‘You must be joking” I said.
There before me are the skeletal remains of something they tell me is a bridge. Well it goes over a river, so maybe that qualifies it.
My mind paints a very different picture when visualising a bridge – solid, safe, secure, enough material to ensure I can’t fall through. This structure does not live up to expectations. Perhaps my friends were right.
“You’re crazy” they had said. “Why work during your holiday?”
“Not all holidays have to be in exotic places. Anyway, I’m investing in New Zealand” I’d loftily replied. But now, reality has struck and my fears surface.
The wire ropes seem strong enough to hold the structure, but how, with my fear of heights, was I going to cross or do any work actually ON it. Most of the decking lies on the riverbank. The water looks clear, cold and fast – waiting for me.
This is the second time I’ve offered to help NZ’s Department of Conservation with a project. Previously I’d spent a week at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre helping with a visitor survey and it had not produced this level of anxiety. Other differences were great weather compared to pouring rain and working alongside the delightful Takahe at ground level instead of on an ancient packhorse bridge surrounded by mosquitoes.
Convinced by my white face, the man from D.O.C relents and assigns me a land job; wire-brushing years of rust off the guy-ropes. Painting them with an oily mixture keeps me safe for another couple of days, time to get used to the structure, then suddenly I find myself looking down at the water that’s rushing by. I’m on the bridge! My fellow conservation volunteers cheer.
And so the days continue. Water drips constantly from the end of my nose and glasses, the track becomes more and more slippery as we struggle to the top with heavy timber planks.
So when you visit Milford Sound, take a little side trip. Wander down the sign posted track and think of the blood, sweat and my fears that helped restore part of our heritage.
Next time I become a conservation volunteer it will be with projects that won’t involve fear. I’ll go monitoring long tailed bats in the Eglinton Valley; or perhaps I’ll provide visitor information somewhere warm; however I haven’t explored the Caitlin’s nor Stewart Island . . . maybe they need me down there?
Or will I carry on as I am? Pulling out pinus contorta seedlings when I go tramping in the Tongariro National Park, pick up plastic along the Napier foreshore or in the Arthur’s Pass National Park, recycle all I can. None will cause adrenaline surges like that packhorse bridge but all invest in New Zealand and help with the clean green image we love to portray.
So, if you think a conservation holiday is something you want to be involved in. check the Department of Conservation web-site http://www.doc.govt.nz then let me know about your adventures.