What a great day it was celebrating the opening of the historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct on Saturday 14 February. More than 450 people gathered at the Hapuawhenua Viaduct in Tongariro National Park on Saturday 14 February to celebrate the completion and opening of the historic viaduct for walkers and cyclists. The date also celebrated the centennial; of the first passenger train on the main trunk line.
While some of the 450 walked into the viaduct the majority travelled by a steam train brought up especially to Ohakune for the event.
Another 250 travelled into the viaduct by train in the afternoon. Before any of the assembled crowd ventured onto the viaduct kaumatua from Ngati Rangi performed a karanga and blessing. John Compton, Deputy Mayor of Ruapehu District Council welcomed everyone. The restored viaduct was officially opened by Barbara Brown, the Department of Conservation’s General Manager Northern Region. At the other end of the viaduct Project Tongariro and DOC welcomed everyone with food, drink and souvenirs of the day.
Work on the restoration of the 284m long historic viaduct, which stands 43 m above the valley floor, was undertaken as a partnership between the Department of Conservation and Project Tongariro (Tongariro Natural History Society). The restoration, which cost close to $1 million of community raised and departmental funding, is to be part of the Old Coach Road, at present a 3.5km walk into the viaduct from Marshall Road near Ohakune. Interpretation signs for the section of track from the Ohakune Railway Station to the viaduct will be installed over the next two months, extending the walk to 6.4km one way.
Sarah Gibb, Director of Project Tongariro said "It's time to celebrate and consider the number of people and circumstances that got us to this day — the original workers in 1908 who built the viaduct in 1908 and then its successful use as part of the North Island Main Trunk Line until 1987.”
Ms Gibb added that, following the realignment of the railway line through Tongariro National Park, when the steel viaduct was replaced with a sweeping concrete structure, New Zealand Railways offered the Lands and Survey Department (now DOC) the viaduct for the princely sum of $1.00. Paul Green, conservator, agreed to the purchase and the viaduct became part of the national park.
It was here Ms Gibb said that, “in the late 1980s AJ Hackett used the bridge to set up his first bungee jumping company. Now, a wonderful team of DOC track staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to clean, partially repaint and re-deck the viaduct and make it safe for walkers and cyclists."
The viaduct will form part of the Old Coach Road (OCR), a historic road in itself, formed as a vital link between the northern and southern sections of the main trunk line while the last rail section through the national park was being completed. Local community groups are working to complete the 14km road as a walking track from Ohakune to Horopito in the north.
William (Bill) Salt
William Salt was a significant figure in the development of recreation in Tongariro National Park and a keen photographer. He died as a young man but his name is well known in the park in connection to the history of skiing.
As a founder member of the Tongariro National Park Board he had an immediate and lasting impact on the fledgling ski industry. Salt built the first cart track into Whakapapa and built the first buildings at both high and low levels, as well as the first hut above Ohakune.
In the lovely prose typical of the day, Ruapehu Ski Club’s annual report noted:
“There was deeply rooted in him a great love of the mountains, whither he would often betake himself and roam many a mile enjoying the wondrous beauties of their snowy peaks. “He was also a student of nature, and possessed an intimate knowledge of our native flora and fauna, besides being a geologist of no mean order.”
In April 2009, Project Tongariro presented an exhibition of Bill’s photographs at the Taupo Museum. The original photographs had been unearthed last year in the DOC offices at Whakapapa. They were lantern slides, in a red wooden box that looks purpose made and labeled William Salt, 1919, Ruapehu Ski Club. The exhibition was funded by Creative Taupo.
William Salt is present (along with the Mead brothers) at the first annual general meeting of the Ruapehu Ski Club and would go on to play a large part in the opening of Ruapehu to skiers.
The Department of Tourism and Health Resorts contracts (for £500) Bill Salt and T.W. Downes to build an access road from the highway to Whakapapa. With the help of several Ruapehu Ski Club members they construct an 8km cart track through the bush and across the tussock, and name it Bruce Road, in acknowledgement of the substantial donations made by R.C.Bruce, a Rangitikei farmer.
Salt and Downes built the first hut at Whakapapa (not far from where the Chateau now stands) – Whakapapa Hut – tramping and ski club members stayed in the hut.
Salt builds a similar cottage on the south-west slopes of Ruapehu at the head of the Ohakune track.
He was a founder member of the Tongariro National Park board and his tireless energy and enthusiasm was of material help in the development of the park as a national playground.
Salt helps build the original Glacier Hut for the Ruapehu Ski Club at 5800 ft.
Built the Springvale Suspension Bridge across the Rangitikei River on the Napier-Taihape road (previous to this, cars had to ford the river).
William Salt died July 12th as a result of a truck accident on the lower slopes of Ruapehu near Karioi on July 6th.
Salt Memorial Hut was built on upper Scoria Flat, 1550m (5080 ft) altitude. It was the only public shelter for 20 years, partly funded by funds left by Salt after his death.
First ski tow in New Zealand was installed near Salt Hut – failed after a few hours and never worked again.
Buildings at Whakapapa (including the Chateau) and Salt Hut were placed under the jurisdiction of the Health Department during WWII and were not available to skiers.
Ted Pearse built the first fixed ski tow in New Zealand – the Salt Run Tow.
Tourist Department began using ex-army trucks to transport visitors to Salt Hut (these were known as “mountain goats” and the name still sticks).
Salt Hut was closed.
This free to download app is designed to offer an interactive and multi-media experience that provides interpretation, maps and images of the unique natural features of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing while at the same time conveys important safety messages.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing Smartphone APP
Project Tongariro in the central North Island has launched New Zealand’s first interactive smartphone application for a National Park – just in time for the busy summer walking season.
Called the Pocket Ranger, the free to download app is designed to offer an interactive and multi-media experience that provides interpretation, maps and images of the unique natural features of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing while at the same time conveys important safety messages.
The Department of Conservation has partnered with Project Tongariro with the development of the app as they see it as a fantastic opportunity to enhance the visitor experience to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Tongariro National Park. It gives the stories and information about The Crossing and the park to everyone who downloads it. The broader benefits of the app and working closely with Project Tongariro are about investing the funding that the app will generate into a range of restoration projects within the park. Its a win win.
The app is available in both iPhone and Android versions.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is rated as the best one-day trek in New Zealand and listed by many in the top 10 day treks in the world—over 80,000 tourists walk it each year.
Conveying information without cluttering the landscape with signage has posed a problem, until the idea of the Pocket Ranger app was developed.
“Now people can download as much information as they want, right there on the track,” says Karen Williams, President of Project Tongariro. “It also allows visitors to research the area before they arrive and make sure they are prepared for the changeable weather conditions the region is known for”.
“We’ve been involved with producing books and brochures about the park for years, but the Pocket Ranger is a real breakthrough”.
“With ever increasing smart phone ownership, it made sense to move with the times,” adds Karen Williams.
“We’ve already had significant interest from other parks and organisations in New Zealand that are keen to use our template, to provide a more interactive and informative experience for their visitors’.
“It’s early days yet but we’re looking forward to feedback about the Pocket Ranger and refining the information we’re providing,” says Karen Williams.