It is 25 years since a viewing platform at Cave Creek in the West Coast collapsed killing 14 people. Phil Taylor talks to some of those affected.
All it takes for a quarter of a century to vanish is a song. For Logan Doull, The Cranberries are a soundtrack to tragedy.
"I was last on the Coast in October," says Doull, who lost friends and classmates at Cave Creek. But for a quirk of fate, he too could have been at the bottom of the gully.
"We were hoping to take the kids to show them the site but it was, I guess, a typical West Coast rainy day and the road was closed.
"My wife was looking after the music and by chance, these Cranberries' songs came on. It just transported me straight back. Ode to My Family and No Need to Argue. One is sad and then the other one is sadder," says Doull, who is speaking publicly about his experience for the first time.
"It just triggered me. I felt like I had to stop driving just for a bit. Amazing. It's kind of been suppressed for so long and then little things like that bring it back. It's the soundtracks from that time that really stand out."
On Tuesday it will be 25 years to the day since an ill-made platform came loose in Paparoa National Park near Punakaiki in the West Coast. The platform with 18 people on it plunged 30 metres into the resurgence below.
Just four survived.
Doull, who works as operations manager at The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company in Waitomo, has cancelled his online meetings for Tuesday. "I'm going to be taking time out, just thinking about what is important."
"Unhappiness, where's when I was young
And we didn't give a damn
'Cause we were raised
To see life as fun and take it if we can."
Ode to My Family (1992)
Thirteen of those killed were students from the Outdoor Recreation course at Tai Poutini Polytechnic in Greymouth. The fourteenth was Stephen O'Dea, the Department of Conservation's Punakaiki field centre manager.
Forty students were on the course. They split into two groups for a geological field trip to look at the limestone features in and around Cave Creek. Doull, who was 19, was in Group A, which visited on the 27th, the day before the disaster.
"A bunch of kids our age, we didn't have a care and you automatically trust things. Some were 18, 17 and one was 16 and he was significant because he had an umbrella.
"We thought, an umbrella on an adventure course? What a weirdo, where's your Gore-Tex raincoat? When we went on to the platform he dropped it and it got kicked and went through the railing and over the edge and so we were all sort of leaning forward and watching the umbrella falling.
"That's when DoC guide Shirley Slatter said to back off, because 'this platform flexes'.
That's stuck in his mind. "She was concerned enough to let her manager know and that's why Steve O'Dea came the next day. He came to check it out, and Shirley came too."
O'Dea, the new manager of the Punakaiki Visitor Centre, hadn't seen the platform. Slatter, along with another course tutor and three students, had fallen behind the main group. "When Shirley got there, the platform was gone," says Doull.
Judge Graeme Noble, who led the subsequent commission of inquiry, criticised "systemic failure" within DoC, but no one was charged.
There was a litany of inadequacies: The platform wasn't designed or approved by a qualified engineer, nails were used to secure the platform instead of bolts because the right drill wasn't taken to the building site, building consent wasn't obtained, the structure wasn't on any list that would trigger regular inspection, the steps that were supposed to act as a counterweight were not properly attached to the platform, and a sign indicating a maximum load of five people was not installed.
"I knew, I knew
I'd lose you
You'll always be special to me
Special to me, to me."
No Need to Argue (1994)
Fleur Pawsey was 15 when her brother Kit, who was 17, was killed.
A champion multi-sport and adventure racer, Pawsey is a past winner of the Coast-to-Coast Longest Day event and was part of a Kiwi team which won the 2018 world adventure championship race.
"I was probably inspired by the memory of my brother and his friends," she says.
Her feelings have changed over the years. "In the beginning, it was shock and then just complete disbelief for a year or two. I probably moved on to anger after that. I was a pretty angry teenager."
Pawsey would count the number of bolts in DoC signposts. "When I saw things that were well-built that didn't need to be, I'd feel quite angry."
"But I worked out you can only stay angry for so long and I feel very differently towards DoC now having spent so much time in the outdoors and using their facilities.
"I feel quite a lot of gratitude for what DoC does for us as a country. I suppose Cave Creek was a little part of what we have now, ensuring safety and enabling people to get out and experience a little bit of adventure and wilderness."
Pawsey, a teaching fellow in the business school of Canterbury University, says her brother is with her in spirit every day, but anniversaries bring what happened closer.
Lockdown has knocked out her plans to visit the West Coast so she will instead head for the Port Hills on Tuesday. "That will be a good way to mark the day I think, just to go for a run on the trails in the hills."
Pawsey and the Cave Creek families will likely congregate when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted to see a new panel installed at the entrance to the Cave Creek walk telling the story of the tragedy and the lessons from the inquiry.
DoC Director-General Lou Sanson was not available for an interview but western South Island operations director Mark Davies said the planned event on site would be rescheduled.
Staff would also receive messages from Sanson "ensuring that the department's unwavering focus is on the lessons of the Cave Creek incident".
Doull will likely be there to see the new panel unveiled. He went down for services for the 10th and 20th anniversaries and planned to be there next week.
He feels drawn to those events. "I don't know why. It's not something I can really put words to. It's such a beautiful place."
Death, so random. Death in stunning places. The plane on the pearl slope of Erebus, the canyoners in the green gully on the Central Plateau.
Also in the Paparoa Ranges, just 20 kilometres to the southeast of Cave Creek, is the Pike River mine with its 29 bodies. There's a memorial for the miners on Logburn Rd, in the middle of nowhere, not far from Blackball. It's a pleasant and poignant spot, the waters of Big River, hurrying over stones to join Grey River for the trip to the coast, make a soothing sound.
Not far from there are other memorials to mine explosions: Brunner (65 dead, 1896), Strongman (19 killed, 1967). So many scars in such a small piece of Aotearoa.
After the tragedy, the polytech gave students a few weeks off. Doull and friends loaded up a car with climbing gear and kayaks. They bumped into another group from the course in Wanaka, who were doing the same thing. "The outdoors was the reason we were all there, the one connecting thing. We were from all different backgrounds.
"Has it shaped me? If anything it has made me more determined to share experiences in the outdoors. That's probably one reason I'm still working in adventure tourism and in the natural world, to help other people connect.
"One of the tours we do in the Ruakuri Cave involves using structures. There are steel installations all through the cave, and every now and then a Kiwi from a certain generation will step on to the platform and say, you know, 'Is this platform safe', or 'It's not going to be a Cave Creek is it?'
"It might be a generational thing. It shows, I guess, that people haven't forgotten."
One of Doull's friends from the course is Sam Lucas, an academic at Birmingham University. Lucas, a physiologist with a specialist interest in brain health, is one of four who survived the fall.
"I broke both arms, my jaw and a few teeth," he says from Birmingham where he lives a busy life with his wife and three children.
There are some ongoing physical effects but he is able to do most things he wants to. He was high in the Himalayas on a trip last year to carry out experiments to improve understanding around how people cope with high altitude.
"I suffered a serious head injury, which included retrospective amnesia – which is why I can't remember anything from the actual event. My last memory is from about 20 minutes before it happened. I woke up in hospital a couple of days later.
"It was a strange process, learning what happened, trying to understand how and why it could happen, through to meeting and discussing events and life beyond with parents of those who lost their kids, and to feeling uncertain about structures I stand on today."
Though the experience shaped his life, he says, he has always been keen to not let it define who he is.
On the anniversary, he takes time to reflect on what happened, the people, but also his time living in the West Coast, of which he has fond memories.
It is a significant day for him for another reason. "As well as sharing this day with all those involved in the Cave Creek event, my son was born on the 28th of April. We as a family celebrate this day every year and so that is an interesting twist for me."
Additional reporting: Natalie Akoorie