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It was so nearly a bridge too far

The Waiohine River along the trail to Totara Flats. PHOTO/GRACE PRIOR

The Totara Flats “death trap” Bridge was replaced by the Department of Conservation last year. Environment reporter GRACE PRIOR gives a first-person experience of her adventure to find the bridge.

Graham McCready, a former volunteer hut warden said in 2009 that the old bridge was a “death trap”.

The Department of Conservation [DOC] said the bridge was replaced between June and July 2021, costing $285,000 to replace.

On one faithful summer’s day, I dragged Local Democracy Reporter and close friend Emily Ireland into the bush for an overnight tramp to Totara Flats Hut.

The second day of the tramp. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

For months I had been saying that I’d do the tramp to see the bridge, what we got was far more than that. In fact, we accidently walked past the new bridge on the way in.

I had essentially forced Emily into being my regular walking buddy and was keen to take the next step in our outdoor bonding time.

I’ve always been a keen walker, encouraged by my incredibly outdoorsy father from a young age to be out in the bush or on the water.

Totara Flats wasn’t my first overnight tramp, but it seemed perfect to take Emily on for her first overnighter – that’s until I accidentally took her up Cone Ridge.

We had made our way through beautiful changing native forest, up and down steep slopes, and through rivers until we reached a signpost.

In looking ahead to the trip, I’d checked a few posts on online tramping groups about the walk, someone had mentioned a diversion uphill.

Of course, I had thought this was via Cone Ridge. With the guidance of a slightly twisted sign, we started to climb.

It’s only when it felt like we were scaling a cliff face that I realised that I may have made an error.

Guiding us up the hill were some bright orange trail markers – because they were there, I was absolutely convinced that we were on track. Well, we were on a track.

Near what seemed like the top, the foliage began to shake, then emerged two keen-looking day walkers – and a deer.

We were told that the diversion had been much further ahead along the normal track. Although we could continue the same path to get to the hut, it was best to turn back.

After scrambling down the hill we were back at the halfway point to the hut – the signpost.

The rest of the bush portion of the tramp was beautiful, but I had become slightly distracted by my calf muscle that had decided to cramp.

I wasn’t tired, but my leg was packing a fit. I might as well have taken a small child with us.

An exhausted Emily and Grace finally made it to the flats, which seemed so flat that it continued forever.

We considered sleeping under a tree but the lure of making it to the hut itself was too great.

A feeling of euphoria hit when we arrived at the hut and removed our soaked boots. We’d done it, and narrowly avoided spending a night in a the supposedly rat-infested Cone Hut.

I was just happy to have not killed Emily in the process.

At sunrise we began to depart the hut, hitting the flats in its golden morning glow before attempting to eat re-hydrated cereal mix with a Swiss army knife.

It turns out that I had a spork the entire time, but I felt a small victory in not cutting my mouth open.

The return trip was much simpler, and shorter, than the way in. We were dragging our feet over the Waiohine Gorge Bridge, and we made it home.

DOC said the Totara Flats swing bridge was a 90m suspension bridge, built in 1989 by the New Zealand Forest Service.

DOC said the old bridge was demolished and removed and the new bridge was installed slightly upstream of the original site.

Graham McCready, a former volunteer hut warden, from Wellington said in 2009 that the old bridge was a “death trap”.

The only death trap encountered by Emily on the tramp was me.

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