A day job as a daring dangler

Department of Conservation —  17/07/2021 — Leave a comment

By Paul Mahoney, Senior Heritage Advisor

The popular Ohakune Old Coach Road, which opened in 2009, has helped to transform tourism in Ohakune.

Around 30,000 visitors annually enjoy the 15 kilometre ride or walk between Horopito and Ohakune that blends heritage and nature.

The highlight is the massive Hāpuawhenua railway viaduct which is an impressive 284 metres long and 45 metres (9 storeys) high.

Hāpuawhenua railway viaduct. 📷: Jimmy Johnson

Recently the Department of Conservation/Te Papa Atawhai arranged for a condition inspection of the paint work on this massive steel structure. The task was completed by three specialist abseiling technicians who work for SRG Global, a global engineering company. They inspected the condition of the existing paint job, noted where paint repairs were required, and spotted steel corrosion issues. The rust colour visible in some of these images is actually a surface lichen.

Ready to launch: Rob Leeks, Siva Pierard and Ben Florence on the 1907 steel viaduct. Behind is the replacement 1987 concrete viaduct that enables faster bigger trains
Ben systematically records defects on his camera

The viaduct has a New Zealand Category One heritage rating. This condition inspection will be used to guide investment decisions on maintenance and repairs. Abseil work is not for the faint-hearted; it involves wearing a 15 kilogram full harness and dangling on abseil ropes. A safe week on ropes involves identifying hazards and controlling risks. This trio have the necessary experience and IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association) training.

The 45 metre working height is far from a personal record. Rob Leeks holds a special memory of lunch with a limitless view 170 metres above the Indian Ocean, on an offshore oil installation. Siva Pierard’s peak ascent is checking the top of Auckland Sky Tower at 328 metre. This job offered more thrills than the gaming machines inside Sky City. Ben said that dropping over the side of the viaduct reminded him of the first-ever Hackett bungy jump operation, that started right here in 1993.

Rob comments that the ‘modest’ 45 metre height at Hāpuawhenua requires just as much care. Beyond a certain height the consequences of a fall are all the same. We noted that a few visitors to the viaduct on this day found venturing to the middle of the viaduct too high for their comfort. Not their choice for a day job then!

Visitors enjoying the Hāpuawhenua viaduct. 📷: Jimmy Johnson

Take a trip back into New Zealand’s rail heritage while you walk or cycle the Ohakune Old Coach Road.

The road was used to carry passengers and goods between two railheads on the North Island main trunk line before they were linked in 1908. Find out more on the DOC website.

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