By ROBYN BRISTOW
A legacy of a bygone era is being brought back to life in the Hurunui district.
The historic Balmoral Forest fire lookout, high on the hills above the Hurunui River, is getting a spruce-up to provide a visitor destination for people to enjoy the breathtaking views.
It has sat atop a rocky bluff in the Hurunui Hills for 75 years, and for 40 of those was an important part of forestry management and protection. It has been empty since, but renovation plans are well in hand to have it open by this summer.
To enjoy the views, there will be a 45-minute hill climb on foot.
It is a rare example of a fire lookout in New Zealand, which hold a place in history alongside lighthouses.
The Balmoral lookout is a well-recognised landmark. Its rebirth is thanks to the efforts of Dave Hislop from the Hawarden Waikari Lions and Hurunui District Deputy Mayor Marie Black.
The pair were keen to see it preserved as a part of the district’s history and worked hard to get others involved.
Their passion led to a steering committee and it is now wanting to find builders who might be interested in tendering to restore the lookout.
The building holds a special place in Marie’s heart as her family farm bounded the lookout. As kids, she and her siblings would visit “Old Jack” Crook most Sundays at the lookout.
Jack, who lived on site, was charged with keeping watch over the Balmoral Forest to spot any smoke from fire that could have spelled disaster.
In the off season he lived at Hillview, Medbury, with his brother.
She said Jack led a lonely existence, with the only communication being a telephone line to the ranger station and the Black family visits. He lived in the lookout until it closed in the 1970s.
“He knew every road in the forest and every now and then a test run would be held with a little puff of smoke from those on the ground to see if Jack was on the job and spotted it.”
People today would not know what it was like to lead such a solitary existence, she says.
“He lived in the house, which is gutted at the moment. There was a sight glass on a table in the centre, a little bed down the side and he did all his cooking and living in the area. Outside, there was an iron shed with a bath, a washroom and outhouse.”
The old tin bath was still on site. “What amazing views he would have had sitting in his
bath,” Marie says.
There has been significant community engagement in the project to date from the
Hawarden Waikari Lions, the Amuri Lions, the Waipara Historical Society, the Amuri
Irrigation Company, the Department of Conservation, and the district council, to
ensure the lookout will be saved.
Marie is joined on the steering committee by DoC senior ranger Gavin Collis, and Hawarden
Waikari Lions members Gary McCracken and Dave Hislop.
“This project is a wonderful example of a community at grass-roots level instigating a worthy project. It is really exciting,” Marie says.
Through the MainPower Heritage Fund, the district council has put up narrative
boards to ensure the history will be retained, and further storyboards are planned.