NewZealandAtoZ reviews; Weka Pass Railway, Waipara, North Canterbury
The Weka Pass railway is a historic rural railway using both vintage steam and diesel-electric locomotives on 12.8 km (2nd longest running steam engine trip in NZ) of scenic line through the unique limestone beauty of the Weka Pass out of Waipara, North Canterbury.
The Weka Pass Railway is a totally voluntary organisation and was founded in 1983 to restore, maintain and operate the section of the start of the Waiau branch that was closed in 1978. Its members are dedicated to the preservation of New Zealand's rail heritage.
It operates trains over the track section using its fleet of heritage rail vehicles such as two DG class diesel-electric locomotives (made in 1956), an A class steam locomotive (built in 1909) and heritage passenger carriages.
The Weka Pass train starts at the Glenmark railway station, Waipara, North Canterbury, about 40 minutes north of Christchurch, not far off state highway one. We went on a sunny public holiday and looked forward to the full smoke and noise experience, we got it.
The day we were there a group of mountain bikers had just arrived after a bike ride, lunch at the Wapira Springs Winery, they then biked the small distance to the station. They took their bikes on the train and biked off into the sunset at the Waikari end of the line, what a great way to spend a day.
We went into the historic station and received our ticket. At this stage you can also purchase your snacks and souvenirs while having a look at the history on the walls. We stepped out onto the platform to see the train returning from the lunch time run. A good amount of people disembarked, the train then turned around on the human powered turntable (FRONZ infustructure award for Glenmark Turntable) and we then got into one of the newly restored carriages (which you could see a lot of time, hard work and money went into). After the train started we walked through to the open carriage to experience the full noise, sights, smoke and movement. The weather was good so you could enjoy the outdoors. After waving at people in their cars on the road and passing “Frog Rock” you arrive at Waikari where you can visit the craft shops and enjoy a picnic lunch, then catch the train back to Waipara.
We really enjoyed our time going back in time. The volunteers were all very helpful, and you could see that the line is in good hands with the passion the members show.
At $25 for an adult and $10 for a child’s return ticket the trip was well priced.
The railway runs every 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month, every Sunday in January and most public holidays.
Trains will usually be hauled by 1909 built "A" Class "Pacific" steam locomotive number 428, the only one of its type still operational.
If you enjoyed your time on the train why not support the society and become a member for only $35. Organisations like this need our support to help preserve the history of New Zealand. You could also charter the train which is a great way for a business to spend a day out.
History of the line
The Waiau Branch was a branch line railway in the northern Canterbury region of New Zealand's South Island. Known as the Great Northern Railway for its first few decades of life, the Waiau Branch was seen as part of a main line north but was ultimately superseded by a coastal route. Opened in stages from 1882 to 1919, the line closed in 1978 but a portion has been retained as the Weka Pass Railway.
A union ban led to the track of the Waiau Branch remaining in place for a number of years after the line's closure, which gave locals and railway enthusiasts enough time to form the Weka Pass Railway and preserve the first 13 km of the branch line. The rest of the track to Waiau has now been removed, though this was not completed until 1991, and a number of remnants remain on the abandoned route. Much of the line's formation is still visible, and a part of it has been used as a walkway in Waikari, though it does not connect with the Weka Pass Railway's terminus in the town. A few station shelters and goods sheds have been relocated for use on farms near the line's former route, and other relics such as loading banks, station platforms, and pieces of rail can be found at the site of some old stations
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