The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 7 (November 1, 1928)
A Descriptive and Historical Story of the North Island Main Trunk Railway
The Upper Wanganui region was famous among the Maoris for the size and quality of its timber, and especially of the totara. The many large canoes used on the river right down to Wanganui Heads were usually procured near Taumarunui, at such places as the Pungapunga River, where the people were expert in bushwork and canoe making.
Some of the station names here are fragrant of the forest. Piriaka refers to the “clinging bush vine” (the place where “the woodbine twineth”). Raurimu is “red pine leaf.”
Looping the Loop at Raurimu.
With the ascent from the riverside to the tableland above Raurimu the traveller's interest is diverted to the highly skilful engineering work entailed in the construction of the line. In thirty miles run from the Taumarunui Flat the train climbs 2,160ft. to Waimarino (National Park) station. The steepest part is the range that rises immediately above Raurimu Station. To surmount this an ingenious spiral was designed; this was the work of Mr. Holmes, Inspecting Engineer of the Public Works Department (later Engineer-in-Chief). The line is run in an ascending spiral, a complete circle and two loops, with two tunnels. The fashion in which this mountain railway ties knots in itself is rather puzzling on first experience.
The Tongariro National Park.
Ohakune town and Rangataua sawmilling village are places from which Mount Ruapehu is frequently climbed. The summit of the mountain is only about twelve miles airline distant. As we go eastward and emerge from the shelter of the part-wooded hills on to the tussock plain there are some very splendid pictures of the lone volcanic alps in their garment of snow and ice. It is rather strange to remember that that ice-pinnacled peak holds a hot lake on its summit, a lake which sometimes becomes a geyser on a grand scale. The Whangaehu River, a highly mineralised stream which we cross, has its source just below this crater-lake, and it is the subterranean soakage from the sulphurous tarn that gives it its peculiar colour and taste.
The Rangitikei Valley.
Waiouru (“River of the West”), 242 miles from Auckland, and 185 from Wellington, a page 40 bleak, wind-swept tussock region in the midst of a wide country devoted to sheep grazing on large runs, is the highest point on the Main Trunk line, 2,660ft. As we descend by a winding route towards the great upper valley of the Rangitikei the landscape becomes more varied, with forest and hill and stream, and settlement is less scattered. A bright little river, the Hautapu, keeps close company with the rails for some miles as it cascades down to join the Rangitikei. Of historic interest there is little in this part of the country, but the story of pioneering endeavour is plainly written on the face of the land. Taihape (266 miles), which we presently reach, was a few years ago a typical bush township, walled in by a vast dark curtain of heavy timber; often flooded rivers surged through deep ravines. Now it is a brisk modern town of big business and considerable wealth, and the forest around it has given place to well-grassed farms. The deeply cut valley of the Upper Rangitikei is now seen on our left; the sharply carved white cliffs are in high contrast to the wooded and grassed country. There is a fine sweeping bend of precipice, a great natural amphi-theatre, with the rapidwhitened river coursing along the ravine 200ft below the line. The Rangitikei has done some mighty rock-carving in its day. The green terrace below our line on which the Town of Mangaweka stands—it was called “Three Log Whare” in the days of its rough infancy—indicates the level of the strong river at one period of its history. This much-broken country through which we wind on our way to the plains is a great wool and mutton-producing land; dairy farming, too, brings the monthly cheque to many a family. Big engineering works are features in this region of sudden ravines and steep ridges. The principal one is the Makohine Viaduct, a bridge of steel latticework towers set on concrete piers; it is 750ft in length and 240ft above the stream in the gorge.
The towns of Hunterville, Marton (the junction with other railway lines), and Feilding, each marking a distinct stage in provincial progress, break the journey through a very kindly, wealthy, pleasant countryside. Many a comfortable country house rests among its gardens and orchards and shelter trees, in the midst of the best of pasture land.
The Manawatu Gorge.
Palmerston North (339 miles from Auckland and 87 miles from Wellington) the largest inland town in New Zealand—a spacious and beautiful provincial centre—is fast attaining the dignity of a city. The only fault one has to find with this wide-spreading place of fine buildings and shady parks and bright flower gardens is its inappropriate and meaningless name. “Manawatu” has often been suggested as the fitting name for the town, and it would become it exceedingly well. As the metropolis of the wealthy farming district of the Manawatu Plains, it could bear no more convenient and euphonious name.
There is much topographical and historical interest in the district traversed on the eightyseven miles run from Palmerston North to Wellington. The southern peaks of the Ruahine page 41 Range of mountains and the northern part of the Tararua Ranges are in sight on the left. Through a deep gorge between their terminals comes the Manawatu River, which we presently cross. The Manawatu, wide-bedded and running in several streams, is an example of a once useful waterway ruined by deforestation along its banks. When the settlers first came into this bush-covered country the Manawatu was navigable by large canoes from its mouth right up through the gorge by which it breaks out from the Hawke's Bay plain.
Farming on these alluvial levels becomes more intensive as we run southward, with the part forested Tararua Ranges now more close and looming bold and blue. By way of variety there is to be seen the great flax-growing swampy plain of Makerua, where the cultivation and milling of the native phormium tenax engage capital and labour on a large scale.
This Manawatu section of the North Island railways was originally constructed and managed by a company formed in Wellington. The memory of one prominent commercial pioneer is preserved in the name of Levin, the principal town of the lower Manawatu country. Before the railway was built, traffic up the coast was by coach, and the route ran for many miles along the ocean beach between Paekakariki and the mouth of the Manawatu. The numerous rivers and streams were forded at their mouths.
Historic Isles of Horowhenua.
As the train speeds into Levin a glimmering water-sheet is seen on the seaward side of the town. This is Lake Horowhenua, a shallow islet-dotted freshwater lagoon, two miles and a quarter long and a mile wide. Most of the small islands which it contains are artificial—the work of members of the Muaupoko tribe a century ago. Here they had hoped to be safe from the famous warrior Rauparaha (the “Maori Napoleon”) and his musketeers; but those little places of refuge proved to be isles of death. After his conquest of Horowhenua the fierce Rauparaha shut up scores of captives on the islet of Namu-iti, near the north end of the lake, and killed some from day to day, as required for food. To the old-time settlers that islet was known as “Ruaparaha's stockyard.”
(To Be Continued)