Home' Greymouth Star : November 8th 2013 Contents Greymouth Star
Saturday, November 9, 2013 - 5
PICTURES: Department of Conser vation
Native plank roads with the old road corridor still visible in the Ahaura-Kopara Road area.
Aplank road is just that --- a
road made out of wooden
Old maps refer to them as
'plank logging roads'. Five
were built in the Ahaura-Kopara area for
the timber industry; one stretched about
Although well known around Ahaura,
few others have heard of them, and the
Department of Conser vation can nd no
evidence of plank roads anywhere else in
Jack Becker's trucks used to drive
the unusual roads, pulling a jinker that
hauled the logs.
" ey were vey challenging, especially
in winter with the frosts," Jack says.
ey still cost a fair bit to build,
generally with reject sawn timber, but
unlike a tramway they would generally
only travel a few hundred metres,
ser vicing small sawmills.
But, why did no one else build them,
and why were they built on the West
Coast, 90 years after they were popular
Did immigrants bring the idea with
Why not stick with trams?
ese questions puzzle DOC.
Plank roads are made largely out of
cedar, a wood so hardy it was used in
window frames and as re doors. e
swamps in which they were built have
helped preser ve them.
John Beckwith started work with
Beckers in 1943 and helped build some
of these old bush roads, knocking in nails
with an axe because hammers were few
and far between at the time.
Plank roads were expensive, took time
to build and became very slippery in
"We would spread the ashes from the
steam winch (to thaw the ice)," John says.
e running planks, which were of a
better quality wood, continually needed
to be nailed down. He struck problems
working on the longest, when the draught
horse would not walk on the running
planks, preferring the narrow middle
section. It was a long trip back.
John speculates on why this form of
road is unique to the Ahaura-Kopara
area: they had to cover at ground, as
even a slight incline was hard work, and
they could be picked up and moved.
While he is not sure why they started
on the Coast, he does know why they
largely disappeared; with the advent of
bulldozers, there was no need for them.
DOC community relations ranger
Shaun Burnett recently managed to
GPS one plank road "rumoured to have
half-buried treasure abandoned along its
It was roughly 3m wide --- big enough
for a 1930s truck --- with cedar poles
laid along it to form a type of 'boardwalk'
carriageway for the logging trucks.
"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," Shaun writes on his blog.
After a 40-minute walk, DOC
Greymouth historic programme manager
Jim Staton led Shaun to his treasured
nd --- a Marshall portable steam engine
which was once used to drive a winch for
hauling logs out of the bush.
Back in the o ce, Mr Staton
enthusiastically checked boiler numbers
and looked up old logging records.
Plank roads, he explains, started in
America. Wikipedia dates their heyday to
the 1840s, almost 100 years before those
built on the Coast.
ey seem to have been built by the
Randall Creek Sawmill, along the
Ahaura-Kopara Road. Records are at
times contradictory, but the mill was
built about 1930, dismantled, moved to
Totara Flat, and then to the Ahaura-
Kopara Road. It burned down in 1943
(reportedly when ames from its own
re, used to burn o cuts, climbed too
high), and was rebuilt. It is thought to
have closed in 1955.
"It 's rst location? I'd like to know that,"
Mr Staton says.
"I'd love to know more about it."
e records do not explain why the
men built the road from planks. Probably
because the cedar was available, and it
was cheaper than building a tram, he says.
But a set of bogey wheels were found
in the same location, and adding to that
mystery is the question, why did no one
else in all of New Zealand build plank
e rst bulldozers were being used
on the Coast in 1936, and the last tram
operated until 1968, in the Rough River
Jim is equally interested in the winch,
which was shoved o the side of the bank
when it failed its boiler inspection.
e Randal Creek mill was above a
gully. Once, they had planks of wood
between the ropes, forming a deck,
suspended over a re deep in the gully.
e sawmiller would throw o cuts and
itches down the slide, into the re. Once
day the man went too, by accident, and
was left hanging for dear life.
If it was the wet that preser ved the
timber roads, it was the wind through the
gully that has saved the wire ropes.
However, one thing everyone is agreed
on ---the Ahaura-Kopara forest is home
to a strange, little-known chapter in New
In 1840s America, there was a short-lived trend for building roads
made entirely of wood. Nearly 100 years later, ve of these
'plank roads' were built in New Zealand --- and all were within the
Grey Valley. LAURA MILLS discovered a unique chapter in West
Coast history, rotting in the bush.style
e remains of a plank road traverses a swamp.
A Marshall portable steam engine rusting.
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