Friday, 23 April 2010

Remnants of the Tapanui Branch Today

The Tapanui Branch is somewhat misnamed, as the eponymous locality is about halfway along the branch, instead of at its terminus. Leaving the Main South Line at Waipahi, it was opened to Kelso in 1880, Heriot in 1884 and Edievale in 1905. The last section was closed in 1968; the rest of the line closed in 1978 due to damage caused by massive flooding. Kelso township was abandoned following subsequent flooding and today the railway goods shed is the sole remaining building in the area.

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The other line you can see upper right is, of course, the Roxburgh Branch, and it is interesting that the Tapanui line got within about 10 km of the former. At the time that Edievale got its railway, it would have competed with Lawrence as the railhead for the area. Subsequently the Roxburgh Branch was opened to Big Hill in 1910, Beaumont in 1914 and Millers Flat in 1925.
We begin at Waipahi on the Main South Line, 50 km west of Balclutha. The branch headed away east and then north from Waipahi, paralleling the MSL at the level crossing just off SH1 on West Otago Road. Take West Otago Road north out of Tapanui; as you cross the Waipahi River after 200 metres, the abutments and piers of the old railway bridge are visible 100 metres east. After about 300 metres, take an optional side trip to the right on Old Main Road to the level crossing site 200 metres further on. Returning to West Otago Road, the railway is now on your right for the next 1 km, about 300 - 500 metres due north, following the Waipahi River, before both routes turn in opposite directions. Continue on West Otago Road for the next 7 km to reach a level crossing with a small bridge still in place just to its south. The railway embankment at this location gives public walkway access to the No.1 tunnel about 600 metres south. Continuing north on West Otago Road, the Conical Hill station site is just past the level crossing on your left. Another level crossing of Conical Hill Road is soon encountered, then about 300 metres further on you pass the Pomahaka River Bridge on your left, which remains substantially complete. An option is to take the right hand turn 300 metres further on to River Road, which runs back south on the opposite bank to the railway in its stretch between Waipahi and Conical Hill alongside the Pomahaka River. However it is mostly unsealed and you will have to double back at the confluence of the Pomahaka and Waipahi Rivers, after 2.5 km.
Heading north on West Otago Road which has become Pomahaka Road, 1.5 km after the Pomahaka River bridge, we come to the Conical Hill sawmill site on the right. In its time this was connected to the railway by a private siding which must have crossed the road. The railway formation alongside the road is quite well defined as you drive past the sawmill site. There could have been sidings alongside this raised edge just outside the present fence but I really have no idea. This is just opposite the point where the railway passed in front of a local substation. As you continue north, the road and railway both take an S bend, left then right; 100 metres after the intersection of Koi Flat Road on the left you pass the Pomahaka goods shed. Road and rail are then parallel close together for the next 2 km until the railway turns away on the approach to Glenkenich station. The road turns eventually to parallel the railway, which crossed several bridges, one of which appears to be semi-intact in some form today. The station site is just north of the intersection of Pomahaka Road with SH90, which the railway crossed on the level, but there is nothing to be seen there. Continue north on SH90 with the railway just to the left of the road until the latter turns rightward towards Tapanui. We recommend that you take a left turn into Duncan Road South which keeps you closer to the railway although it is still diverging rapidly. About 1 km further on take a left turn into Station Road and proceed west for about 700 metres to a level crossing and the Tapanui station site. From here you can see the route heading north as it heads for the Pomahaka River. You, however, must U-turn and head back to Duncan Road South, turning left to head north-east and rejoin SH90 after 3 km. After another 1.5 km, turn left into Wooded Hill Road and drive west for 3 km until you encounter the level crossing on the outskirts of Kelso, just before a small bridge and 90 degree bend in the road. Now heading north, you pass a bridge site before coming to the Kelso station site on the right, where the goods shed is the only remaining building in the township; the remainder was demolished or relocated after two devastating floods, including the one in 1978 that closed the railway.
Wooded Hill Road soon takes a sharp left hand turn before reaching a T intersection with Ardmore Road; turn right into the  latter and continue north. The railway is now some hundreds of metres out to your right. At Park Hill Road you can take a side trip to the level crossing with a small bridge apparently still in place 300 metres north. Stay on Ardmore Road as you head north, passing another intact bridge opposite Kelso Settlement Road. Black Gully Road West leads to another level crossing on the approach to Heriot, where the road and rail are parallel throughout the township. Turn into Mathesons Corner Road, close to the station site, to follow the railway route. At a right angle bend the railway veers away. Continue east and take the left hand turn at the intersection with Cabbage Road. Continue until the intersection of SH90 and turn left, heading north. Drive another 5.5 km until you come to a right hand bend in the highway, going straight ahead into Edievale Road. Passing some old houses and abandoned shops, 200 metres further up you can see the Edievale station site on your left, where there appear to be no substantial remnants.
For an alternative trip back to Heriot, continue on down Edievale Road to McHutchon Road, turning left, continuing straight ahead into Dunrobin Road, which eventually leads to the northern outskirts of the township. The rail route is at the foot of the immediate hills in this Dunrobin Road view near Heriot.