NOTICE: We have already encountered the Devil’s Staircase on Moving house – this winding and narrow road on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. The house move in this episode didn’t go very well, thanks to a rogue driver.
But here we are again in the final episode of the series, with the team tackling it with a huge church on two trucks, over two days. Presenter Clarke Gayford describes this part of the trip as ‘treacherous’, with barely 50mm of headroom to the rock face (in fact, 49mm or less at one point).
This time it’s the picturesque 110-year-old Presbyterian Church in Waikaka with its steeple that is moved 172 km to become an office for Hollis and Brett Giddens. The couple and son Lauchie live five minutes from Arrowtown on a large lot.
Brett has a town planning business and Hollis works for a winery. They also have bars in Christchurch and have project manager Greg Wensley to help them with their move. They like the idea of a historic building, and the church ticks all the boxes – but they’ll remove the false ceiling and the floor.
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Warren Willis of King House Removals is in charge, and of course it’s a family business – he and his brother took over from their father, who had owned it since 1959. Willis has pictures of buildings being towed with a horse and cart (presumably not a 70 ton villa or church). Son Jake is one of the truck drivers.
The building requires industrial grade bracing to keep the walls from falling, and concrete has to be removed, painstakingly, as it could destroy the building when they tried to lift it. The team must also remove a Gothic window to keep it safe.
This time the building is split in half vertically, with the roof section starting first.
Time capsule unveiled
But before they leave, there is a real treat for viewers – we meet Joan and Jim Simpson, locals who got married in the church in 1956. They made a photo album of the church, so that they can cherish their memories.
It’s a blow to the producers – after all, a building’s history surely relates to the people, not just the architecture.
Jim helped install the false ceiling in the 1970s, and he’s there to watch it fall. And look at what’s up there – a time capsule from 47 years ago. It is magic.
Jim has to open it. There is a list of everyone who was there that day, and a copy of the Southland Times from Tuesday, June 11, 1974 – a box full of memorabilia.
The first truck, with the roof, heads towards Lumsden, where it will wait during the night. It tackles a one-way bridge with the roof hanging on either side.
The next day, the roof thunders along the deserted roads of Southland at high speed, until they arrive at the Devil’s Staircase, where it scrapes the rock face. It’s scary and slow.
And then it’s time to move the church itself – and it’s 3m wider than the roof load. These guys seem to have no qualms about standing under the building as it is moved from the foundation. Gayford told us he was receiving a health and safety briefing, and that there were no-go areas.
Jim and Joan have ringside seats a safe distance away with their fold-out picnic chairs. “At first I thought I would shed tears, but I won’t,” Joan says. “It has been great and I know it will come to life. “
The width of the church is a problem from the start of the trip, as it tries to cut down trees and road signs. And then there is this bridge. They lift the house up, and there’s a great shot of a camera on the bridge, as the truck rolls over it.
They crawl so slowly through the Devil’s Staircase, and the church tilts alarmingly to clear a safety gate on the left side. We see this a lot, but how come they never slip? (Another question: How do they get those great shots of the lake and rock face from inside the church as it moves? We assume the cameras are mounted and unmanned.)
The turns are particularly tricky and the trucker has to move each wheel individually to move the load. Again, drivers ignore pilot vehicles. And once again, a car on the way avoids being run over.
But they get there in two pieces, and Brett is incredibly impressed and eager to bring the building back to life.
Six months later, Gayford is back. And it seems that the church has always been part of this landscape. The couple added a new roof and a generous patio – and there’s another baby on the way.
“One of the big revelations is that if you look out a window you see Coronet (Peak) and if you look out the windows on the other side you see the Remarkables in the middle of winter,” says Brett. “It was a total accident.”
The main part of the building is empty and huge – the original wooden ceiling has been removed, so that the wood shines. And there is double glazing, insulation, heating and cooling throughout. They say as a couple that they are already receiving requests from people wanting to use it as a meeting place. So maybe it won’t be an office. The sacristy would make an excellent bar.
“We thought, do it once, do it right,” says Brett. “So the budget is really gone. We want the building to stay here for another 100 years. You have to do it right and it costs money.
It took $ 180,000 to move the church. And the price of the renovation? “Horrible,” Brett says, but comparable to a new build, but with a much better result.
It’s nice to see Joan and Jim come and take a look, and they are very impressed. They approve and they brought something for the young couple – a painting of the church in its original location and a photo album.
And, in a final scene which is reminiscent of Grand Designs NZ, there is a rooftop cry for everyone involved.
It’s a great project to end the season. And another building saved from some demolition. Bring in season two. We will continue to watch.
Relocations can now be viewed on TVNZ OnDemand