Topic: The Rimu Stump by Peter Henson

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The Rimu Stump by Peter Henson is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

During April 2011, I drove from Turangi over the Te Ponanga Saddle Road (State Highway 47) to check on a ‘landprep’ operation up Pukawa Road, located in Rotoaira Forest. Turning right where the highway crosses the Wairehu Canal, I then followed along the canal before turning onto the Wairehu forest road. This takes you through to the ‘Tyre’ (old scaper tyre with a signpost, where four roads meet), then turning right onto Puketi Road, you eventually end up at the boundary gate into Waihi-Pukawa Farm Station. This road crosses three large streams, which are bridged, with Pukawa Road going off at a right angle at the third bridge. Driving through the bottom flat, then up a steep hill, onto a plateau with a gentler gradient, you end up at a section of the eastern back boundary of Rotoaira Forest.

Just before this area is reached, an unnamed track takes you up to an old 90,000 litre dam on another section of the back boundary. Clear felling of the original crop of Radiata pines had been completed, and as I turned onto this track, I said to myself “I wonder if the stump is still there?” Memories started flooding back to a time 35 years previous, to the summer of 1976 when my father felled a gnarley old rimu tree during the ‘landprep’ operations for the forest establishment, carried out by the NZ Forest Service.

Driving up the steep track in four wheel drive to get to the 20 Ton excavator, which was ‘line raking’ the whole area for the impending planting operation, I was glad to see the stump, had survived, albeit smaller now because the sapwood had rotted. Getting out of the ute, I scrambled over the recently completed windrow to get to it. As I touched it, and closed my eyes, I could see Dad swinging a 4 ½ lb ‘short handled’ Kelly axe about half a dozen times, cutting a notch in the tree to insert a jiggerboard fashioned with the Stihl chainsaw. Deciding on the ‘direction of fall’, it was too difficult to put the scarf in, as there was a huge carbuncle in the way, so he had to get above that. The remainder of the scarf, on the other side, was more accessible and with the completion of the ‘back cut,’ the large tree came crashing down.

Around two weeks previous to this, after the access track had been completed, and with the windrowing well underway, Dad was driving the Komatsu D85 bulldozer passed this tree when he noticed a stag with a large set of antlers looking around the tree at him. He stopped the machine. They were both staring at each other, then around 10 seconds later the stag



turned and run westward along the windrow before disappearing. This was just one of many encounters we would have with the numerous deer which were throughout the forest.

As well as this Rimu tree, the area up Pukawa Road was noted for some of the biggest native trees in the whole of Rotoaira Forest. During the earlier native logging days, when good merchantable trees were plentiful, many of these large trees were left standing. They were considered too dangerous to fell, as many were also hollow inside. The ‘good logging’ was evidenced by Mr Rex Smith establishing the Lake Timber Co. No.1 Mill. It was situated in the Hauwai Block (Hawai on maps) and was located in the foothills between Mt. Kuharua and Mt. Kakaramea. Access was available into the area from the Taumarunui road, adjacent to the Omori turn off. When the bush was ‘cut out’ in the 1940’s, another mill was established, further west on the present day Pukawa Road.

Lake Timber Co. No.2 Mill was set up so water from the Waioparekawa Stream could be dammed up and when ‘let go.’ It would take the sawdust through a wooden sluice system to a large lower gully on the other side of the road, past the mill. If there was insufficient water behind the dam and the sluice was full of sawdust, the mill had to close down until enough water had built up.

The new houses for the workers’ accommodation were built to a higher standard than the previous ones, with gas used to provide the lighting. There was a clubhouse, where most of the socializing was done, and also a school for the children. These buildings were situated on the top of the ‘S’ bend opposite the mill. Downhill on the bottom of the ‘S’ bend, the cookhouse was set back off the road, atop a grass slope with the dining room windows overlooking the road below. Its chimney of corrugated iron and timber framework was reminiscent of much earlier pioneering times. Behind this was the mill manager’s house, with a large entrance foyer. An elderly man had been living at this site in the 1930’s, before the mill was built, and it is assumed he was a roadman. The children, when not in school, played in the sawdust over the back, or walked across to Hopi’s Mill (Hopkins, Spears & Winger) to play with other children. Most household items, including tinned stuffs and anything in bottles, from disinfectant to medicine, from ink to beer, all arrived by train at National Park. It was then ‘trucked in’ to this mill, and the various other mills in the area. The mill closed in the late 1950’s with most of the buildings being transported out. Except for some of the wash


houses and tank stands up the hill. The cookhouse was still standing when we entered the area in 1976.

Opening up the old logging roads, we also replaced the log ‘fillings’ over creeks with concrete culverts. Most of the area was windrowed, with very steep areas along the various creeks, being left untouched. Later on, Pukawa Road was extended left from the back boundary, to ’skirt around’ the base of Mt. Kuharua and join up again with Puketi Road. Along the back boundary, possum trapper, Bill Broadfoot had a ‘poison bait line’ and was well rewarded with a lucrative haul, over a number of days. On our way to work one morning, Dad and I stopped and gathered all the dead possums up for Bill. Of course I had to once again get the camera out. For years Bill lived at the old Cherries Mill (Bishara) site, off Puketi Road, later shifting to the old Weir & Kenney Mill site off Wairehu Road. 

One day while windrowing with the bulldozer I had a ‘close call.’ Letting the root rake ride up over the log I had just pushed into the windrow, I couldn’t back away. Pushing the blade lever right forward into the float position (normally only used for ‘back blading’ roads and tracks) I then locked one track and screwed around sideways, freeing the machine but forgot it was still in float. With the blade dropping straight to ground after it cleared the log, the sudden pressure burst one of the hydraulic hoses going to the blade, throwing oil over the hot motor, which instantly burst into flames. It was made worse because we had scrim sacking over the bonnet and round the rams. This was to stop the leaves being sucked in, and this caught fire as well. Grabbing the small powder extinguisher, I set it off as I left the seat tripping over one of the foot pedals. Needless to say, not all of the powder reached the fire! I ended up jumping down onto the ground and throwing handfuls of dirt onto the motor. I got it out just as Dad arrived with the water extinguisher. We cleaned the motor, replaced the hydraulic hose and scrim; the machine was away again. Dangerous work at the best of times, I think I had more trouble trying to avoid getting stuck! 

The work we did in this area during 1976-77 with the Komatsu D85A and International TD15C bulldozers along with the other Forest Service employees was repeated over and over again, in other parts of the forest. As I drive around the forest today, through the ‘second rotation’ operations, memories come flooding back, like the Rimu Stump up Pukawa Road.

Dedicated To The Memory Of My Father: ROWLAND JAMES HENSON 1916 - 1996


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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The Rimu Stump by Peter Henson

Note:ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Peter L. Henson was born in Murupara, 1957. He has lived in Turangi for 53 years and works in the local forest industry (NZ Forest Service, Timberlands, NZ Forest Managers 38 years). An avid collector, researcher and genealogist, married to Glenys for 21 years and has a son Cameron 13.