Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A New Zealand Holiday Journey 1912


Original Locomotive Themed Stained Glass
Window, Dunedin Railway Station, opened in
1906. This window is believed to be the work
of the London trained  Robert Henry Fraser.
[Image from my own collection]

Now that the main New Zealand holiday season has almost passed I shall very soon be departing to the North Island on my own well deserved holiday. But while I can easily board a Boeing 737-300 jet and arrive in Auckland direct at the other end of the country in just one hour and forty-five minutes flying time it was not quite so simple for our intrepid forebears! So let me compare my mode of travel with that of around one hundred years ago.


Dunedin Railway Station, 1920's
[Source : National Library of New Zealand]

The transport "hub" of my home town Dunedin was the ever busy Railway Station. Built in 1904-06 in the Flemish Renaissance style with a Booking Hall decked out in Royal Doulton porcelain and 750,000 decorative Minton floor tiles, it is still, by anyone's standards, a most remarkable building.


Dunedin Railway Station Booking Hall / Foyer, opened 1906
Note the Royal Doulton Tiled Walls and Mosaic Floor
[From my own collection] 

Passengers, those farewelling travellers, and busy Railways Department staff crowd the exceedingly long main platform, in fact the longest of any railway station in New Zealand. Pillows can be hired from a counter facing the platform. It's a long tiring journey, we might need one! Rather humorously, you may hear Telegraph runner boys call out names and destinations for last minute urgent telegrams, often simply a ruse by the recipient to enlighten everyone, including newspaper reporters, who of 'importance' might be travelling on the train and where to! Such information was reported daily in the newspaper social columns.


A Royal Doulton Tiled Ticket Window and close-up
of the Frieze, Dunedin Railway Station, built 1906
[From my own collection]

First class carriages have seating with two on one side and one on the other, or second class with two aside and a central aisle. The wooden carriages are not compartmented as in Britain but may have a divide halfway along the carriage. Our 4-6-2 'Pacific' locomotive is a relatively new "A" Class de Glen Compound, being fitted with two high and low pressure cylinders and developing a credible 17,000 lbf [pounds of tractive effort or force].


A steam train has reached the summit at the wayside Mihiwaka Station after
having just emerged from the dreaded climb through the tunnel, circa 1920's.
[Source : National Library of New Zealand]

Our New Zealand Railways 'Limited Express' to Christchurch will travel 358 kilometres (222 miles) to reach its destination. But first we have to battle the challenging gradients, with countless twists and turns, as we negotiate the curves round the numerous attractive bays of Otago Harbour and then the decidedly hilly coastline north of Dunedin. Our train will require banking up to Mihiwaka then we shall continue to climb through the choking 1.3 km (three-quarters of a mile) long Mihiwaka Tunnel which is guaranteed to fill our carriage with thick acrid smoke and steam and cover the engine crew in sooty smuts. Slipping in the tunnel was a recurring fear of steam locomotive enginemen. But our own 'reward' will be beautiful sea and coastline vistas from high up on the hills. A further small tunnel, built just prior to 1900, at least spares us from travelling on a narrow "ledge" cut into a precipitous 400 foot rock cliff-face at the regulation speed of 10 miles per hour. We may be intrepid early 20th century travellers but we are certainly not foolhardy!


A steam train passing passing Waitati Presbyterian Church on the flat
by Blueskin Bay after descending from Mihiwaka but before the
equally difficult and twisting climb up to Seacliff. Pre 1909.
[From my own collection]

After again dropping right back down to sea level we still have the difficult and twisting climb up to Seacliff at 327 feet above sea level but with further magnificent coastal views. Seacliff will for all time be associated with the vast "Seacliff Lunatic Asylum" and we may be lucky to catch a glimpse of it's fanciful Gothic towers which masked the horrors within [my own Great-Aunt was a 'resident' at this time]. After further heavy tractive effort accompanied by the endless and back-breaking shovelling of coal into the insatiable firebox we shall finally reach the vast expanse of the Canterbury Plains and a relatively straight but rather long run onto the City of Christchurch. There are longer stops at Oamaru, Timaru and Ashburton, often including an engine change and / or watering stop, where we must make a dash for the refreshment rooms with their long counters and numerous aproned staff. Standard fare are meat pies, sandwiches, cakes and buns. We don't have long so our food and cup of tea, served in a thick Railways monogrammed and numbered china cup, needs to be taken back to our carriage. The "number" on the crockery will ensure it is delivered back to the right refreshment room although many pieces promptly 'disappeared' into passengers bags or were even used [literally] as 'flying saucers' out of carriage windows.


Christchurch Railway Station, pre 1910
Opened Dec 1877, Demolished pre 1960
[Source : National Library of New Zealand]

Our hot and smoky journey has thus far been assisted by numerous unseen railways staff in signal boxes and wayside stations who set the interlocking points and semaphore quadrant signals to safely guide our journey. We have also been oblivious to the frantic ringing of bells via the Railways own telegraph wires as "tablets" are exchanged between stations and passed to the Locomotive crew as they enter each new "section", being their guarantee that they have sole possession of the line ahead. We now finally make our evening arrival at the historic 1877 stone Railway Station in Christchurch. But those passengers for the North Island will have a further short journey on what is now essentially "The Boat Train".


A passenger train at the Christchurch Railway Station platform, 1910

With a whistle from the Guard and a wave to the engine crew, being the same engine and crew we have had since leaving Timaru, we now depart on the short 6.2 mile journey to Lyttleton where our train journey will finally terminate. We shall also pass through the 2.7 km (1.67 mile) single bore Port Hills Tunnel, having been constructed as early as 1867. Again we must put up with some smoke and steam nuisance in our carriage but fresh bracing sea air awaits! A small light-weight locomotive will haul our carriages right onto the No 2 wharf to meet the awaiting Union Steam Ship Company Inter-Island ferry.


Lyttleton Wharves, circa 1908
[Source : National Library of New Zealand]

With the mournful sounding of the ships steam horn a steam tug will assist us away from the wharf as we now depart the South Island for our overnight voyage north to the capital City of Wellington at the southern tip of the North Island.


The Union Steam Ship Company Inter-Island steamer
"T.S.S. Maori" (5,399 tons) at Wellington, 1910

We find our cabin, which if we are travelling alone, will most likely be shared if we have not paid a hefty single supplement. We make our evening departure through the harbour and past the heads as we reach the open sea. Cook Strait, which lies between the North and South Islands, is renowned as a stormy area of ocean and even at the best of times encounters very heavy swells. If the weather is rough our overnight passage will likely be a very uncomfortable one. A dining room will provide sustenance to those who are not already seasick or at least feeling somewhat "green".


A busy scene at Queen's Wharf, Wellington, circa 1910
The passenger terminal was just to the left of the image.    

As we make our late morning arrival through the relatively narrow channel past Barrett's Reef and into the land-locked and decidedly calmer Wellington Harbour we are, at least on a good day, struck by the beauty of the City spread out on the hills before us. Spectacularly situated on hills around this land-locked harbour, it is a sight to behold. But our journey is far from over!


The Picturesque Te Aro and Oriental Bay, Wellington, circa 1907
[From my own collection] 

From the ferry terminal we now make our connection with the New Zealand Government Railways [NZR] Limited Express for the very long - and tortuous - 635 kilometre (395 mile) journey north to Auckland. Our departure time from Lambton Station is 2pm with an arrival time in Auckland of 7.50am the following morning. We must not forget to hire another pillow! Our limited express will first be slowly banked up to Khandallah with its steep 1 in 40 ruling gradient before continuing north. Our train may initially be hauled by one the powerful American built Baldwin locomotives of the erstwhile Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company (W&MR) together with some of their distinctively "wild west" style clerestory roofed carriages.


Driver & Fireman of American Baldwin built Wellington & Manawatu
Railway Company 2-8-2 Loco WMR17 [later NZR Bc463], circa 1910.
And yes, Locomotive Engineers wore white ties!
[Source : National Library of New Zealand]

A dining car will accompany the express through to Ohakune, then will be detached and transferred to the south-bound express, so avoiding the heavy and challenging gradients of the central North Island section. Refreshment stops will however be made at a number of stations en-route. But hopefully the rhythmic "click-clack" of the wheels passing over each bolted length of rail will lull us off to sleep, at least for a short while!


An express from 1910 making a spirited dash at Kaiwharawhara just out of
Wellington, the while plume of steam from the banker engine visible at rear. 

The North Island Main Trunk Line only became fully operational in 1909, being described as an "engineering miracle", with numerous viaducts and tunnels including the world famous Raurimu Spiral. The latter solved the problem of crossing the steep slopes between the North Island Volcanic Plateau to the east and the valleys and gorges of the Whanganui River by spiralling the track. This overcame a 139 meter height difference thereby providing grades suitable for steam engines with a steady uncompensated grade of 1 in 50 (for a 50 foot carriage one end will be one foot higher than the other). Although 'as the crow flies' the distance is just 1¼ miles, we shall travel 4¼ miles around the spiral.


Plan of the World Famous Raurimu Spiral
[From my own collection]

We shall however be traversing this section in the dark and most likely oblivious to the peripatetic spiralling around hillsides other than the squealing of the metal flanges as the engine labours hard round the tight curves together with the sound of the brakes being firmly applied as required. As we are descending the spiral we shall not be subjected to quite the same impressive sound of a labouring locomotive and banker engine with the heavy beat of almost 'volcanic' exhausts on full regulator and late cut-off bouncing off the deep cuttings and forested hillsides. But if we do lift the heavy canvas window shutter and peer outside we may just catch a glimpse of the engine passing under us, almost at right angles directly below our train.


A busy scene at Frankton Railway Junction where the Main Trunk
Railway branches off to Rotorua, Cambridge and Thames, 1910 

Continuing our run north through the rich Waikato farming and dairying country we stop at the busy Frankton Junction rail-yards at Hamilton (an early morning 20 minute refreshment room stop) where our engine will again be changed, before finally reaching the first suburban station on the outskirts of Auckland at daybreak. Once through the Parnell tunnel we continue to drop down the grade into the rather congested Queen Street Railway Station in the very centre of the bustling metropolis of Auckland, convenient for trams and for ferry connections across the harbour including the outlying islands of the Hauraki Gulf.


A busy lower Queen Street Auckland looking north. The entrance to
the Railway Station is just to the right. Taken Pre 1910.
[From my own collection] 

We are finally at our destination but our exhausting journey north has taken fully two days and two nights of constant travel. So the next time you climb aboard an air-liner and feel frustrated at being squashed into a confined space for an hour or two, please spare a thought for our intrepid forebears. But really, if you had the time, which was more of an adventure?


Queen Street Auckland looking south, circa 1912
[From my own collection]

Much of the rail journey I have featured can still be experienced today by tourist orientated services, the spectacular scenic section north of Dunedin by either "The Seasider" being locomotive hauled using a mixture of heritage 1915-1920's and refurbished 1940's carriages running to Palmerston, or the plush "Dunedin Silver Fern" railcar running to Waitati by Blueskin Bay (shown on the above postcard). Both services are operated by the Taieri Gorge Railway. The highly scenic rail journey between Wellington and Auckland can be experienced on the brand-new daylight "Northern Explorer" service [click for hyper-links].


Note : This blog is as accurate as my resources will allow but I would welcome any constructive alterations to facts or figures. Thank you.


Bibliography :

- Images are only from my own collection where specifically noted. These may be freely copied provided a link is given back to this page.
- Other images have been taken from various Internet historical sources which are in the public domain.

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