Balmoral Fire Lookout

Image: Leeann Ellis | DOC

Introduction

A great place for a family picnic with fantastic all-round views and some interesting history. The Lookout is a rare building sitting on a rocky outcrop above the Hurunui River.

Once you have walked the short 4WD access track up to the Lookout, you are rewarded with stunning views to the north over a wide area of the Balmoral Forest, the surrounding hills, the Hurunui River, the Amuri Plain and the Culverden Basin.

The Lookout building is not open to the public, but you can see the inside through the windows.

The building

The Lookout is located within the Balmoral Fire Lookout Conservation Area.

The Balmoral Fire Lookout is 4.03 m x 4.03 m and is a timber framed, rusticated weatherboard clad building sitting on concrete and timber piles, with a corrugated steel roof. The single main room has 14 large windows and a covered veranda on three sides.

The woodshed was also used as a washhouse and the toilet was a chemical toilet with a bucket that had to be emptied.

Lookout view
View onto the Amuri Plain from the Fire Lookout
Image: Leeann Ellis | DOC

Looking down onto the Fire Lookout
Looking down onto the Fire Lookout.
Image: Lloyd Mander ©

History of fire lookouts

Planting at Balmoral Forest began in 1917 and by 1931 most of the forest area had been planted. At the time wildfires were common and quickly became seen as a threat to plantation forests, which resulted in the building of fire lookouts in State Forests from 1921/22.

As communications improved the lookouts were linked by telephone to ranger stations and later a radio system was introduced in 1941.

Balmoral was gazetted as a permanent state forest in 1940 and this coincides with the building of the fire lookout. 

The Lookout was used by the New Zealand Forest Service until a replacement lookout was built in 1978/79 at Green Hill, approximately 13 km northwest of the Balmoral lookout.

Only four of the 12 lookout towers and buildings constructed in Canterbury since 1922 remain, and of these the Balmoral Lookout is the only wooden building.

The life of a fire lookout

In the Balmoral Lookout a single staff member was employed to maintain watch during the summer months. They would live, sleep, eat and keep watch in the same small building. This could be a lonely existence with the only communication to the outside world being the telephone line or radio to the ranger station. 

A shift started at 5:30 am and finished at 9:00 pm. Some weekends the watch duty would be done by forest rangers to give the permanent lookout keeper a break. The weekend duty was often a woodsman just out of woodsmen’s training or a trainee ranger.   

In later years the lookouts were generally only occupied by rangers during the summer months in periods of high or extreme fire danger. These days the trend by privatised forest owners is not to have lookouts at all.

Lookouts were required to be vigilant from daybreak to nightfall and were required to report in every two hours. At times a ranger would ring a lookout as a drill and sometimes tested men by making smoke to see how soon it was reported. 

Important landmark

Fire lookouts are increasingly rare. This 1939-40 example in the Balmoral Forest is the only remaining timber fire lookout in Canterbury. The Balmoral Fire Lookout complex was associated with an important part of forestry management and protection for almost 40 years.

Sitting on top of a rocky bluff for 75 years, it's very visible from SH7 and is a well-recognised landmark held in high regard by local Hurunui people and foresters. It's visited during the summer months by campers from the nearby reserve.

The lookout received a much-needed facelift and refresh thanks to the Amuri Hawarden-Waikari Lions Club team, and Dulux who provided the paint.

Getting there

The entrance to the conservation area is off Hurunui Bluff Road and approximately 1.2 km north of the Historic Hurunui Hotel off SH7 (the main highway to Hanmer and the West Coast).

Drive the unsealed Hurunui Bluff Road for a short distance. There is a DOC sign near a stile to identify the entrance. Park here and after crossing the stile follow an old 4WD access road up to the lookout at a steady grade. This track is a bit rough in places.

Return the same way. The walk takes between 30 and 40 mins one way.

Know before you go

  • There is no water or working toilet on site.
  • The building is historic and may have hidden objects around the site.
  • There are areas of steep ground in the reserve – stay on the track.
  • Fires not permitted.

Contact

Ōtautahi / Christchurch Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 379 4082
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   christchurchvc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   31 Nga Mahi Road, Sockburn
Christchurch 8042
Postal Address:   Private Bag 11089
Christchurch 8042
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