18 December 2017
A top Whanganui tourist attraction – the Durie Hill elevator – has had a face-lift with new signage and large historical panels which explain its intriguing workings and past.
What began as a project to improve the signage grew into a much larger refurbishment when Whanganui & Partners Digital and Online lead, Paul Kjoss, dug into the elevator’s history and commissioned three interpretive panels to explain how the underground elevator operates, including photographs of historical equipment the public never sees.
When Mr Kjoss saw the Durie Hill elevator was the most popular attraction on Whanganui’s visitor website, www.visitwhanganui.nz, the signage became a priority.
After much research, with the help of Whanganui District Council archivist Simon Bloor and others who are passionate about its history, Mr Kjoss found that as well as being New Zealand’s only underground elevator, the elevator is also unique for its kind worldwide.
What adds to that rareness is its Mercury Arc Rectifier, which converts alternating current (AC) electricity to direct current (DC) electricity. The elevator was originally supplied by the same powerhouse that generated electricity for Whanganui’s tramway network, with the elevator running on 500 volt direct current electricity.
When Whanganui’s tramway closed in 1950, the Hewittic 150/6 mercury rectifier was installed in the elevator tower to convert the new AC grid supply to DC electricity so the elevator could remain operational.
“There are very few operational Mercury Arc Rectifiers being used for public transport. I didn’t know we had one in Whanganui or realise how unique it is. It really is like something out of Doctor Who,” Mr Kjoss said.
The project has been a collaboration between several organisations, including elevator enthusiast and Council Facilities Management Officer Peter Tantrum, writer and engineer Karen Wrigglesworth, photographer Steve Caudwell of Whanganui Photography Ltd, Nick Gibbons of Morrie Gibbons Signs and long-serving elevator operator, Raewyn Tangaroa.
“Not only will the signage improve the visitor experience, but also will provide information that will appeal to visitors who enjoy a heritage experience. Raewyn told us that some people were finding it difficult to locate the elevator’s entrance on Anzac Parade and once at the top were not easily able to find the pathway down. The new signage will be appreciated by visitors,” says Mr Kjoss.
The photographs in the top waiting area and others at the end of the 213m long pedestrian tunnel should also fascinate sightseers, he said.
“Whanganui & Partners appreciates the great teamwork that has gone into this project. It’s there for people to enjoy.”
It is likely more material unearthed during this project will eventually be available for the public, when the elevator’s 100th birthday is celebrated in 2019. Coincidentally, it is almost 100 years to the day since work was completed on the tunnel, with the elevator taking another year to complete.
Caption: Viewing the photographic display is (from left) elevator operator Raewyn Tangaroa, Karen Wrigglesworth, Paul Kjoss, Nick Gibbons and Steve Caudwell.