Continuing with the series of articles exploring remnants of NZ’s ghost railways, today we are going to have a look at the Waiau Branch in North Canterbury. These articles are intended to be used in conjunction with other sources such as NZRTA and L&S. They are complementary to these sources. I will not repeat in this article all the information that is found in these other sources. This is just a commentary on the features that can be identified on the maps I have drawn, and draws upon the other sources and hopefully adds to them. We also do know that L&S can be somewhat stilted in places due to the size limitation of the published book so some information was omitted from it.
All of these articles reference a static map file edition that was current at the time the article was published. However as the maps continue to be updated, check the most current map by browsing the NZ Rail Maps website as information may have changed.
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The Waiau Branch is probably one I know more about than any other in New Zealand. The ghost railway is in two sections:
- Following the closure of the line, the Weka Pass Railway society bought the first half of the line from Waipara to the Hurunui River. The rest of the line was lifted.
- After Weka Pass Railway made a correct decision not to cross the road at Waikari, they lifted the 18 km of track that they owned but were not going to operate.
The Weka Pass Railway operates on the first 12 km of line from Glenmark to Waikari. We start at Waipara where the branch junction was. The Weka Pass Railway follows the original route from Waipara. The main change at Waipara that I can see is that a house has been built where the old turning triangle used to be.
The ghost railway starts at the road crossing at Waikari. The Weka Pass Railway station is on the east side and the ghost route starts on the west side. You can walk down the first part of the route to the NZR Waikari station site as it is a public walkway. It connects with a track leading to the Timpendean Maori Rock Drawing caves. There have been some changes at the Waikari yard with the opening of a new medical centre for the district. However, you may still be able to find some foundations of the old station building, the platform, the turntable pit at the engine depot, the old limeworks building, and the flour mill buildings which are now a private residence. Further on, some bridge remains may be visible from the main road as the line passes along a big curve that turns it from a westerly to a northerly heading. Some of the formation in this area may have been turned into public walking tracks. As the line approaches Hawarden, it comes right alongside the road and you may be able to see the remains of one or two small bridges here. The line then curves away from the road to enter the Hawarden station site, which can be reached on Waterloo St, accessed off the main road via High St. You may still be able to find remains of the former station building at Hawarden.
The line then headed north towards the next station, Medbury. Along the way it encountered the Waitohi River which was crossed by a long bridge. The main road is some distance away but you can access the route at three level crossings. Take the Horsley Downs Road north out of Hawarden and turn right at Bentleys Road. At the crossing site you may be able to see the remains of two small bridges to the south. Return to Horsley Downs Road and at the township, take the right hand turn onto Medbury Road. About 500 metres further on, take the right hand turn onto Gilberts Road. The crossing is the site of a former ballast pit that was used to develop the line during construction. The Waitohi River bridge site is 500 metres north of here. There are still bridge piles in the riverbed. Return to Medbury Road and drive north, taking a right hand bend after Peaks Road comes in on the left, now heading east alongside the forest. This will bring you to Medbury station site, which was actually on both sides of the road. On the south side you may be able to see the site of a bridge about 200 metres away. On the north side, where the main station facilities were, the old ballast pit which was turned into a road gravel pit has been excavated through the station so that there is almost nothing to see now. This pit has now closed and is grassed over. However, the old goods shed was moved into the farm property immediately east of the ballast pit and may still be seen. The Hurunui bridge site is 2 km north of Medbury. Shimmins Road runs part of the way to the bridge, but there might not be public access to the south side of the riverbank. There is nothing to be seen now at the Hurunui River. Continuing east on Medbury Road, the farm property on the south side about 500 metres east of the level crossing may still contain some of the old shelter sheds from the line’s smaller stations, which are visible from the road.
Continue on Medbury Road heading east to State Highway 7 and turn left, now heading north. About 100 metres after the Hurunui River bridge, turn left onto Balmoral Station Road. At the intersection of Hocking Road, this is the Balmoral station site. The station was on the south-west side of the road. If Hocking Road is publicly accessible, you may be able to drive about 4 km to the north bank of the Hurunui River. If there is public road access alongside the rail corridor heading north, and/or if you can get permission to enter private land between Balmoral and Pahau stations, at the north-west corner of the forest there are two old ballast pits and the remains of the Dry Creek Bridge, which may have been rebuilt for vehicle use. Returning to Balmoral Station Road, continue north-west for some 3 km to a T intersection and take a right turn onto Top Pahau Ford Road. 1 km further on take a right turn onto Long Plantation Road. After about 4 km the road veers around a patch of forest or bush and crosses the railway formation. The Pahau station site is on the south side of the crossing; there are no remains to be seen now. The railway made its third major river crossing at the Pahau River, 1.5 km north-east of the station. There does not appear to be public access to the site but it could be possible to get into the river bed at the main highway bridge 1.5 km downstream. There are no known remains at the bridge site. Continuing east on Long Plantation Road, turn left onto State Highway 7 after about 2.5 km. After you cross the Pahau River bridge, the railway line gradually veers in from the left. 3 km from the bridge, you reach Culverden township, which was the railhead for a number of years and had an extensive yard. There is almost nothing left in the yard itself, but you can still drive into the public access road opposite Highfield Street. Heading north out of Culverden, the line is right on the left of the road, crossing School Road, passing an old ballast pit and crossing School Creek where bridge remains may still be visible. The site of another small bridge can be seen about 1 km further on. The line continued right next to the road as far as Red Post Corner, which was originally to be a railway junction for a line going inland from here. There is a T intersection here and you need to take a right hand turn onto Rotherham Road South. The railway line continues on your left with a clearly visible formation, passing the remains of another small bridge/culvert. An old pit site that might have had some railway connection is passed here. A small culvert is seen just beside two small trees growing on the old embankment.
As it approaches the Achray station site at the intersection of Flintoff Mouse Point Road and Beavens Road, the line veers away to the left along a line of trees. It then runs in a straight but diverging line towards Rotherham station. Hendersons Road gives access to the south end of the yard, but Heaton Street / Station Road at the north end is recommended because you may also be able to view a small concrete bridge just north of the crossing. I do not know if there is now any public access to the station site, but small loading banks and the station platform still remained at my last visit; the old station building lingered on for a number of years after closure but has now, I believe, been demolished. Heading north again on George St, which becomes Rotherham Road North, the road veers left on an S bend towards the railway, and then the two formations converge about 1 km north of the township. From here to Waiau both road and rail sit at the west side of a low line of hills. Just as the road comes alongside the railway onto a straight, you can see an old bridge on the left, which appears to be intact or rebuilt. The road and rail split as the road veers right passing along a shelter belt, the road then curves back to the left to rejoin the railway; a small culvert is just north of there, with others here and possibly here. Further on, just past a dip in the road and the site of an old road bridge on the right, you see the concrete piers and abutments of a three span bridge. There is another smaller old bridge site about 200 metres further on, and another culvert a little further. At the south end of the Waiau station yard both road and rail take a 60 degree bend around the toe of a hill. Just opposite a farm entrance at 138 Rotherham Road is the site of the former locomotive depot. At the site of the old station platform, an old loading bank can be seen alongside a small picnic area and informational plaque. Just past here, the most prominent relic is the old bulk lime loading silo. The track ended about 100 metres further on where a side road cuts past the end of it.