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Forestry and conservation history bridged

An historic wooden trestle viaduct that once serviced the sawmilling industry has been restored and is once again open to visitors to the magnificent Waitutu forest.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage today celebrated the reopening of southern Fiordland’s Percy Burn viaduct, thought to be the highest surviving wooden bridge in the world, following significant restoration work.

“Congratulations to Southland’s Port Craig Viaducts Charitable Trust and the Southland District Council for their vision, commitment and sheer hard work in restoring this iconic heritage structure,” Eugenie Sage said.

“It is fantastic to see this historic viaduct, which was once part of a logging tramway, now able to be used and enjoyed by the public again as a feature of the South Coast and Tuatapere Hump Ridge Tracks.

“Percy Burn is a place where visitors can reflect on both our history and our future. Walking across this impressive viaduct, high above the forest, is a memorable experience,” Eugenie Sage said.

“In its day, the Port Craig sawmill was part of one of New Zealand’s major logging ventures. The closure of the mill in 1928 helped preserve the distinctive coastal beech/podocarp forests of Waitutu. They are now recognised as a taonga in their own right and important habitat for birds like kākā and kākāriki.

“The Port Craig Viaducts Charitable Trust, especially Tom Pryde and Stephen Canny, deserve the thanks of many New Zealanders. Their commitment to this project has given new life to a major community and heritage asset so that the public can once again enjoy it.”

The Percy Burn viaduct is located on the South Coast and Hump Ridge Tracks. The Hump Ridge Track includes a three-day walk taking in the coastline, forest and alpine regions of southern Fiordland. The Hump Ridge Track is one of three finalists – along with Northland’s Te Paki and Marlborough’s Queen Charlotte Walkway, which are being evaluated by the Department of Conservation as a potential new Great Walk.  The Percy Burn viaduct is also a candidate to be one of the top 50 landmark historic sites in Aotearoa.

Background information

The four Port Craig viaducts and the Port Craig sawmill and settlement sites together are listed as Category 1 Historic Places by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. Currently, around 4,000 people each year visit or pass over these structures as an integral part of the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track.

The Port Craig Viaducts Precinct (Sandhill Burn, Percy Burn, Edwin Burn and Francis Burn) is the only remaining group of intact mill tramway viaducts in the world. The Percy Burn Viaduct is recognised by the Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) as one of the most significant man-made structures in New Zealand.

The Percy Burn viaduct was closed to public access and use in 2013 on public safety grounds.

In 2015 through the initiative of the then Minister of Conservation Dr Nick Smith, a three way partnership between the Department of Conservation, Southland District Council (SDC) and the Trust was established for the undertaking and financing of this latest restoration work. Under this arrangement $380,000 was contributed by DOC and SDC and the Port Craig Viaducts Trust was charged with raising an additional $370,000.