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