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Wellington Industrial & Tram Lines

Railways of New Zealand
The railway pages of Patrick Dunford

Wellington Industrial & Tram Lines

Ramblings with Old Nic 11, by Nic Campbell

There seems to be a perception amongst rail historians that there were few bush or mineral railways operating in the Wellington region. Perhaps this is the reason most of them have been ignored while research tends to concentrate on more well known operations in other parts of the country. In fact, the Wellington region had several interesting bush trams and quarry railways including one that operated a system of unequal inclined planes. Wellington also had the busy Ngauranga Meatworks Industrial Line that most of us remember although the only relic now is the disused tunnel under the Motorway from the station yard. Not quite so well known, but well recorded was the steam operated, double tracked Miramar Gasworks line from Miramar Wharf through the Miramar cutting, which was built for it, and into the Miramar Gasworks. It was a haunt of mine as a young boy.

The need to record the more obscure operations was recognised by the late Bob Meyer, then President and Research Officer of the NZ Railway and Locomotive Society. Bob Stott of Southern Press (Rails), Michael Nicholson ( TranzMetro driver ) and myself. The results of our efforts may be graphically illustrated by reference to pages 15 and 16 of the 3rd edition of the NZ Railway and Tramway Atlas and comparing the notes therein with the same pages in the latest 4th edition. The reader will note that Wellington supported a number of bush and quarry operations, many of which were quite interesting and hopefully even more will be noted in the next edition. The Atlas is still available from Southern Press if you want one.

Most of my efforts have been aimed at simply locating these lines and confirming their existence. I do not have full knowledge about who operated them or many of the operational details. Much has been gleaned from obscure references in books, old maps and local enquiries. The fact that their locations have been recorded has been a satisfying exercise and I leave the recording of other details to those with greater expertise in theses matters than I possess. Perhaps some of my readers may be able to add some of those details or point out mistakes, of which there may be many. This is a first attempt to write about these railways to the wider audience and I stand to be corrected. Although since this article was first published some years ago there has been no feedback nor comment.

As well as bush tramways I have described some of the more significant railways that once existed around the city. In addition there were several steep supply railways, usually cable operated, servicing the lighthouses at Pencarrow Head, Baring Head and on Somes Island. Next time you pass Kaiwharawhara in a train look out the window towards the hill and you can see the remains of the small steep tramway formation that used to service the fort that existed on the hill top immediately above No 1 tunnel on the Johnsonville Line.

Te Aro Extension: This line ran through the city from the old Lambton Station. After crossing the area now known as Bunny Street it ran west of the Old Mail Centre Building on Waterloo Quay and east of the old NZR Head Offices, later Defence Headquarters, both now demolished. From here it curved over Whitmore Street and across Jervois Quay to run close to the waterfront. The strange shape of the original site of the Ferry Service Station was the result of the wedge of land left after the line had been uplifted from the curve around the corner. The wedge shape of the old building that now houses the National Film Archives is also a reminder of the railway as its shape replicates that of the old Te Aro yard throat that occupied the same land. When the new Turners and Growers Auction Mart was built over the old yard land some years back some of the old trackage was discovered and preserved in the basement as a historical artifact. As much of the old right of way is still available a move to rebuild this line as far as Courtenay Place using cascaded (old) rail and reduced speed was estimated to cost only 3.5 million dollars in the early 1990s. This meant allowing electric units to mix with traffic as did trams and as is normal practice in many overseas cities. In Wellington, however, the idea never even got so far as a hearing from the Council before it was discarded. So much for good sense and good ideas when politicians are asked to consider them. Another lost opportunity!

Miramar Gasworks Railway: A busy little operation that ran from the Miramar wharf through the Miramar Cutting into the Gasworks. It employed unusual high sided wagons that were loaded direct from colliers at Miramar Wharf and then drawn by a strange little locomotive to the Gasworks bunkers near the retort house. This little line was double tracked throughout its length. The inordinate width of Miramar Cutting was the result of a council condition that the cutting must be made wide enough for a two lane road as well as the railway. I have never found out much about the locomotive nor do I remember much more than it had a peculiar build. All that now remains other than the wide cutting is a small piece of curved track still in the ground near the old Gasworks railway gate in Miramar Avenue.

Gear Meatworks: This extended a few hundred yards from a junction with the main line near the mouth of the Korokoro Stream into the Gear Meat Works. Originally this line ran along the waterfront a couple of kilometres, as far as the Hutt River. It was built by the Hutt Park Railway and used intermittently for taking passengers to and from race meetings. The old right of way can still be traced at the western end but otherwise nothing is left. It is of some interest to note that the extra width of Buick Street was intended to accommodate railway sidings that were never built and the flared corner at the south west extremity of this street was to enable the laying out of a suitable curve radius accessing these sidings.

Terawhiti Goldfields Tramways: Several small tramways existed in the goldfields area, probably on most of them the skips were simply hand propelled but several old formations can be seen around some of the old mine shafts. A well preserved incline leading to the remains of the derelict crusher that languishes in Black Gully is still evident. This was the Albion claim while a little further to the east and up a tributary is the well marked sidling formation of another mine. Aside from these two not much appears to be known about the other old tramways which were almost invariably short but there is still plenty of quartz rich ore lying about that can be inspected. All these remains are on private land belonging to Terawhiti Station.

Wainuiomata to Naenae Tramway: This line ran from a southern terminus in Moore's Valley, Wainuiomata, situated immediately east of Brookfields Scout camp to a sawmill located close by the the present Wesleyhaven Eventide Home at the east end of Rata Street in Naenae. It was some 4.5 kilometres long and used inclined planes, on both sides, to cross the Eastern Hutt Hills. The rise needed on the Moore's Valley was something less than half that needed on the Hutt Valley side so a rock filled wagon, raised and lowered on a double sheave, was used as a counterweight to both overcome both the height difference and the weight potential. The late Royal (Roy) Nelson, who knew the area well, told me that he was present at the summit when the line closed. After the final load was sent down to the mill the workers celebrated by cutting the counterweight wagon loose and sent it zooming down the incline in free fall. He said the resulting crash was most spectacular.

The line of the railway in Moore's Valley is now on private property but it is possible to follow the formation in some parts. A well preserved section of the right of way can be seen a few metres from the gate into Brookfields Scout Camp where it rounds the toe of a spur a couple of metres above the farm road. The terminus a few hundred metres further up the valley, behind the camp, is completely obliterated and is also on private property. The lift over the hills has also been completely obliterated both by high tension power line construction with its associated road and by pine plantations. The site of the summit of the incline can barely be identified having suffered from the construction of the wide fire break. The long eastern incline was constructed by cut and fill and can be identified but is very overgrown and eroded. Near its lower end it passes, in a deep cutting beneath the bush walk that circles behind the Wesleyhaven Home and which crosses it on a footbridge but you must be aware of what you are looking at. A Wellington Regional Council Overseer told me that he had once discovered old boilers that may have been used to operate the incline further up the hill but had never bothered to explore the area again. I posses an aerial photograph dated 1942 that clearly shows the line of both sides of the incline and part of the Moore's Valley formation but even at this date only the foundations of the mill were visible. I believe it ceased operations c. 1930. Narrow gauge probably less than three feet. There seems no evidence if steam or horse haulage was used but the inclines were certainly steam assisted so perhaps the Moore's Valley portion may have been too.

Mystery: It is well recorded that a steam engine was hauled over the hills from Lowry Bay into Wainuiomata late last century. Was it a locomotive or a log hauler? What happened to it? Nobody seems to know. See next article.

Karaka Stream Railway: I was assured by the late Bernie Schlup, who spent much of his youth in the area, that a bush tram operated near the Karaka Stream a couple of kilometres south of the entrance to the Rimutaka Forest Park HQ in Coast Road Wainuiomata. It is private land but my investigations have turned up little to confirm its existence. There are certainly eroded earthworks that may have supported a railway line but it would be difficult now to relate these specifically to a railway. Perhaps this is where the mystery engine referred to above was used?

Fitzroy Bay Railway: This line ran from the shingle rich areas of Lake Kohangapiripiri in Fitzroy Bay for a distance of about 1.2 kilometres to shingle barge loading bins just inside the harbour at Pencarrow Head. There is not much left except the odd discarded length of rail and the support piles, which suggest a two foot gauge, out to the loading bins. The concrete loading bins which are now at the waters edge remain as a landmark and on one of the nearby rocks a rusted ring bolt is still cemented into place; an old mooring point for the barges. The bins originally stood in deep water but over the past couple of decades the beach has been nourished by increasing shingle deposits so that the bins are now stranded. Pencarrow headland was difficult to pass years ago and could occasionally be impassable in heavy southerly weather. There is a story that the railway made use of a tunnel to bypass the headland and when the Hutt Valley sewerage pipeline was constructed to its Fitzroy Bay outfall the engineers also bypassed the headline by laying the pipe through the disused tunnel. I have not been able to confirm this but the story persists. The tunnel with the pipeline can easily be inspected if you wish to make up your own mind. Much of the Pencarrow Head topography was destroyed by panic and subsequently unnecessary construction of a wider road around the headland at the time of the stranding of the vessel "Pacific Charger" in 1981. This was so that road tankers could be used to to discharge her oil fuel tanks in case they ruptured and caused pollution. This road building destroyed most of the traces of the old line. The fact that a good road to the stranding site already existed, if a little longer than the Pencarrow route, seems to have been overlooked in the hysteria. An old ships engineer I sailed with told me that he had been employed skippering one of the shingle barges in the 1930's taking fill and shingle to both the Seaview reclamation and the Aotea Quay reclamation.

Pencarrow Railway: Bob Meyer suprised us on our original visit to this site by providing a copy of the original locating map of the line. It ran some 2 kilometres along the Pencarrow (Eastbourne) coast from a jetty at Hinds point towards Inconstant Point. It was used to carry hard rock into Wellington to be used for reclamation facings. The laying of the Hutt Valley sewerage pipeline and associated road have totally destroyed any remains of the right of way but the jetty piles at the northern end are still evident. It is possible to locate the site of the engine shed if you climb a short way up the hill at the only tiny stream in the area where ruined rock work can be seen that probably once diverted the water flow for use at the depot. Further south the site of the quarry is very obvious and being hard rock is well preserved, the angled rock shelves leaning seawards and following the strata being typical of such quarries of the period. This railway was steam operated and possibly in use late last century and early this century.

Breaker Bay Railway: Was used to bring shingle up from the beach to the quarry that was sited on the rocky point immediately south of the Pass of Branda (Seatoun Cutting.) A well preserved archway tunnel through a rock outcropping that divides the beach is easily reached and the old right of way up from the beach now provides the main access from the road. It was horse operated and a picture of the operation can be seen in the permanent Wahine Commemorative Exhibition within the Seatoun Pharmacy. This picture is also reproduced in the exhibition information pamphlet.

Dry Creek Railway: Bob Meyer had plans for this line which was apparently originally a timber hauler but it may have been used by the quarry as well but little is known about that. As far as is known it was some four kilometres long and penetrated from Haywards well towards the Pauatahanui Valley. There is a report of machinery in the bush above the old right of way that may be an old log hauler but it awaits identification. while the whole operation awaits more investigation.

Maymorn Timber Company: A well recorded line in the upper part of the Hutt Valley. My my main reason for mentioning this is that I just remember the timber trestle across the Hutt River that was still in place and impressed me greatly when I was very young. The line ran from a mill in Maymorn in the Mungaroa Valley and while parts of the formation are gone other parts are still easily seen. Many years ago it was possible to see the formation heading into the western hills from the main road through Te Marua but forestry and regrowth have concealed it.

Karapoti Tram: A line that used to bring timber out from the upper reaches of the West Arm of the Akatarawa River to a sawmill sited at Karapoti on the Akatarawa Road. It was some seven to eight kilometres long and the existing access road is constructed along the old right of way. There is nothing left at all to suggest that a railway ever existed here other than the easy grading and curvature of the road. A reminder of days past are the remains of the old bush schoolhouse near the loading site several kilometres up the road. It is a place where imagination must be used but, if you lack that, it still remains a pleasant walk. Access requires crossing two unbridged streams. The whole area is now vested in the Wellington Regional Council for public use as a recreational area.

Cloustonville and Black Bridge Trams: Both in the Akatarawa Valley. I explored the old line that served the Cloustonville sawmill many years ago but since the mill closed I don't know what is left. The steep incline that served the Black Bridge Mill is still evident but is on private property.

Reikorangi: (East of Waikanae.) Bob Meyer lived near this line as a boy and told me that it descended through a tunnel from the river terrace to the mill. The line carried timber out of the various valleys opening on to the area. Most of the area is now in private hands and I have not been able to locate the tunnel but a picture of this tunnel is reproduced in the book "The Celebration History of the Kapiti District - 100 Years Plus." The caption states the line ran from Reikorangi to Te Horo but this is patently incorrect and one can only conclude the author has confused the operation with the Kaitawa Tram. (See Te Horo Tram below for a possible explanation) There was a timber road but no rail connection between Reikorangi and the Kaitawa Mill, which is in the upper gorge of the Waikanae River. It was the Kaitawa Tramway that may have had a connection at Mangone with the Te Horo Tramway. Timber from Reikorangi was sent by road to be railed from Waikanae Railway Station. Steam and horse operated.

Kaitawa Tramway: Sited in the upper reaches of the Waikanae River it ran up the valley almost to the rivers source and was some 6 kilometres in length. The south end of the line begins at the old Kaitawa Mill site in the Waikanae River Valley. The formation is well preserved and is now used as the Mangaone Walkway. At the Kaitawa end a well preserved narrow cutting that gave access to the sawmill skids can be seen just above the car park. This cutting although filled with scrub and blackberry gives a good indication of the loading gauge. A high bridge carried the line over a tributary river immediately on leaving the sawmill and it then descended slowly along the east bank until crossing the river on a low trestle then climbed continually along a sidling on the west bank throughout its length. It was engineered to a high standard with several high viaducts crossing deeply eroded tributaries as it climbed through the gorge. All the original bridges have been demolished but have been replaced with foot bridges, each requiring a short deviation from the original formation. The first few hundred metres of the formation at the southern end of the line are now in private hands but the formation remains fairly close to the walkway and can still be discerned. There is no bridge at the first river crossing and it's necessary to paddle across but it's shallow and no trouble. The track retains the indentations of the old sleeper placeings in many locations. A large slip makes one big deviation necessary but the path around it is well defined and well constructed. The line eventually comes out onto grasslands where the tramway traverses private farmland. Here, at its upper end, there is some evidence that it once supported a branch to the west. A walk over the hill brings you to the road end in the Mangaone Valley and the site of the old Moonshine Mill. It was both steam and horse operated. It's well worth the walk which takes about two and a half hours, if you can arrange a pick up at the other end or about five hours if you walk it both ways. (Item of interest: A traverse of this track for a First Class Journey was described in the old Scout Manual and would have been around the WW2 period.)

Te Horo Tramway: It seems likely that this line had some sort of connection with the Kaitawa Tramway. It is difficult to find any traces of the formation but I did find a couple of rail spikes from sleepers uncovered on its route where it was being dug up for a driveway. It ran from Te Horo Station Yards directly along the north side of School Road then along the Te Horo, Hautere Cross road to the entrance of the Mangaone Valley before proceeding up the valley to the Moonshine Mill, sited at the end of the existing road. The line was horse operated with a mixture of wooden and metal rails. The line was about ten kilometres long and the existing road into the site of the old Te Horo railway yards from the end of School Road is built over the old curved right of way access. There is some difference of opinion amongst older locals on the exact location and length. Some maintained the line did not follow School Road but followed a private right of way from Mangaone Valley to Te Horo. Other residents, however, remember rails still in place at the side of the road opposite the Te Horo School in the late 1960's. The retrieval of the rail spikes mentioned above on the north side of School Road about halfway down would also seem to demonstrate the line did, in fact, follow School Road. although there may have been a deviation away from the road at the corner of Blackburne Road to allow a greater radiius of curvature. Perhaps this is what gave rise to the private right of way idea but the exact location must remain speculative.

There is little evidence of any formation after about half a kilometre up the Mangaone Valley, however, I am assured by older residents that the line did run all the way to the Moonshine Mill. I am also assured that the road over the saddle from the mill into the headwaters of the Waikanae originally had a railway in place that formed the connection with the Kaitawa Tram and brought both sawn and roundwood timber over the hill from the Kaitawa Tram into the Mangaone. This suggests that the Kaitawa Mill back loaded sawn timber from its mill to the Te Horo Tram, a very efficient use of a bush tram. The connecting line was horse operated on the basis of gravity downwards and horse hauled upwards. This may be the connection mentioned in the Kapiti Celebration book mentioned above. It would seem logical that the two mills would have had such an agreement as the Moonshine Mill had a direct rail link with the main line at Te Horo which both the Kaitawa and Reikorangi mills lacked. The timber from both these mills was taken by road to Waikanae and the trip down the valley from Kaitawa must have been a tiring and difficult one. Certainly the present road over the Mangaone Saddle has been built with easy curves and a regular grade so it may well have once been a railway and I am inclined to accept that. Go and walk the line and see what you think.

Otaki Gorge: There is a well marked formation heading up the Waitewaewae Gorge from and above the Otaki Forks and another above the road end in the Waitauru Branch of the Forks. Both are easy to explore but the Waitewaewae Gorge line requires about a half hours tramp over moderately rough country to reach it and there is little other than the formation and a small piece of track remaining. Some old iron and pieces of machinery can be found on the sawmill site on the terrace above the junction of the Otaki and Waitewaewae rivers. I understand the swing bridge now erected downstream at Kaitawa once spanned the gorge here but was not suitable for rail traffic. The line in the Waitauru valley a mile or so above the road end is much easier of access and some of the wooden bridge abutments were still in place in 1996. The site of the sawmill is also easily found as the boiler, some scraps of machinery and concrete foundations still remain. I understand a log hauler still reposes in one of the valleys across the river. There appears to be no trace now of the line that is reputed to have existed on the tablelands south of the Roaring Meg Stream if it did indeed exist. There is also supposed to have been a small horse operation at the sawmill that existed on the terrace just east of the Kaitawa swing bridge. There were two other trams somewhere in the Gorge area but I have not yet investigated either.

Wainuiomata Waterworks Railway: One of the most enchanting operations it is possible to imagine. This railway was built to access the water collection weirs in the upper reaches of the Orongorongo Valley from the Wainuiomata storage dams. It commences just a few metres from a three and a half kilometre tunnel that pierces the backbone of the Rimutaka Range and carries both the pipeline and the railway. The tunnel emerges at its eastern end on a cliffside ledge too narrow to allow the line to curve away. This inconvenience is overcome by the installation of a small turntable on which the trollies are turned to face the desired direction. The line then carries on up river clinging to rock faces, crossing the river on two wooden truss bridges, traversing another turntable and finally arrives at a sylvan terminal, deep in the mountain range, near the now unoccupied caretakers house. This line has a unique right of way, is a classic of its type and must be ridden for total appreciation. The time will come when the water from this source will no longer be economic to collect and we must ensure when this happens that the little tramway is preserved for posterity.

P.S. Get out there in the fresh air occasionally and stretch those legs. It's more fun than vegetating in front of TV and carries the bonus that there's probably a lot more in the way of rail relics waiting to be found and recorded.

Article � Nic Campbell 2003. Reproduced with permission.

Railways of New Zealand: Industrial Railways & Tramways

Patrick Dunford.


Last updated 11 October 2004.

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