Heritage Fiordland viaduct officially reopening

A historic Fiordland viaduct is being officially reopened to walkers today.

More than 50 guests, including Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, have been flown by helicopter into the remote world heritage area to celebrate the reopening of Percy Burn Viaduct – a bridge that spans the valley.

Percy Burn is regarded as the one of the world’s largest wooden mill tramway viaduct and is recognised as a Category One Historic Place by Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga.

It now provides a vital link in the Hump Ridge and South Coast tracks, which could prove a boon for tourism in the region.

About 4000 people visit or pass over the structure each year, but that’s slated to increase dramatically if the Hump Ridge track is approved for ‘Great Walk’ status by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

It’s currently in the top three.

The restoration work has been led and fundraised by Southland’s Port Craig Viaducts Charitable Trust, completed for about $750,000.

A three-way partnership between the Trust, DOC and Southland District Council was set up in 2015 to undertake the work.

Trust chairperson Tom Pryde said it was a challenging project to undertake.

“The viaducts were originally designed to last 30 years and no-one would have imagined that they would still be standing, let alone be enjoyed by walkers on the Hump Ridge Track almost 100 years later,” Mr Pryde said.

Percy Burn Viaduct forms part of a heritage precinct of four other viaducts.

They date back to 1920s as part of an indigenous logging and milling operation run out of Port Craig, a frontier town without road access.

By the early 1990s, Percy Burn was in danger of collapse after decades of neglect and an arson attack, which had burnt through several trestles.

The 36m-high bridge was closed in May 2013, amid fears of structural safety.

That meant the tracks using the iconic viaduct were rerouted.

Mr Pryde said it was a monumental task.

“This is a significant project when we consider the age of the structures and the magnitude of the rebuilding necessary as well as the remoteness of the worksites in Southern Fiordland.”

Ms Sage will officially reopen the Percy Burn Viaduct at 12pm today.

The work was completed by Fulton Hogan with engineering support from Queenstown’s Derek Chinn.