Daytripping: Plane Crash

The first of a series of articles on attractions on the North Island.

It’s been on my to-do list for a while, but this week I finally made it to the plane wreck out by the ferry terminal.

I’ve been hearing about it since i came to Port Hardy- a WWII plane that ran out of fuel and ditched into the woods. Beyond that I knew next to nothing. So when I found myself with that rarest of things- a sunny day off in Port Hardy- I went for a wander in the woods.

After a quick Google search for directions, my girlfriend Jenn and i set off to track it down, confidence high after Google returned phrases like ‘my 5-year-old did it’ and ‘can’t miss it’. The directions were simple; park just before the ferry terminal, 50 metres towards the terminal take a asphalt path on your right, stay on this path until you see a stump marked with flagging tape, take the trail here to the plane.

Two hours later I was wondering aloud whether it was a 5-year old horse or ATV the guy was posting about. After exploring pseudo-trails and animal tracks, climbing embankments and dried-out creeks, and backtracking to the start of the trail twice, we admitted defeat. Plenty of stumps, no tape. Down but not out, I asked around the next day and roped a friend, Greg, into showing us the way.

This time around it was a lot easier, and, once we’d got through an overgrown section just as the trail split, the route was fairly obvious. The marked stump is absolutely unmissable and this section of the trail has a beautiful vantage of the bay so if you go bring a camera. And shoes you don’t mind getting muddy.

This second half goes through forest and it was quite boggy underfoot. There was plenty of opportunity for the incautious to lose a shoe in the mire. We were doing this trail after our 2 weeks of sunny weather so I’d guess we saw it as dry as it’s going to get.

The plane snuck up on me, partially because i was watching my feet, and looked quite eerie and out of place. I had been expecting something smallish, Spitfire-sized say, but the main section of fuselage is about 30 feet.

Anything that was serviceable was removed from the site long ago and a husk remains with some twisted metal hunks strewn around as a reminder of the forces involved in the impact.

A plaque where the cockpit would have been pays homage to the men that lost their lives there and explains that the aircraft ran out of fuel after overshooting the airport on its return from a training exercise in 1944.

There was something of the graveyard about the site, perhaps the huge, incongruous metal carcass in a green clearing, or the engraved metal headstone of the memorial plaque that encouraged sombre thoughts and hushed tones.

After about ten minutes of quiet exploration we started to head back, pausing again as we came out of the woods to take in the panoramic view of Hardy Bay.

I’d say this was one of my favourite hikes I’ve done here; the trailhead is close to home, it only took about 40 minutes each way, it had beautiful views, wasn’t too hard, and there was a destination- something worth seeing at the end.

I’m not sure about the guy that claimed he did it with a 5-year-old. I guess it’s possible if you don’t mind piggy-backing the child down some sections, but bringing a child that young seems fairly masochistic in all honesty. In my opinion, waiting for double figures would be a much wiser decision- the plane’s been there since 1944, it’ll still be there in five more years.

As for directions, the internet ones weren’t bad, it’s just that nature has done a little remodeling so it’s not quite as clear as I’d anticipated. Park up just before the ferry terminal and head towards it on foot. Just as it comes into view take the asphalt path on your right. It’ll turn to gravel at the top of the hill, keep on it until it forks with an overgrown track continuing more-or-less straight with an asphalt track heading right. Push straight on through the bushes until you think, ‘this can’t be the way’. It is. Go another 20 metres or so and it’ll thin out- as long as you have gravel underfoot you are on the right track.

From here on it’s pretty easy to follow. You follow a horseshoe shape counter-clockwise around a narrow valley and after passing through another overgrown patch you come to the marked stump. From here on you have your choice of half a dozen colors of flagging tape to follow and, being muddy, the trail is pretty hard to miss.

I’d definitely recommend taking a Sunday afternoon and checking it out soon, while the sun is still visiting and the berries are out. It’s a pretty nice hike and it’s right on our doorstep. Worth a day trip, I’d say.

 

 

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