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This is a travelogue of a recent visit to New Zealand on a coach tour which, happily, contained an interesting bias towards transport, as well as the more usual and fascinating sights. To avoid sounding as though I am being sponsored by the NZ tourist agency, I will just stick to the “railway” bits of the tour in this note!

North Island



Our first “railway” visit was to the Glenbrook Vintage Railway, not too far from Auckland. This is a preserved railway in the sense that UK readers would recognise, with a significant workshop that was undertaking major overhaul of a number of locos. However, the line also has a direct connection to KiwiRail and some of the “preserved” locos are diesels that are approved for use on the big railway. [Note: in this context, “big” is relative as the NZ system is built to 3' 6” gauge and to a pretty meagre loading gauge].

Our train consisted of a smart little Baltic tank with 5 coaches.


https://youtu.be/QrDaj6cX4w4 for a view of a runpast.

This seemed rather generous for our group of 19, but, when we were leaving, a school group arrived, which filled up all the coaches nicely (and rather more noisily). We were offered the opportunity for two of us to travel on the footplate and, since only two of us were interested, we both travelled on the footplate both ways. I can remember travelling the same way on the Bluebell Line in its opening season – something that the Board of Trade put the mockers on pretty quickly!


The line is air braked (is the Isle of Wight the only air braked line in the UK?) so we were serenaded by a Westinghouse pump panting way in the background. Unfortunately, on the return journey, the panting stopped and, as the train pipe lost pressure, so did the train. We were then treated to a demonstration of how you bring a recalcitrant Westinghouse back to life. The driver talked knowledgeably about problems with priming and tried injecting steam into it. The fireman climbed off the footplate and gave it a sharp whack with a broom. Either way, it burst back into life. Having noted that many pre-grouping photos of Brighton locos show a patch of bare metal and a slight dent on the Westinghouse, It was a treat to see such a time honoured tradition being observed.


For any signalers reading this, there was a rather nice signal box with a McKenzie and Holland lever frame in it. This had been transplanted from Auckland. One curiosity, for which I did not get an explanation that I understood, was that the approach to Glenbrook station was protected by both red and yellow fishtailed signals. The red version was below a regular red stop signal. The yellow came shortly after on its own post. I should be interested to hear an explanation if anyone knows the answer. (Sorry about the shadow on the photo!)



We then moved south and had a brief pause in Taihape, next to the station and the gum boot throwing pitch. KiwiRail duly obliged and sent through a freight, diesel hauled under the overhead wires. The loco is one of the Chinese built DL class.




I think we saw most of the current types in service one way or another but trains seemed fairly few and far between. However, even where not much used, the right of way looked very well maintained and ran parallel with the road for long stretches.




Just before Wellington, we paused by the tram museum. As at all the attractions that we visited, I was struck by the great enthusiasm of our hosts to ensure that we enjoyed our visit.







Travels on the South Island will follow.

Best wishes 



Edited by burgundy
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The Scenic Routes

The ferry between North and South Island is marketed asone of the great journeys of New Zealand and it links up with the South Island rail network at Picton. It is certainly scenic, as at least half of the journey is in sheltered waters down the Marlborough Sound. Disconcertingly, to get from North Island to South Island, you travel more or less westward.


There is evidently a steam tourist service based at Picton (the Marlborough Flyer) and there was a fleeting glimpse of the loco and stock berthed in among the container flats in the yard.


However, our objective was the Coastal Pacific

which runs down to Christchurch along the coast. This is the line which has had to be rebuilt following the Kaikoura earthquake of 2016. It is a very dramatic run, following the coastline for much of the way and well worth the trip. The train includes an open observation car which is designed for photography. For those used to the history of the UK rail network, it comes as a surprise that this key section of the main South Island route was only completed in 1945.



From Christchurch the following day, we joined the TranzAlpine which runs westwards across South Island to Greymouth.

Christchurch station was rebuilt in a rather minimalist style in the 1990s after the collapse of passenger traffic made the former station largely redundant. It is designed to handle the limited number of tourist trains, like the Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine and has a rather spartan style of which Colonel Stephens would have approved. The previous station, which was located rather more centrally in the city, was one of the victims of the successive earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011, that caused massive damage across the city. Leaving the station, the neighbouring yard contained lots of goods vehicles but not much movement on a Sunday morning.



The clue to the journey is in the name and the trip includes some very impressive mountain railway engineering, which was only completed in 1923. It also included some Alpine weather and the observation carriage was very effective in directing rain horizontally through the side openings. As a result, the opportunities for photography were rather limited.

We started from Christchurch with a pair of DX class Co-Co locos which were supplied in the early 1970s by General Electric based on the U26C model.


On the level stretch at the start we scampered along at 100kph before getting into the seriously hilly section.




At Arthurs Pass, which is roughly the summit of the route, the train was met by 2 more DXs so that it proceeded onwards with 4 locos. Whether this was strictly necessary with a relatively modest train, I don't know. I suspect that it may have been a convenient way of working a pair of bankers back to the western end of the route.


We left the train at Arthur's Pass as our trip had to be rerouted because of landslips that had closed the west coast road. There had been torrential rain down the western side of the island and this spread to cause flooding elsewhere, so that all three roads running north-south down the island were closed for a while. We therefore had to return to Christchurch for another night before picking up our schedule again at Queenstown.

The brief cruise from Queenstown on the TSS Earnslaw railway steamer is covered on the thread “Anyone interested in ships”. The Earnslaw effectively operated like the lake steamers in the Lake District or on the Scottish lochs, extending the reach of the railway company from a railhead to all the settlements around the perimeter of the lake.

The third of the three “scenic railways” was the Taieri Gorge line from Dunedin. This is unusual as a local authority owned railway operation and it has a small fleet of DJ class Bo-Bo-Bo locos delivered by Mitsubishi in the late 1960s and disposed of in the 1990s.





For my money, it was the best of the three scenic rides. The sun shone, the scenery was spectacular and on a par with the Animas Canyon section of the Durango and Silverton.

I mentioned in the previous post that the loading gauge in New Zealand was none too generous and it results in these hobbit sized tunnels.


1841270551_20191213Taieri15.JPG.10ee547f5d50ad2020149f6b6e640185.JPGThe cutting in the photo below may look like a continuous cut through rock, but note the three sets of checkrails at various distances, which indicate where the cutting is interrupted by a bridge. Not a simple piece of engineering!


The final section of the trip is still to follow.

Best wishes 





Edited by burgundy
Edited to sneak in an additional photo
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Having dealt with the three scenic railway trips, it is worth returning to Dunedin station which is a most impressive structure.

It is not far from the city centre and a very visible landmark.



Not all is still used by the railway, but the interior has been well preserved to maintain the detailing of the design.




As part of an integrated transport network, the NZR also built and operated a rather nice art deco bus depot next door.


While we were waiting for the Taieri Gorge train, there were a couple of other locos around

4559 DC class started life as DA class, built by General Motors Canada between 1955 and 1967. Between 1978 and 1983, 85 of the later-build DAs were rebuilt as EMD model G22AR, designated as the DC class, with upgraded engines, new cabs and low short hoods.


3087 DSG class Toshiba design from the early 1980s.


Ja class 4-8-2 of 1956, as the last steam loco to be completed at Hillside workshops, Dunedin, is preserved in something like a large glass fish tank next to the station. It may be great for conservation but is hopeless for photography from any kind of side view.


Finally, in Otago Settlers Museum, just next to the station, there is a little Fairlie that was built by Vulcan Foundry in 1872 for the Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway.



We moved north from Dunedin to return to Christchurch for our flight back to the UK. On the way, we made a coffee stop at Oamaru and parked almost opposite this.


Perhaps best to forget the logic of trashing a diesel as a logo for Steampunk.

Happily, just around the corner, there was a column of smoke, which turnedout to come from the Oamaru Steam Railway, which runs for a short distance around the Oamaru harbour area.



B10 was built by Hudswell Clarke and Company in 1924 and originally employed by Armstrong, Whitworth of Tauranga for the construction of the Waihi to Tauranga section of the North Island East Coast Main Trunk Railway.

Also evident were a number of very encrusted loco parts which were apparently buried in 1936 as part of an erosion protection scheme. In 2009, when the sea wall was rebuilt, the bits of quite a number of locos were recovered and are on display.


Our final call was to the Pleasant Point Railway.

Here, we were treated to a run behind Ab class 699, for a couple of miles along the former Fairlie branch.



The loco was burning logs, without any apparent firework display and, given the amount of rain that had fallen, little risk of lineside fires.

Other items on display included a Model T replica railcar and a little Drewry shunter.



Lunch was provided, followed by a couple of videos showing times gone by.



Again, the particular memory of the visit will be of the enthusiasm of our hosts and their interest in sharing their knowledge of the collection.

All in all, a fantastic trip with much more than just the railway interludes described here.

Best wishes


Edited by burgundy
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Sounds like you had a good trip Eric.

There are a few places that I know.

The inter island ferry and the dockside area was a good place to watch shunting movements.

We did not take the train along the west coast of the south island.

We had a camper van and took the road. I remember that the road was single track and shared the same deck as the railway on some bridges.

On one occasion only the sound of the horn warned us that a train was approaching.

As I read through your captions I thought of the Fairlie so was pleased to see that you had found it in the museum.

Many thanks for posting.

The nearest I have been to NZ of late was being on the phone to a friend in Christchurch over the holiday.



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When I visited NZ in 2015 I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of railway preservation in evidence on the South Island. I had done some research but realised I had mised more than half of what was there. It was nice to be driving along and suddenly find things like a little Andrew Barclay on a plinth in Havelock and discover the railway at Founder Park in Nelson. Everyone in NZ is very friendly and it was so pleasant to find such a relaxed and open atmosphere, such a refreshing change from how the UK has become.

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On 29/12/2019 at 21:10, burgundy said:

For any signalers reading this, there was a rather nice signal box with a McKenzie and Holland lever frame in it. This had been transplanted from Auckland. One curiosity, for which I did not get an explanation that I understood, was that the approach to Glenvale station was protected by both red and yellow fishtailed signals. The red version was below a regular red stop signal. The yellow came shortly after on its own post. I should be interested to hear an explanation if anyone knows the answer. (Sorry about the shadow on the photo!)





Going by the descriptions on the levers and the snippet of diagram, it looks like the yellow one (presumably #1, off the left of the diagram) shows the driver that the home (#3) is clear, while the red one (#2) shows that the route is clear into the main platform (#3 and #4). I think there are some places in the UK where similar was done, but I'd expect that the outermost distant would have needed all the stop signals clear, not just the outermost.

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When I was in New Zealand I visited a chap who had a private railway system in Coramandel.

His name was Barry Brickell and he was well known as a Potter. 

I was visiting an Architect in Auckland and he sent me to visit Barry as they were connected through various art schemes.

Sadly Barry died a few years ago.

He took me all over the site and I had an amazing day.

In those days the camera used film and I must have some negatives tucked away some where. I will try to find them.


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34 minutes ago, Michael Edge said:

That's the Driving Creek railway, still working, after the builder's death it was placed in a trust. It's a bit like riding on a 009 "rabbit warren" layout.

I have just looked it up on the web.

That's the place. Thanks for the information Michael.

It must have been about 1990 when I was there and it was not open to the public at that time. Well, not on a regular basis.

You describe it as a rabbit warren layout, that sounds spot on from what I remember.

At that time it was used mainly to carry clay plus the odd rides just for fun.

I never realized at the time that Barry was quite so famous. I just knew him as a friend of a friend.

It is a fascinating area even without the trains.

I remember crossing the peninsular on a dirt road. Strictly against the rules when using a hire vehicle, but a lot of fun.


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We did the same in 2015 (don't tell Avis). A few photos from our trip.


This is what the rolling stock looks like, usually there are at least two trains running, sometimes more - this is the other one viewed from our train at one of the switchbacks.


 I said it was convoluted, this is a double deck bridge, the route crosses it twice.



We had a great view, sat right behind the driver - and an interesting chat on the way round. This is at another switchback, anyone visiting Coromandel shouldn't miss this railway.

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As a postscript to the earlier posts, it seems a shame to overlook the tram system in poor old Christchurch. Following the two earthquakes almost 10 years ago, the city still has large areas that were once buildings and are now car parks.

The surviving tram system is essentially a tourist route that runs a circuit round the old centre of the city like a hop on, hop off bus – but with rather more style!  




On 07/01/2020 at 15:14, Nick C said:


Going by the descriptions on the levers and the snippet of diagram, it looks like the yellow one (presumably #1, off the left of the diagram) shows the driver that the home (#3) is clear, while the red one (#2) shows that the route is clear into the main platform (#3 and #4). I think there are some places in the UK where similar was done, but I'd expect that the outermost distant would have needed all the stop signals clear, not just the outermost.

Nick - Thanks for the analysis of the signals at Glenbrook. The explanation sounds good, but, for me, the real novelty was to see a real, red, fishtailed signal.  I think these disappeared in the UK with the grouping in 1923, when the Southern replaced the Brighton’s red distants with yellow ones. What I had never expected to see was both a red and a yellow fishtailed signal in the same immediate area!

Best wishes


Edited by burgundy
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On 08/01/2020 at 07:45, Michael Edge said:

We did the same in 2015 (don't tell Avis) ... anyone visiting Coromandel shouldn't miss this railway.




It's like a crazy 1:1 scale narrow gauge model railway. If we modellled it and showed it at an exhibition, hardly anyone would believe it was based on anything real. It reverses five times on the way up (and down). You need a good head for heights, as one of the reversing places is on trestles, hung out over a sheer drop with burger-all to stop you falling out and a long way down. But still a great experience, and the pottery is worth a visit as well, as is the whole of Coromandel.





Edited by KeithMacdonald
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Hi Eric,

Thanks for telling me about your thread - for the benefit of other readers, it transpires that we were also in New Zealand in November/December 2019 - our (my!) railway activities were fairly limited this time, but I manage to call in at the Bay of Islands railway at Kawakawa - the line runs down the middle of the main street which also happens to form part of State Highway 1 (main North - South road on North Island) - remincent of Weymouth Harbour Tramway or the Ffestiniog - Welsh Highland link in Porthmadog.

Well worth a visit when we are all able to travel again

Stay safe







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