By Gurbir Singh:
Hidden in the ‘heart of gold’ town, Waihi is Goldfields Railway’s heritage train steeped in history. Goldfields Railway connects Waihi to Waikino – the eastern end of the spectacular Karangahake Gorge.
Many unwary travellers just head straight to Waihi on SH2’s windy road or stop at Karangahake Gorge and miss out a travel back in time in dated, restored carriages.
The nostalgic ride on the heritage railway carriages takes you through beautiful pastoral land as the train chugs slowly between these two stations.
The train is hauled by a diesel engine and its three well-preserved passenger carriages date from 1911, 1913, and 1931. There is an open carriage for passengers- built in 1993 on a 1911 chassis, to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. There is a wagon for transporting bikes also.
The 30-minute, 6 kms trip travels along the original rail bed alongside the Ohinemuri River with views of fabulous scenery, and some of the mining operation historical sites, not visible from SH2.
The train route also includes New Zealand’s only private railway bridge over a state highway.
The train operates over a section of track of what was the East Coast Main Trunk Line that stretched from Auckland to Taneatua, south of Te Puke.
The Goldfields Railway Inc. – a registered charity, was formed in 1980 and continues to preserve this part of the rail heritage and other railway historical artifacts.
“We have a dedicated team of local volunteers- including drivers, guards who help us run the train,” says its Operations Manager, Jucey King.
The day NewsViews caught up with him, King was in the engine training a new driver.
Formerly with Kiwi Rail, King has been working with Goldfields Railway for the past three years, and has the overall responsibility of smooth functioning of the entire operations.
The costs of running the train are met from sale of tickets, but for special projects, the Society relies on grants. Family and SuperGold card holders enjoy discounted fares.
“Weekends and school holidays are our busiest times. Today, for example, there were approx 190 passengers, but week days are comparatively less busy. At times we cater to large group bookings on working days that compensate the numbers.”
People can also charter the entire train for a private function, or reserve a carriage for their group. In late 2020, the Waihi Beach Menz Shed, for example, had a fund raising trip with 30 people on the train.
As excited kids wave from open train carriage onto passing cars and drivers toot, the train guard, Barry says, “Seeing a smile on children’s faces and opportunity to interact with new people every time is what I really enjoy.”
Barry has been volunteering for Goldfields Railway since October 2020 and ensures safety of passengers before giving a green signal to driver to go. He also checks tickets and counts passengers on board to tally with tickets issued.
Waihi Station is the last ex-NZR station to retain its original buildings and is preserved and protected by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Rail Heritage Trust.
Like most New Zealand Railway buildings, including the Dunedin Railway Station, Waihi station was designed by architect, Gorge Troup.
Station’s facade of antiquity is heightened by placement of old suit cases and trunks on a luggage trolley and augmented by an old hanging clock on the platform.
The Waikino station was not built on the site, but was formerly Paeroa’s station and later shifted to Waikino in 1990. The station has a beautiful cafe and is a link with a walkway through the Karangahake Gorge and other local attractions.
There is immense scope of potential growth of the Goldfields Railway as a domestic tourism destination, and the rising number of passengers is an indication that this heritage relic will be preserved in days to come.