The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
More Travels in the Far North of New Zealand,
October 1973

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.


In my previous Northland tales I've looked at two of the 'goods with car attached' services that were running in 1973 (the Otiria to Okaihau and Whangarei to Opua trains). There were also another two and my intention was to ride them all over the course of a weeks holiday. The one that needed the most planning was the service between Wellsford and Helensville. Trains 30 and 33 ran Friday only and if I missed either it was going to be a long wait. Train 30 was scheduled to leave Wellsford at 11.50am and most likely took between two and three hours to trundle the less than sixty kilometres down to Helensville. I then had to hang round until the return left at 6.00pm.

I reached Wellsford half an hour before train time but there was no sign of either a train waiting or carriage to be attached. On enquiring I learnt the train was still to arrive from points north and that a carriage was no longer available having been sent elsewhere some weeks previously. The service hadnít been cancelled though and I was more than welcome to travel in the guards van which was fine by me. Two trains crossed at Wellsford, my south bound one went into the loop, so to reach the van it was a case of clamber over the couplings of the train in the main. Bet that wouldn't be allowed today!

I only took one photo of train 30 and that was as Da1472 was getting underway from Helensville after dropping its sole passenger off. According to the Quail Atlas the service wasnít cancelled until 30 March 1975 so I wonder if a carriage ever made it back onto the train again.

Later in the afternoon another Da headed south. A bit of a waste of motive power for only one wagon and a guards van!

The next movement of any interest was Dg769 arriving with train 53, the Monday to Friday passenger, from Auckland. Tagging along behind are an interesting array of carriages: firstly a carvan, then a 56' steel followed by a number of wooden ones. After stowing the carriages in the sidings the Dg coupled onto the few wagons plus van that was train 33 and shortly after six was off to Wellsford.

Next day, further north past Dargaville, I looked at some of the remains of the Donnelly's Crossing Branch. This would have been a good spot for a movie clip but I was fourteen years too late as the last train had run back in 1959. The track bed was easy to follow most of the way especially when on an embankment as in this shot taken in the vicinity of Babylon.

What looks to be a very lightweight bridge crossing over the Kaihu River.

On the original slide, I can just make out the name 'Kaihu', in white paint, on the side of the station building on the right. From early pictures it seems as if the commercial heart of the village fronted onto the railway line. By the time of my visit there wasn't much left to see: the station building and alongside what may have been a store.

End of the line at Donnelly's Crossing with the station and goods shed still in existence. I wonder how much longer these buildings and those at Kaihu survived.

A few days later I was back travelling on a working railway again. Here Da1413 leads train 1048, the Monday to Friday goods with car attached, through the street running section at Kawakawa (for more on this line see Wilson's earlier tale).

Whilst travelling on train 1048 the guard asked what I was doing the following day. I replied heading down to Maungaturoto to travel on the mixed to Whangarei. Would I like to go to Dargaville instead? After Iíd said yes I was told the departure time: I canít be precisely sure after all these years but 4.30am seems to be a likely possibility.

It was still dark when we got away but the sun put in an appearance by the time Waiotira Junction was reached. Train engine today was English Electric Dg769 which made for a pleasant change after the continual Da diet I'd been experiencing. As far as Waiotira the van ran behind the loco and now the Dg would be turned before rejoining the train on the other end for the run on to Dargaville. The wagons on the right were also Dargaville bound having been left by a northbound train during the night.

Once turned 769 went about the task of adding the extra tonnage to the train. A closer look at the picture shows it's uplifting about half the rake: this must have been sufficient to reach the maximum allowable load for the onward journey. Sitting in the middle of a Dg cab the driver was reliant on his mirrors or instructions from his assistant and any time I saw one shunting it was always done very slowly and carefully. I donít think the crews were overly keen on them as shunt engines. To the right of the photo the Waiotira compound: the living quarters of single men stationed here. Although looking neat and tidy living so close to the main line must have been a sleep depriving experience.

Journeys end at Dargaville and Dg769 has been turned and shut down leaving the yard Tr to shunt the train. The crew is off having their break before joining a Road Services bus heading for Whangarei. Another crew would then come out from Whangarei in the afternoon to run the return train. I was told that if sufficient traffic had been offering at Dargaville, and enough wagons had been left behind at Waiotira, we would have run a train back to Waiotira. There the crew changeover would have taken place using a taxi. Money was no object on the old NZR obviously! The freshly painted stop block at the end of the filled in bay platform caught my eye and I wondered was this where the Donnellyís Crossing trains had left from. Someoneís attempt to maintain the tradition of the railway station garden, along with the huts and Dg in the background made for an attractive photo.

And that was the last train of my Northland wanderings. I never did get around to travelling on the Maungaturoto to Whangarei goods with car attached but then again I hadnít travelled in the carriages on the other trains either......I was either in the guards van or on the loco.

Surprisingly the Dargaville branch still exists and I think is still being usedÖ..how much longer it manages to survive nobody knows but I feel sure itís living on borrowed time in today's New Zealand.


Rob Dickinson

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