Well worth a stop

Once a thriv­ing town of 5000 peo­ple, Spring­field – on the­wayto Arthur’s Pass – holds plenty of nos­tal­gia forROYSINCLAIR.

The Press - Escape - - 2 ESCAPE -

Just an ease-up on the ac­cel­er­a­tor to com­ply with speed re­stric­tions – and the town­ship, merely a col­lec­tion of unin­spir­ing build­ings ei­ther side of State High­way 73, is less than a mem­ory. That’s Spring­field.

But if one is lucky enough to be trav­el­ling by bi­cy­cle, Spring­field is a wel­come sight for a rider at the con­clu­sion of a day’s ride from Christchurch.

I have a long as­so­ci­a­tion with Spring­field, fre­quently staying overnight in the won­der­ful old Spring­field house known as Smylies, tak­ing it easy be­fore aim­ing my hu­man-pow­ered wheels at the high moun­tains. Across the road at Joy Ropiha’s Yello Shack Cafe, I en­joy cui­sine and wine as good as any­where in New Zealand.

Each morn­ing trav­ellers on the TranzAlpine en route to Grey­mouth have a short break for leg stretch­ing and a pho­to­graph while freshly baked muffins are taken on board from Sta­tion 73 Cafe, the for­mer rail­way re­fresh­ment rooms.

For many years the TranzAlpine was met by Rosie, a lov­able bor­der col­lie. She was re­warded with a rail­way pie. The in­creas­ingly ro­tund Rosie is said to have con­sumed more than 5000 pies. The newly pri­va­tised Tranz Rail elected not to send a bill to Rosie’s owner, for­mer rail­way­man Keith Wil­liams.

Sta­tion 73 Cafe, also the lo­cal in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, has dis­plays of mem­o­ra­bilia mostly re­lat­ing to the rail­way – a good first stop for mo­torists head­ing from Christchurch to ex­plore the Great Alpine High­way to the West Coast.

I re­call days long gone stamp­ing my feet on the sta­tion plat­form on a frosty morn­ing, with hands wrap­ping a hot mug of re­fresh­ment-room cof­fee and watch­ing a steam lo­co­mo­tive head to the wa­ter tank for a topup. In the back­ground was the glo­ri­ous sight of snow-cov­ered Tor­lesse moun­tains.

Nearby, a loco shed sta­bled Kb­class steam lo­co­mo­tives spe­cially de­signed for the moun­tain­ous Spring­field to Arthur’s Pass sec­tion.

The ori­gins of the ‘‘Spring­field’’ name are un­cer­tain. One sug­ges­tion is that a spring was dis­cov­ered in a pad­dock near the ho­tel. In any event, the town­ship was ‘‘Kowai Pass’’ un­til June 1872 when the then Post & Tele­graph Depart­ment re­named it ‘‘Spring­field’’ to avoid con­fu­sion with the newly cre­ated Kowhai County. In its hey­day it was a thriv­ing place, with two coalmines and a stag­ing post for Cobb and Co coaches ply­ing the rough road to Hok­i­tika. Spring­field was burst­ing at its seams with a pop­u­la­tion of more than 5000. It is now a mere 300.

Fame briefly re­vis­ited Spring­field in Au­gust 2007 when a large ined­i­ble pink dough­nut was do­nated by 20th Cen­tury Fox to pro­mote the launch of their Simp­sons movie. Two years later it was toasted by an ar­son­ist.

A re­place­ment dough­nut is be­ing made lo­cally.

Bill Town­shend, a for­mer com­mu­nity com­mit­tee chair­man, says the dough­nut, along with the Rewi Al­ley me­mo­rial, give the small town an iden­tity. Bill and his wife re­lo­cated to Spring­field for re­tire­ment and en­joy it.

The rail­way is a draw­card. Bill is build­ing a large model rail­way and is in­volved in the Mid­land Rail­way Her­itage Trust, cre­at­ing a mu­seum rail­way near the train sta­tion.

Re­mem­ber­ing Rewi Al­ley is part of my Spring­field ex­pe­ri­ence. Born here on De­cem­ber 2, 1897, he died in Bei­jing in 1987. Dur­ing 60 years in China, Rewi Al­ley helped the Chinese with busi­ness co­op­er­a­tives and ed­u­ca­tion, and sup­ported their anti-Ja­panese strug­gle.

Not­ing Rewi’s birth­day (day of month) is the same as my own, I re­tire to the homely Smylies run by Colin Pen­der, his wife Keiko, and their chil­dren. In the vis­i­tors’ book, sev­eral over­seas trav­ellers agree with my fas­ci­na­tion for this tiny town. ‘‘What a fan­tas­tic way to start – my first night in New Zealand in this great place! If all New Zealand is like this, I’ll never leave,’’ says an en­try by Matt K.


Steam nos­tal­gia: Aspectacular Spring­field steam scene from the past is re-en­acted most win­ters, with the Tor­lesse Range as a back­drop.

Friend of China: Leafy en­trance to au­dio dis­plays of Rewi Al­ley’s up­bring­ing in Spring­field and his sub­se­quent life in China.

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