Saturday, 17 April 2010

Remnants of the Moutohora Branch Today

This branch heading north-west from Gisborne was opened between 1902 and 1917. The early railway planners intended that Gisborne would be linked to the Bay of Plenty via the East Coast Main Trunk (hence its name) at Taneatua. Hence one of the first names for the section was the Gisborne-Rotorua via Opotiki Line. Later on it became the Gisborne Section. After the line from Wairoa was completed in 1943 it became the Moutohora Branch and finally was closed in 1959. I have decided to write this series of Remnants articles, as time permits, as a commentary to accompany the maps that I have drawn of the lines. The commentary will be brief; gaps can be filled in by examining the maps in closer detail.

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The line begins at Gisborne itself, the junction with the PNGL being at 1.7 km. Beyond this point the remaining section of the track to Makaraka is mothballed, the track and perhaps an odd small bridge or two still in place but disused. This part was originally retained to service siding traffic at Makaraka, and latterly the East Coast Museum of Technology. The track has ended by the time it reaches this bridge. Just on the far side of the creek is Makaraka Junction where the Ngatapa Branch turned away to the west. Continuing more northerly now, the route of the branch is delineated by parallel fencelines and occasional stretches of embankment as it heads in the direction of Te Karaka. At Ormond it parallels Domain Road at the rear of some houses. Little more is seen from there until Kaitaratahi as it skirts a loop in the Waipaoa River and then turns to cross it (unlike the Ngatapa Branch, there is no trace of the bridge today). Passing the township of Waipaoa with its disused freezing works, once crossing Scott Road the formation becomes much clearer than anywhere else so far, with little interference from agricultural activities. The route is now clearly seen on the overheads as it turns to run alongside McMillan Road, eventually crossing it on a distinctive curved embanked approach to Tunnel No.1. The line then turns easterly towards Te Karaka, paralleling the highway as it heads south-west on the outskirts of the township. As the open plains disappear and hills close in on the highway and railway, the second of the line’s tunnels is encountered (click here to see a Panoramio photo). Just west of the tunnel it appears some of the railway formation has been obliterated by a big slip. A little further on before Dymock Road the railway crossed the highway at a bend, continuing on the north side. The route reappears occasionally, running close to the highway in places, before becoming more visible at the approach to a bridge, worthy of closer examination as the extant structure  may turn out to be built on railway foundations. Just before Waikohu the line crossed the road and approached the yard by way of a road-rail bridge. 
Just after the next road bridge the railway route crossed the road again and continued on the north side, close at hand as the valley narrowed. As Mahaki is approached, the entrance to the Otoko walkway is reached. The highway formerly went in a tight loop on the north side of its present route and its bridge is still intact on private land. The line’s third tunnel took the railway under the former highway at the walkway entrance. West of here the route can be walked as the Otoko Walkway. There appears to be a site of a reasonable size bridge here. The remains of the Otoko Viaduct appear to be about here. The route then crosses to the south side of SH2 to reach Otoko; beyond here the highway uses the rail route for several kilometres until a divergence on a corner just past a stock bridge. After running very close northside of the road for a distance, the rail route crosses to be on the south side. It is generally close to the road except for a few locations where it diverges to follow the topography, one such place being just west of Cemetery Road where a noticeable curved embankment still exists. Formation is prominent as the line turns northerly on the approach to Rakauroa; the highway continues in this direction while the railway turned westward to reach the township’s station, crossing over Rakauroa Road on a bridge whose concrete pier can still be seen. After passing the station, the line began to climb to Matawai, employing substantial embankments and cuttings. At one point the present SH2 route is crossed by both legs of a notable horseshoe curve. The rail is then close to hand alongside the highway for about 1 km before turning away and passing through the sharply curved fourth tunnel. Road and rail then converge again at Matawai where the highway is left for the first time since Gisborne. Motu Road then follows the rail formation until 800 metres before the remains of the Motu Bridge, with the centre truss still present in the middle of the riverbed. The Moutohora terminus is another 500 metres further on.