The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 1 (April 1, 1938.)
Spinning Wheels — The First Public Passenger Train Over the New Napier-Wairoa Section
Railway construction! How this marks the dawn of a new era for a country and the change from waste to productiveness for many a tract of land. The ceremony of opening a new line, of joining up the last section to weld together the great ribbons of steel across a country, has been performed many times in New Zealand, and it has always been an occasion for rejoicing. However, there is an even more momentous event in the history of a railway than the completion of the track—it is the running of the first public passenger train over the new line. In that train is embodied the fruition of all the plans and labours which go into the building of a railway, and the perfection of the work which has been undertaken.
So then, when on Saturday the 5th of February, 1938, a passenger train left Hastings to travel for the first time to Wairoa in the Northern Hawke's Bay, a distance of just over 90 miles, it was small wonder that the train was crowded with eager excursionists.
After a smart run to Napier, some twelve miles from Hastings, the train reaches the former railhead. Here an equally large crowd is waiting to entrain. Eight cars are added, and these are filled to capacity. The train, consisting of two locomotives, sixteen cars, and carrying 508 passengers, steams out of Napier a few moments after eight a.m. The interest of the passengers increases, for the train is now on the new line, and every passing vista is viewed intently. All are immediately reminded of the importance of the occasion, for at many points along the line there is a group of waving figures, and handkerchiefs are well employed in answering the greetings.
The first few miles of the line are flat, running beside the West Shore of Napier. The train pulls up at a wayside halt or two, to take on passengers, and at each of these there is a gay throng out to see it by. The richness of the country is at once apparent, for the rail begins to ascend the Esk River Valley, and, as the long chain of cars winds beside the river, many green and fertile farms are seen. The scenic value of the line will be a great asset. Beautiful pastoral and river views are obtained at this point. Past Eskdale, where the train again halts for passengers, the line winds steeper and steeper up the side of the valley which soon becomes a gorge.
One is then impressed with the engineering of the line, and as the train ascends, the river dwindles below and the hills stand out boldly. Electric light pylons straddle the peaks, and tiny homesteads nestle in the river reaches. Sixteen cars up this winding grade is a real load, but the locomotives have their task well in hand and the train goes steadily upward. After entering two tunnels the line changes direction, and then is reached one of the great scenic portions of the route. Plateau and headland, tilted blocks and peaks, all are strewn about indiscriminately, and the mountain boundary of the province is seen clearcut against the western horizon. The motor road from Napier to Lake Taupo is seen, far off and level with the railway, amid the tumbled mass of hills.
The excellent construction of the line in this difficult mountain section earns the deepest admiration.
The summit of the line is at Waikoau and here the train halts while the engines take water. The platform is filled with a merry-making crowd. Seemingly the entire population of the hamlet is out to watch our passing. How much larger will this district become when the benefits of the railway come into operation. Spinning down the other side, the mountain section is rapidly left behind and the first viaduct on the new line is crossed. This reminds everyone of the thrill ahead, namely the crossing of that great span, the Mohaka Viaduct, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Opening out in front are the rolling plains of Hawke's Bay, plains which will become doubly productive with the advent of the rail.
At Tutira we again halt, for here is a construction camp, and a waving crowd fills the platform. Splendid rolling, grazing country is on all sides, and even in late summer the pastures are a verdant green. A tiny tarn gleams from a grove of trees. On we roar again, the long train snaking past homesteads nestling in the trees, while the sheep country stretches into the hazy distance. At every point it is the same. Waving groups of figures, the cheerful smiling faces, happy because the railway which they have watched growing before them is at last open for traffic.
The train flashes through Kahika and roars across another viaduct. It is still on the down grade and the cars whirl round the curves in a flurry of waving handkerchiefs and peering faces. Here is passed another construction camp, and the men who made the railway possible wave a greeting amid hearty cheers as we pass. Putorino is the next stopping place, and the same rolling sheep country, groves of trees and green crop lands are in evidence. After crossing a viaduct just out of Putorino, the train begins to climb once more and passes through a long cutting covered with native shrubs which thresh and ply in the draught as the train passes. At the end of the cutting is a long tunnel, and from it one passes into another tract of that undulating pasture land so typical of this part of the province.
Some more downhill bends past page 55 manuka clad slopes, and the train comes to the edge of a great rift in the valley floor. It is the Mohaka River. Everyone stirs with excitement, and as the train rolls down another descent all eyes are straining for a glimpse of the mighty structure of the viaduct ahead. The locomotives whistle triumphantly, the train brakes hard on a bend, and there is the viaduct in front. The bottom of the gorge is invisible until one is actually on the bridge, and then, looking directly down out of the carriage window, a marvellous perspective of bright red girders stretching down for three hundred feet wheels slowly across the line of vision. The deep gorge stretches away to a bend, and a tiny road bridge, together with a cluster of absurdly small buildings, lie in the bottom beside the river. The train rumbles off the viaduct and stops to let the breathless excursionists view the giant as it straddles from brink to brink. Then away it goes once more past a construction camp, and commences the long descent to Wairoa. The line seems peppered with viaducts, and soon is crossed another Mohaka in miniature, with a vista of bush clad mountains before the train plunges into a cutting.
Still the undulating sheep country continues, and a glimpse of the sea is had at Te Hatau. Through another tunnel, and the valley begins to widen out toward the mouth of the Wairoa River. A finer river plain could not be had, and the pasture and crop lands divided by belts of trees wheel past as the train advances.
Now we are steaming into Wairoa. Motor cars full of waving citizens spin along beside the train, and the station yard is black with people. Cars hoot and hats and handkerchiefs fly as the long train brakes to a stop. It is immediately surrounded by an excited throng as the people swarm over this their first real train. The outward journey is complete.
Wairoa with its river is a picturesque spot. The most delightful scene is obtained by driving into the town across the motor bridge, turning to the left, and travelling along the main street with the busy shops on one side and the green banked river on the other.
The railway will shortly be completed to Gisborne, that centre of Northern Hawke's Bay, and Wairoa will then form an important and evergrowing stopping place on this railway route.
At six-fifteen the same evening the train draws out of Wairoa station on the return trip to Napier and Hastings. A dense cheering crowd is present, and the hooting of the multitude of motor cars almost drowns the roaring of the engines’ whistles as the train gathers speed. As before, the train is followed for miles by cars full of waving excited citizens until, gradually drawing ahead, it leaves the environs of Wairoa.
Although on the return trip the country is seen in a different perspective, one great feature is still apparent. This is the very marked fertility of the land. Also, there is something somehow different about the scenery in this province, and to anyone wishing to go on an unusual rail trip, they will find their wishes fulfilled on this section of line. The low rays of the setting sun now turn our train to silver and its smoke to star-dust, and as this is the time of day most conducive to melody, various groups throughout the long train commence community singing. All the way back the stations are crowded with spectators, and lines of waving, cheering figures are silhouetted on the edges of the cuttings. Even when it has grown quite dark, and the leading engine's headlight pierces the night and the car lights dance along the flying banks, they are there. Travel assumes a triumphant note in the darkness, and Napier is reached almost before it is expected. Here half the excursionists detrain and the remainder are soon roared on to Hastings. So ends the historic excursion to Wairoa, the herald of a regular train service throughout Northern Hawke's Bay and the usher-in of more prosperous times for that community.
Let us consider a few of the advantages of the new railway in this part of the country. Easier and cheaper transport of fertilisers will bring the improvement of pastures within the reach of all farmers. Quicker and cheaper transport of stock will increase the output of the sheep stations. Fruitgrowers will find that the faster transportation enables them to consign their produce to the furthest market without risk of loss. With the two main occupations of the province being thus catered for, the production of the land cannot help but increase. In addition, will come all the other benefits inseparable from railway transport. Ease of communication will enlarge its cities and increase its population. Greater intercourse with the rest of the country will broaden the opportunities of its people.