The International Steam Pages


Steam on South Island, New Zealand, 2015 Part 1

James Waite writes about a brief visit to New Zealand in October 2015, this is the first part.

Click here for the second part of Steam on South Island, New Zealand, 2015.

Click here for an introduction to operational Steam in New Zealand.

In many ways this report acts as an update to my own visit to New Zealand way back in 2002. Click here for an introduction.


You may enjoy these photos from a brief visit to New Zealand two weeks ago. In its own way waiting for an occasion when there would be interesting steam operation all week and finding out info about it was as challenging as corresponding with the Taiwanese but it was well worth while in the end.

The first seven of these photos are at the Plains Railway in the outskirts of Ashburton, about 45 minutes' drive south from Christchurch airport. I arrived on Monday last week. Mondays aren't normally running days but this was the Labour Day holiday and so the railway was in operation. The working locomotive was 2-4-2 K88 "Washington" (Rogers 2454/1877), the first of eight of these exotic-looking locomotives which were introduced in 1877 to operate the through trains between Christchurch and Dunedin when the line was completed in September 1878. This was one of several of these locomotives dumped in a river as bank protection and its reconstruction must have been a major undertaking. The seventh photo shows another of the class, K94 (Rogers 2470/1878) still in the condition in which it was recovered from the river.

The Ja 4-8-2 here is 1260 (NZR Hillside 383/1952), the last locomotive to work a steam train through Ashburton at the end of steam in 1971. It's pretty well in working order though needs minor attention to its tubes before it can run again.

A64 (Dubs 651/1873) is one of twelve of these tiny 0-4-0Ts built in 1873 for branch line work in Canterbury, the district around Christchurch. When NZ decided to adopt 3ft 6ins as its standard gauge in 1870 it also went for a very light axle loading and restricted loading gauge, something which the railway has regretted ever since. Numerous small locomotives, effectively light railway ones, were bought and most of these only lasted in NZR service a few years before it became clear that much larger locomotives were needed for main line work and most of the small ones were sold off for industrial use. Here many enjoyed long lives and 90 years later this proved a blessing for the country's preservation movement. Four A class locomotives are preserved.

The next two photos are of (second) A class Pacific no 428 (Price 31/1909) on the Weka Pass Railway at Waipara, another line running because of the public holiday. This is a very scenic line. It would have been better of course to have caught the outward train with the locomotive running forwards but this would have meant missing the 2-4-2 at Ashburton. The A class were NZ's first Pacifics and were built as 4-cylinder de Glehn compounds. They were rebuilt as simples in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

The next four photos are of Ja class 4-8-2 1274 (NZR Hillside 397/1956), the last steam locomotive to enter NZR service and also the last steam locomotive built at Dunedin, and Double Fairlie "Josephine" (VF 637/1872), the first 3ft 6ins gauge locomotive to run in the country and, incidentally, the only surviving British-built Double Fairlie outside Portmadoc. Both these locomotives are at the Otago Early Settlers Museum in Dunedin, just along the road from the station. They are both boxed in in glass though "Josephine" is now accessible in the museum's new entrance hall, albeit still surrounded by glass panels to prevent access too close to the locomotives. I'd been forewarned that night time photography was the best way of dealing with reflections etc since the locomotives are floodlit from within the glass enclosures. I'd bought a polarising filter to help reduce the reflections further. This probably worked up to a point though it didn't deal with the reflections completely.

Next are two photos at Dunedin station, a very ornate Edwardian affair.

Finally there are some photos of Steam Incorporated's steam special on the hilly main line between Dunedin and Oamaru. I hadn't heard of SI until recently but they're certainly a good operator given that they can produce a set of genuinely old coaches painted in the correct shade of dark red - most impressive. Unfortunately they are saying that this may well have been their last tour of the South Island because of regulatory issues with KiwiRail, the state railway operator, and limited capacity on the only train ferry still running between Wellington and Picton. The locomotive is Ab class Pacific no 608 "Passchendaele" (NZR Addington 163/1915). This used to be the NZR's WW1 memorial locomotive and returned to service last year after a long restoration at SI's base at Paekakariki near Wellington.

Click here for the second part of Steam on South Island, New Zealand, 2015.


Rob Dickinson

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