The first North Island railway line celebrated at Kawakawa with steam trips on Seymour

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Seymour, a wood-burning locomotive on loan from the Whangārei Steam and Model Railway Club, gets carried away at Kawakawa station. Photo / Peter de Graaf

A Steam Weekend in Kawakawa celebrates the 150th anniversary of the North Island’s first railway.

However, a challenge unknown to the operators of this first railway – which used horses to pull coal wagons on wooden rails – forced yesterday’s steam tours to be canceled.

The problem was bureaucratic rather than mechanical, with some aspects of the paperwork authorizing the steam trips not being made to the satisfaction of the New Zealand transport agency.

The Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust said steam runs will be operational today and in the meantime its four daily diesel train runs are operating normally.

Alan McGunnigle of the Whangārei Steam and Model Railway Club at the controls of Seymour, a wood-burning steam locomotive.  Photo / Peter de Graaf
Alan McGunnigle of the Whangārei Steam and Model Railway Club at the controls of Seymour, a wood-burning steam locomotive. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The trust, however, managed to unveil a replica of the first passenger car used in the North Island and take it on a short maiden voyage. The 12-seater car, which was named Moa, resembles a car that was put into service at Kawakawa in 1871.

An old freight car chassis has been lengthened while the bodywork has been built from scratch through several hundred hours of volunteer labor since 2010.

Vintage Rail Trust Members, left to right, Johnson Davis, Mike
Vintage Rail Trust members, left to right, Johnson Davis, Mike “The Train” Bradshaw and Denis Hewitt on Moa’s maiden voyage. Photo / Peter de Graaf

With the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust’s own steam locomotive, Gabriel, in pieces and awaiting a new boiler, the Whangārei Steam and Model Railway Club loaned it to Seymour for the weekend.

Seymour is a 1955 wood-fired Peckett steam engine originally used in the Portland cement plant. It was the last steam engine imported to New Zealand.

Rail Trust steam guru Mike Bradshaw said the original railroad was built by the Bay of Islands Coal Company and ran along Gillies St to Derrick Landing, where the coal was transferred to barges for the remainder of the journey to the port of Opua.

Former railway administrators and volunteers who built a replica of Kawakawa's first passenger car.  Photo / Peter de Graaf
Former railway administrators and volunteers who built a replica of Kawakawa’s first passenger car. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The horses were replaced by a steam engine and the wooden rails by steel about a year later.

It was the North Island’s first railway and would have been the first in New Zealand without a railway that opened in Canterbury three weeks earlier, he said.

Diesel train trips to Taumarere will depart Kawakawa at 10:45 a.m., noon, 1:15 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Short steam trips with Seymour and Moa will work in between. The railway restoration shed is also open to visitors.


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