There’s jubilation in the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust (BOIVRT) camp. After almost two years, construction repairs on Long Bridge at Taumarere, the longest curved railway bridge in the southern hemisphere, is finally finished! The last pair of piles were replaced in late October. Now, once the bridge is signed off as being structurally sound, and tracks and safety barriers brought up to standard, there’s no impediment, other than funding, to the BOIVRT’s long-held ambition to take the tourist train the whole 11km along the railway corridor from the main highway in Kawakawa to Opua. The line, converted from bush tramway to metal track in 1870 to carry coal from the Kawakawa mines to the wharf at the once-thriving town of Taumarere, was extended to Opua in 1884. In 1925 this oldest track in the North Island became part of the North Island line, including the first passenger route, until the Railways pulled the plug in the early 1990s.
Trust chairman Johnson Davis recognises that the extension project will need to be staged due to the costs involved, “but this means ‘Opua – here we come!’”, he enthuses. It’s a far cry from 2003, when Allan Dick interviewed then general manager Murray Third for NZTODAY. Murray’s left the district now, but when he said at the time “this line ain’t gonna close”, he was quite right. In 2003 the short-term goal was to have jigger rides in Kawakawa itself, with steam engine Gabriel pulled up the street as a static display from time to time. That goal’s been well exceeded, with the trains now forming an integral part of Kawakawa community and celebratory events. Years of struggle, hard work and determination by trustees Mike Bradshaw, Frank Leadley, Johnson and others have seen the vision to have train trips to Opua come closer to reality but there’s still a long haul ahead. At present, regular weekend and holiday train trips run from Kawakawa to the small, historic Taumarere station, 3km away, and an open carriage has been converted to carry cycles for the many cyclists enjoying the train trip as part of the Coast to Coast cycleway experience.
First stage of the development will be taking the train to Lone Cow, named after a sole bovine that used to graze near the track. It’s an unprepossessing area situated midway between Kawakawa and Opua, but at least it’s got a passing loop and platform.
And adding to Johnson’s delight, one more box has been ticked recently, following yet another long and costly process: BOIVRT has now been granted resource consent to construct a new station building and cycleway complex in an area known as the Colenso Triangle at the Opua end of the track.
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