Lake Wakatipu's magical lifter

Last updated 05:00 08/05/2012
TSS Earnslaw
Fairfax NZ

BENEFICIARY: TSS Earnslaw was one of the steamboats serviced by the Kingston wharf crane.

Kingston wharf crane
EYE-CATCHER: The former Kingston wharf crane draws attention to Gore's Hokonui Pioneer Park.
ustin Sheerline
FAVOURITE EXHIBIT: A gleaming black Austin Sheerline stands next to a classic military ambulance.

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They don't call it hardwood for nothing. A massive timber spar that lay on the bottom of Lake Wakatipu for many years now stands in the open air of Gore. More than 130 years after it was a hardwood tree growing in the Aussie bush, it is just about as good as new.

The spar is part of a crane that has become the showpiece of Gore's Hokonui Pioneer Park. It stands in front of the collection of heritage buildings, just outside the town.

The crane once loaded and unloaded railway wagons and steamboats at Kingston, at the southern end of the lake. It could lift 12 tonnes at a time, yet it had no engine. So cleverly was it geared that two strong men could operate it, by turning the handle.

The crane was built at New Zealand Railways workshops in Dunedin and carted by train to Kingston, in the early 1880s. There it was assembled and installed on the wharf, to service trains from Invercargill and steamers from Queenstown, including TSS Earnslaw.

The steamboat trade declined from early last century and the Kingston branch railway closed in 1979. The crane was dismantled and, as there seemed no use for it, tossed into the chilly waters.

Members of the Gore Boat Club and Gore Diving Club mounted an expedition to Kingston in 1985 to retrieve the crane. It was brought to Gore, its metalwork much the worse for water, and donated to the park. It was fully restored and re-erected on the sloping lawns as the prime exhibit, in front of the other heritage displays.

The crane is eye-catching, but my stroll through the park reveals much more. And it is not all machinery. A charming 110-year- old cottage that was moved only 500 metres to this site stands beside the little Balfour BNZ building. No gang of robbers could ever have held up that bank - it's hardly big enough for one crook to enter at a time.

You can relive schooldays (if you want to) in the 109-year-old schoolroom from Ferndale, east of Gore, with period furnishings and memorabilia. A typical country church of early last century has been tastefully restored and stands in a cottage garden of the time, inviting wedding parties for photos. I see families enjoying a picnic around a pond, among the ducks and near a waterwheel lazily turning on the languid Brickkiln Creek.

For those who like machinery, there are vintage and classic vehicles, implements and tools of all sorts, just as they would have appeared when brand new on the streets of Gore and farms of Southland years ago. There is a working "smithy", as a nod to the importance of horses in bygone times.

My favourite exhibit is a 1950s Austin Sheerline. This luxury car, an attempt to rival Rolls Royce, has a mere 20,000-odd miles on the clock. It was owned by a wealthy farmer near Tapanui. How his family must have luxuriated in the leather seats as they cruised on the few outings they took.

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Hokonui Pioneer Park, Gore, which was established in 1976, is open each day from 2pm to 4pm, although winter hours may be reduced. Entry is free, with a gold coin admission for adults to club museum spaces.

- The Press

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