Friday 24 February 2017

Piano Flat Swingbridge Walk

Catch-up, I have a few posts to do before I continue on with Lake Onslow. This last one from Piano Flat and two or three left over from the Catlins and Winton earlier in the year. Hopefully I can get to do them over the next week while we take a break and spend a little of what's left of summer on the banks of a river in Central. I've had 4 swims in two days- that's 4 more than I've had in the last two years! I don't mind the +30c temperatures when I can cool down.

Back to Piano Flat- there was one more walk we wanted to do, a loop walk up one side of the Waikaia River to the Jack Egerton Swingbridge and back down the other. If you've been following my blogs for awhile you'll know that I 'collect' swingbridges, photos of course. They also provide a target, something to aim for on the longer walks. 

This was a 4 hour, 8km return walk according to the information and part of the walk was along the gravel road. We decided to drive to the walk exit point onto the road and then walk the 4km return section on the same side of the river. Which was just as well, as it was very tough going and took us 4 hours anyway.

We hadn't driven far up the road when we came across another digger, which we had to crawl behind until he moved a lot of debris off the road in front of him and found an area to move over...

...and once we got passed him we had to wait again while the tree trimmer machine finished sawing and moving his smaller branches off the road. You'll recall from our 4WD trip to the end of the road we had a chat with another digger driver clearing the road over the top of the range. You'll also remember that I mentioned the narrow bush tunnel formed over the road, well the chopper made short work of that. Talk about a road make-over! 

We pulled into a clearing beside a stream just in front of the machines, they had about 10kms of bush to trim ahead of them (and 12kms back down the other side). We headed off down the track beside Post Office Creek and after returning later in the day machines hadn't been back past.

It was a short distance down the track to the river, which looked absolutely stunning; quietly serene, with deep pools and large rocks...

...and in an unusual chartreuse green colour, highlighted even more where the sun shone..

Unfortunately the track was tough going, much of it had washouts into the river below...

...and debris laying across it (check the DOC orange arrow)...

... and tree slides over it. Most of it was from the recent (2 weeks before our visit) flash flood that swept down the valley. I don't even think we got to the halfway mark (1km) before we were questioning whether to go on or not. 1km doesn't sound like much but when you're constantly avoiding obstacles and watching where you step it can become very tiring. David was keen to turn around but the bridge spurred me on and we decided to carry on.

You can see flood debris caught in the bush beside David and above his head in the 2nd photo. This was a massive flood, the river bed isn't that narrow here and we're about 3 metres above the river.

As we move further up the river the number of fallen trees lining the edge grows.

The bird life was prolific and we had many visits from the local bush robins/toutouwai along the way. I'm guessing they hadn't seen anyone for awhile, they were all keen to check out any disturbed leaf litter or overturned log. 

From our vantage point high above the river and amongst the bush cover we saw several good sized trout...

...including this school doing circuits.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity but was actually only just under 2 hours, we caught sight of the swingbridge ahead of us and then as we got closer, below us. We had to slip and slide down to entrance level and be very careful not to slide even further over the edge of the rocks and into the river below. 

We found a safe ledge to sit on near the bridge and had a well earnt snack. I've been unable to find out who Jack Egerton is and why the bridge is named after him, so if anyone does know please leave a note in the comments (update- thanks to Geoff, we now know why, check the comments).

Of course after coming so far to see the bridge, I've then got to cross it. It doesn't look too bad here but it was actually quite intimidating, one of the scarier ones I've been on. 

It creaked and groaned and swung wildly- I kept having visions of all the trees passing under it during the storm and wondering if DOC had checked it out afterwards.

Holding on with one hand I still managed to take a few photos, this is looking downstream. David told me if he'd brought a rope he'd have climbed down into the river bed to give it some perspective. Yeah right.

 Looking upstream through the gorge, those are car sized boulders there.

And just to give it perspective, can you see David sitting on the ledge to the right? (click on the photo to enlarge) The water level during the flood was at least 8 metres high through here, there is debris caught in the trees where he's sitting.

Done and dusted, another swingbridge added to the bridge photo album. After a brief rest we headed off a little reluctantly, back down the track. We weren't looking forward to all that hard work again, traversing the track in reverse. It actually wasn't too bad as we pushed on without too many stops (although there were a couple of stumbles); we'd seen most of it on the way in. 

I even put my camera away in my pack which is unheard of, but not before taking this slightly out of focus photo of New Zealand's smallest bird (6-8cm), a female Rifleman/Titipounamu. They are often high up in the understory and flit fast between trees calling to their family as they go with a tiny high pitched peep-peep. They run fast, spiralling up and down the tree trunks, gripping small branches and twigs as they lean out to check for insects.

And I got my camera out again when we passed the pool with the large trout in it; he was in close and the water so clear.

Of course once we had completed the walk we were pretty pleased with ourselves that we'd done it. It was worth all the effort.

And now a few more photos because I won't be doing a blog on the extra day that we stayed at Piano Flat when we crossed the river from the campground and went birdwatching back up the track we'd walked a few days earlier. We had a few awesome finds.

Excitement! Fresh deer poo in the clearing across from where we parked.

I really wanted to sit up all night to catch them in spotlight but then I would have had to fight off these little buggers. Evans= 3, Mice =1. Although we think we caught the one that got away, he fell off the tyre and into the flexi bucket half full of water and drowned. They'd found my supply of wild bird seed!

Not far from the clearing and right in the middle of the track I found this dead New Zealand Long-tailed Bat/Pekapeka-tou-roa, possibly a dropped late night snack for a ruru/morepork (native owl) as one wing had a tear in it.This is our one and only native land mammal (although there are 3 species of bats), our other native mammals are all marine animals; dolphins, seals & whales. Bats are seldom seen and this was our very first sighting, albeit of a dead one.

Possibly on a par with the bat was a good sighting and a long view of not one, but two Shining Cuckoo/Pipiwharauroa fledglings, squawking and chasing their frazzled foster Grey Warblers/Riroriro parents around the bush. Shining cuckoos are usually heard but seldom seen, they are masters of camouflage. The adults fly in from the Pacific Island in early spring, find a warbler's nest to lay their eggs and then swan around until it's time to migrate back there in autumn.

Two fledglings are rare as it takes a lot of work to feed them, especially when they are twice the size of their parent (photo is a little out of focus, I so need a faster lens).  


  1. A magnificent swing bridge, beautiful birds and a bat, what a find.

    1. Well worth staying for the extra day too! Thanks for your comments Carol.

  2. Only you Shellie could be excited by excretiment.
    Love the big high sawblade...that would scare birds for miles.

    1. Thought you'd like that Jimu, either things must be getting desperate or I still enjoy discovering things after 4 years on the road! :)

  3. Awesome post Shellie! I remember swimming in that very same river. Spectacular! Do you have Wikipedia. Not sure if "Jumping Jack Egerton the Black Knight" may be who the fabulous swing bridge was named after. He was a trade unionist in Australia in the 1970s and was blacklisted by the ALP for accepting his knighthood. Love the Te reo Maori names of each bird. Enjoy your Tiki tour, guys.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Halfpipepro (interesting name) much appreciated. Unfortunately the water was a bit nippy and the weather not too warm but I must admit the colour made it look very inviting. I thought it'd be like swimming around in a lime green jelly :) I did see that entry about Jack Egerton but no reference back to the bridge, I wonder if it was named for him. I have a contact that has one of the cribs there, I've asked him but haven't heard back yet. Thanks again.

    2. Hi Shellie, Jack Edgerton was one of the early crib builders (the brown one on hill above the lower swing bridge) The top swing bridge bears his name as he had a gold claim & mined up there. You may have noticed assorted mining relics and tailraces on the track to the bridge when you walked up. His son Peter also worked the claim and is now the owner of the crib.Incidently if you would like a more detailed history I'm sure peter would be happy to oblidge. He and his wife Heather operate the "Goldfields Mining Center" just out of Cromwell and you could make contact there. Safe travels - Geoff Salmond.

    3. Thanks so much Geoff for filling in the missing information, it all makes sense now. And we'll be looking out for the Goldfields Mining Centre the next time we pass through Cromwell. Cheers.


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