they just made me giggle:
In places the train lines were buried by rock-falls from the gorge walls. In other places land slips had completely obliterated the old train track, leaving the lines in twisted heaps of metal far below. In these places, DOC had built new tracks, or little bridges over the gullies in the gorge wall.
In other places the Department of Conservation had it easy: when laying the train line in the early 20th century the engineers had simply blasted through difficult spots, and so the track passed through long, cold, dark tunnels, where the coal crunched underfoot and you simply had to aim for the light at the other end.
I wasn’t particularly fussed by the tunnels, but looking ahead on the track I could see something that made me much less happy:
“Oh boy!” said the Chef, when we got to it, “A swingbridge!” And she skipped across it, stopping to jump up and down on it, and sway it wildly back and forth.
I, on the other hand, gingerly crept across it, hands firmly clutching the sides, one foot inching in front of the other, eyes fixed in front of me as I sang the song about what kind of pumpkin I was (not a happy one).
I was so petrified on the swing bridge (I know, I’m a wuss) that I didn’t even look upstream and see the amazing sight awaiting me:
Isn’t it fabulous? Such a spectacular waterfall! I stood on the track just looking at it and taking photographs of it from every possible angle as the sun finally came out, until the Chef finally took the camera off of me.
Our next hurdle, directly after the waterfall, was the longest tunnel on the walk:
Beyond it was the best-preserved section of the old train lines, with all the sleepers and the wooden third rail (which helped to act as a break) still intact.
We also saw a far more modern memento, which someone had left on a section of track that had been turned into a cement bridge to cross a little stream:
And then there was more history: the remains of the original lumber mill for which the track was build. Once there was an entire mill, and an overseers house, and workshops, and a tiny train station here in the bush. Now there was nothing but bits of train engine among the grass:
And a little modern lean-to, with an interpretive display and remains of the lumber and coal industries. Isn’t it wonderful how all the little pieces are just leaned agains the wall, totally unsecured? I hope no-one is rude enough to take them away.
Beyond the lumber mill we found a lovely patch of moss, where we sat and enjoyed the sunshine and ate cherries and gingerbread biscuits and had a chat with a South Island robin (more about that later)
And then it was back down the track in the sun, past the lumber mill and the heart, through the tunnel, another look at the waterfall, and across the swing bridge (not a happy pumpkin), and then down the tracks, through bush and tunnel and back to the coal mine carpark and the beach, and a wonderful international New Years celebration.