Sunday, 25 April 2010

Remnants of the Little River Branch Today

The branch line to Little River joined the Southbridge Branch at Lincoln and headed out onto Banks Peninsula, finishing up at the Little River township near Lake Forsyth. Like the Southbridge line it was very easy to build running through mainly flat open country with easy curves and gradients. The first section to Birdlings Flat opened 1882 and the remainder in 1886. Like the Southbridge branch, it closed in 1962.

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The Little River Branch has been reopened to public access as a rail trail between Motukarara and the terminus. Although the rail trail is being extended back to Christchurch, it follows mostly a different route from the railway north-west of Motukarara.
We begin our exploration at Lincoln. The station yard is no longer accessible, having been developed for housing. It is therefore necessary to make a start by observing this area at the Mews in South Belt before heading east to Ryelands Drive, following this to Southfield Drive, and heading out to Edward St. Along the way, at the corner of Southfield Drive and Ryelands Drive, you can see a fence, which is roughly on the western boundary of the former rail corridor; this is as close as you can get to something that physically identifies the railway at its beginning. Turning right onto Edward St and heading south-east, after 1 km turn right into Ellesmere Road. 2 km further on, approaching a 60 degree left hand bend in the road, the railway crosses over from the right to run on the left hand side of Hudsons Road. Proceed along this road for about 2.5 km you come to the Greenpark township where there was a railway station, presumably south of the level crossing. Continue south-east on Hudsons Road, whereby after 1 km the railway veers away to the left. 1 km further on there is an optional side trip up Geddes Road to the crossing. At the same intersection take the next exit into Ridge Road and after another 1 km follow Ridge Road in a 60 degree turn to the right. You are now alongside the railway formation again. Around 1.5 km further on you come to the site of the Matthews Road station. About 1 km further along Ridge Road follow the 40 degree curve to the right and continue another 3 km to a left hand curve across a narrow bridge. On the far side of this bridge, turn left into Canal Road and follow the river bank to the old railway bridge site. You can see a bridge at this site but this is unrelated to the railway; it appears that this bridge has a connection to the rail trail. Turn right into Park Road and drive alongside the railway route for 1.5 km to pass the original Motukarara station site on your left.
As you approach the intersection with Fiddlers Road, you can see the entrance to the rail trail ahead. The Motukarara station building has been relocated onto this site. The best course from here as far as the rail trail goes is to travel it in its own right, and therefore I am going to confine my road experience to the minimum amount of driving needed just to reach Little River as close as possible to the rail route. Therefore head towards SH 75 at this point and follow this southwest for the next 4 km until it comes alongside the railtrail. The road veers left and right while the railway is nearly straight along the edge of Lake Ellesmere for many km, giving views of rail trail features like this bridge. Approaching Kaituna with another railtrail bridge on the right, the road rounds a prominent headland with the station site to your right, the railtrail taking a slight detour. Continue along the scenic highway route with occasional glimpses of the trail out to your right as it follows the edge of the lake, such as this very long bridge. As you approach Birdlings Flat both routes are side by side for the remaining 9 km alongside Lake Forsyth.
After taking the left hand bend at Birdlings Flat, continue now north-east on SH 75 past the station site. As the hills close in, the railway runs along the Lake Forsyth shore on a stone faced embankment, prominent in views like this. A rest area at Catons Bay gives an opportunity to explore the trail on foot and view a small bridge. Continuing on SH 75, around 2.5 km further on, the railway crossed SH75 to the west side, while the rail trail stays on the east side.  The rail embankment can soon be seen to your left in the trees. At Morrisons Road you can make a short side trip to the level crossing. The railtrail ends on the opposite side of the highway. Back on SH75, 50 metres after the intersection the line enters the old Little River yard crossing another side road. As you continue up the main road you can see the preserved station building on your left. Either stop at the station or take the side road to the left to enter the station yard at its end. Take some time to explore the large yard which includes the goods shed, loading banks and preserved rolling stock and artefacts.