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The woman caring for Chasm Creek’s derelict bridges
Most little walkways in New Zealand have a guardian angel, a kaitiaki. So it is with Chasm Creek Walkway beside the Mokihinui River. Frida Inta has been caring for the walkway for twenty years.
“I used to love coming down here and I thought it could be looked after a lot better than it was,” she says. “So DOC allowed me to start weeding, and my friends started mowing. So it’s been mainly me in all this time that’s looked after it.”
We meet Frida at the entrance to the walkway. She’s wearing well-used gumboots and a flaxen sun visor. The Chasm Creek Walkway is less than a mile long – it’s flat the whole way and an easy walk. It used to be part of the railway line that carted coal for the Charming Creek Coal Company out to the coast. The railway closed in 1981.
Frida is showing us the walkway because she wants our help. Unfortunately, it includes two bridges that Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) has had to fence off, making it impossible to get from one end to the other without climbing over barriers and ignoring safety signs.
To fix those bridges costs over $300,000. That’s a lot of money for a little village like Seddonville.
But Frida is on a mission to find that money.
You won’t know unless you try, she says.
She’s spent years talking to the district council, LINZ, the Department of Conservation, funding agencies, charities, the Walking Access Commission and any other officials she can find to scrape up enough money to fix at least one, but hopefully both old bridges.
Sure enough, the first bridge we come to is boarded shut.
“So, there you see ‘closed for safety reasons,’” says Frida as she scoots to the side and hurdles herself over the barrier.
We pick our way across more gingerly. She assures us not to worry.
“Absolutely, they are totally safe. Except for that boardwalk only has one joist in the middle. And they’re 4 by 1s. I mean, sure, they’ve got cross-braces. So it needs either two more joists, or 6 by 2s. But so long as there are not twenty people you’re safe. The bridges do need work – there’s no doubt about it – and especially to have preservative put on them. There is quite a bit of work that needs doing.”
Seddonville is a long journey for most contractors. So it’s hard to get them to come out for a site visit. That can slow down the whole process of designing, quoting and building a new bridge.
Frida has some pledges of funding, but she needs a lot more. As we walk, she proudly points out a small boardwalk – barely two metres long:
“We just got this boardwalk repaired – about a month or two ago. Fulton Hogan did that. That cost $4500.”
So it’s easy to see why two large bridges will need more than $300,000.
Halfway along the walk, we pass through an old railway tunnel.
People love coming here at night because of the glow-worms. It’s just beautiful, Frida says.
“For sure, we get a lot of international tourists coming through,” she says. “They love it. Because it’s just so easy, accessible, with such value in it. Coz a lot of the time you’ve got the conservation estate all around you, but how in the hell do you get to it?”
Seddonville and the West Coast cannot advertise the walkway because of the bridges being closed. But people still find out about it and they come through anyway.
As well as giving tourists an easy, accessible walk with spectacular views and a link to a Mokihinui River swimming hole the track also could take people - cyclists and walkers - off the road. It’s a windy one-lane road that carries fast-moving buses and dairy tankers. The walkway could be a safe entrance to the village of Seddonville.
Frida thinks the walkway is special and it can be more so.
“What we would like to do is, that we have been finding out a bit about the Māori history of the area and so we’d like to put up another information board, maybe down at the Seddonville end of the walk. But that all takes time. And our priority is the bridges.”
So after she returns us to our car Frida’s going back home, back to writing emails petitioning for money.