Queenstown engineer’s days up bluff

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Queenstowner Emily Hodgkinson is the envy of geo-technical engineers from around the country. 

Not too many of her lot get to spend entire working days like she does, abseiling down a ginormous rock face like the Nevis Bluff as part of ongoing safety inspections. 

It’s even better when the sun’s out like it was on Tuesday and she spent all day on the site overhanging a stretch of State Highway 6 between Queenstownand Cromwell. 

“It was roasting yesterday and there are beautiful views up there,” Hodgkinson says. 

“I was sitting there thinking this is a pretty good job.” 

Hodgkinson, a geo-technical engineer at the Opus Queenstown office, has spent three days up the bluff in the past week, advising abseiling contractors using bars and other tools for rock removal work. 

“My job is to identify certain things … tell them they’ve gone far enough with rock removal or to take a bit more off. I’ll say we need a little bit more off here but we also don’t want to open a can of worms.” 

It’s all part of ongoing work Opus carries out for the Government’s New Zealand Transport Agency which is in charge of ensuring the large bluff – about 800 metres long by 150m high – is safe for road users underneath. 

Hodgkinson says it was a job requirement to get an abseiling qualification which required two weeks of practical and 120 hours’ work experience over a year. 

Since arriving in Queenstown in 2009, she’s been up the Nevis seven times for inspection work. It complements regular helicopter inspections carried out by her fellow Opus geo-technical team members. 

“It’s very beneficial. You can see things in a helicopter and then you get up on the face and it’s different. You can work out exactly what you need to do. 

“It’s not all just blasting stuff off – we have to bolt some stuff back in. What angle to bolt things in at and what bits to get rid of – you have to be able to see that up close to do an efficient job.” 

The 30-year-old, who wasn’t into abseiling beforehand, says she has no fear of heights and never has nervous moments up the bluff. 

“We know what parts are dangerous and what parts to stay away from – when you’re up there it’s not that kind of danger where it’s going to fall down on you at any second. And when you have the geo-technical background it looks a whole lot better than it may do to the general public.” 

Hodgkinson says she always wanted to base part of her work outdoors and the abseiling gives her great job satisfaction. 

“It’s great to feel that you’re making a difference and making the world a bit safer for people in their daily lives,” Hodgkinson says.