Up the Nevis Bluff when the acid comes on strong


Not sure about you, but it’s never bothered me whenever I’ve been made to wait either side of the Nevis Bluff because of inspection or remedial work. 

It gives me plenty of comfort when driving underneath it to know this stunning but precarious-looking rock face on Queenstown’s outskirts which overhangs a one kilometre stretch of State Highway is well monitored. 

Expect up to 10-minute delays either side of the bluff from today for the next two weeks as important safety work is carried out to keep loose rock at bay from passing cars. 

Rest assured, the local Opus geo-technical engineers who oversee this potential hazard are very familiar with it and any changes which could signal a potential collapse. 

I was lucky enough to be invited to tag along on one of their monthly inspections via chopper back in August and it was an eye-opener. 

Not only is the bluff impressive in scale via chopper, but so is the expertise dedicated to monitoring its risks. 

First there’s the helicopter pilot – in this instance it was Jason Laing of Heliworks – getting the engineers within about five metres of the face for a closer look. 

Then there’s the knowledge of the engineers themselves, who understand the make-up of the rock face and take particular note of any tell-tale changes. 

One thing that struck me while we hovered metres away was the sheer size of the bluff. It’s enormous. 

You do not get any sense of the scale by driving past it road-side. 

Another thing that struck me was serious motion sickness – quickly and violently. 

I’ve never been particularly great with sudden changes in direction and this chopper trip involved a lot of them. 

Jason the pilot, who I was sitting directly behind, seemed to somehow sense my internal battle and asked how I was doing. By now, barfing was inevitable. I told him if he didn’t dot down pronto, I was going to lose my lunch all over him. He zipped to the top of the bluff and landed so quickly that I started vomiting immediately. 

(You may want to ensure you’re not eating while you read this next bit.) To my credit – and no doubt relief of my companions – I managed to keep it in by, er, swallowing the lot twice, which was every bit as disgusting as it sounds. 

Once the door was open, I shot out and power-chucked for a good minute whilst they headed off to carry on the inspection work. 

I spent about half an hour up the top there wandering around, and getting a real sense of appreciation for the work being done – and how crucial it was. 

I watched Jason continually hover expertly in and out of range of the face – and tried to imagine what it must have been like when the Kawarau River flowed through up there eons ago. 

Thankfully, they picked me up once they were done and we headed back to the Heliworks base. 

As we entered the office, the receptionist asked how it went. Jason, looking at me, replied: “This one lost it – but he did well actually. I haven’t seen someone hold that much acid in for ages!”

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