FolkestoneJack's Tracks


Posted in Kawakawa, New Zealand by folkestonejack on March 17, 2013

In the early morning we drove out of Auckland, heading north on the motorway to Northland. The conditions were fairly miserable, with heavy rain falling throughout the morning.

Our first destination in Northland was Kawakawa, a small town in the Bay of Islands which originally developed around a coalfield discovered in the mid nineteenth century. Although the mines closed at the start of the twentieth century the transport infrastructure built to support them remained, notably a railway line to the deepwater port at Opua. Kawakawa’s railway line was the first to be established in the North Island.

Gabriel on the level crossing outside the station at Kawakawa

Gabriel on the level crossing outside the station at Kawakawa

In the late 1980s the line was re-invented as a scenic tourist railway with 14 bridges and a 80m tunnel along its 11.5 route. Sadly, the railway’s operating licence was withdrawn by the Land Transport Safety Authority at the turn of the century and although a new trust stepped in to revive the railway in 2006 it has taken time to restore the line to its full extent.

The line has already been re-opened as far as Taumarere (which is the current destination for services) and the next hurdle is the long ninth bridge on the way to Opua. The bridge was built in the late 1940s/early 1950s and crosses the Kawakawa river for a distance of 230m, supported by 35 piers. The amount of renovation and replacement required to overcome this hurdle is daunting.

The end of the line... for now

The end of the line… for now

The view from the bridge looked terrific as we walked across and I am sure that it would look pretty spectacular to photographers from across the landscape (if they can get trains running across it again).

One of the highlights of the railway is the run into Kawakawa itself, along the main street, which was the spectacle that we were presented with around midday. The rain was teeming down which made photography a little tricky, but after this the weather improved dramatically.

Kawakawa in the rain

Kawakawa in the rain

We enjoyed a pleasant ride on the train to Taumarere (a journey of around 16-17 minutes) and back again which gave us a good opportunity to learn about some of Taumarere’s vanished sights and the challenges facing the railway today. I really hope they manage to make it back to Opua.


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