Buried treasure on Grey Valley ‘plank roads’

Department of Conservation —  01/08/2013

By Shaun Burnett, Community Relations Ranger, Greymouth

There are still a few old ‘plank roads’ hidden in the Grey Valley on the West Coast. These are wooden ‘planked’ roads constructed for the timber industry in the early twentieth century to help extract timber to the nearest road or sawmill site.

A mountain biker planking along a track.

Planking but not on a plank road

One rainy Tuesday we set out to record one such road on GPS. This particular road was rumoured to have half buried treasure abandoned along its route.

The road was roughly 3 metres wide and consisted of cedar poles laid along it to form a type of ‘boardwalk’ road for the logging trucks.

Walking along the plank road through a corridor in the bush.

Native planks rotting and a faint corridoor ahead

Today, nearly 80 years later, little remains of these roads but the trained eye can still pick a faint corridor in the trees and occasionally you can see the actual logs that made up the road, rotting away as the bush slowly regenerates and claims back its rightful place.

In a swampy clearing, celery pine grows up between the runners, as we stepped carefully between the logs and followed the remains onwards, into the bush again.

Plank road remains in swampy areas of the Grey Valley track.

The remains of the plank road are clearly visible in the swampy areas

After a short 40 minute walk, Historic Program Manager, Jim Staton, led us to his treasured find at the end of this particular plank road: a Marshall portable steam engine!  This old engine was used to drive a winch that hauled logs out of the bush.

The steam engine is in remarkable condition considering it has lain forlornly on its side in the bush for nearly 80 years. The question now is, what to do with it?

A Marshall portable steam engine.

A Marshall portable steam engine

DOC Historic Program Manager Jim Staton is considering the engine’s fate. We could remove it to a local place for public viewing (taking it out of context), or remove it to a place that will restore it to working order, or cut a track to it for public viewing that has an interpretation panel explaining what it was and why its here, or simply forget about it. What do you think should happen?

Marshall portable steam engine half buried.

Small parts have been poached, but it’s mostly intact

8 responses to Buried treasure on Grey Valley ‘plank roads’

    Shaun Burnett (DOC Greymouth) 02/08/2013 at 12:57 pm

    There’s some good suggestions there, thanks to all. I think Jim also likes the idea of leaving it in its natural context and building a short walk into it. There’s lot’s of discussion to be had with the community yet of course, but watch this space as we may have a new track to talk about in time. Exciting!

    Jeremy Nimmo 01/08/2013 at 9:39 pm

    A low profile trail to the site sounds like the best way to go.. at least after a bit of two-pac epoxy is chucked in around joins in the metalwork to discourage muppets from vandalizing the plant.

    Rob Flattery 01/08/2013 at 8:18 pm

    Is there a restoration group that would love to get there hands on this old girl and restore it ?
    Those that are too old or young to make the trek in should also have an opportunity to see it !
    Place an interpretation panel at the current site.
    To leave her to rot and disappear into the bush would be sad loss of our European heritage.


    love a track made to go see it where it is would be a great added short walk to the coast


    Great find. Leave it where it is and I think a basic track so as not to detract from the surrounding bush and some interpretation panels would be great. Always room for more tracks in the Grey District – a district full of history. Lets celebrate it!


    I love it. I also say leave it where it is, but think an interpretive sign and track would be wonderful! It’s important to remember where we have been so we don’t trample the same ground again.


    Leave it as it is – not everything interesting in the bush has to have a track to it and an interpretive sign! Let people use their imagination, or do some research……


    Well done Jim! I think 40 minutes is perfect for walk to see heritage in situ…similar Fiordland Heritage is a two hour helicopter ride or a $3000+ multi day boat trip…the steam trains that have been dragged from river beds and restored now sit forlornly on roadsides (like Mandeville) waiting for new rails to be built and pie-in-sky heritage dollars to vortex further money/dreams:

    I think the fallen industry in the bush captures the pioneering energy and teaches us not to repeat the same mistakes – there’s much greater value in living heritage than the extracting resources pathway to failure. Good luck!