Sunday, 18 April 2010

Remnants of the Waimate Branch Today

The first part of this line is rather unremarkable: it ran inland from its Main South Line junction for 7.4 km to the eponymous township and was opened in 1877. It is the more distant part of this railway that creates the most interest; built by a private company, it included a section of formation that was never completed and had no track laid. This gorge section closed first, in 1953, the main part of the line following in 1966.

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The line branched from the Main South Line at Studholme; it curved around and crossed State Highway 1 very shortly thereafter. It then ran in a nearly straight line westerly to Waimate. The route is followed by a line of power poles and is easily spotted as a fenced off area on both sides of SH1. It is probably best from here to drive into Waimate and pick up the line where it passed behind the cemetery and crossed McNamaras Road. The line then passed the racecourse and crossed Gorge Road before approaching the station yard, at which site there are now no traces. Departing town you should travel south on SH82, the railway soon converges on the right side. 2.5 km south of Waimate the routes enter the gorge, the terrain bringing them much closer together. The railway formation is now on the far side of the stream as it meanders its way through the gorge until exiting at Arno. The road now curves around to the west and crosses the railway which continues more or less south. You should turn left off the highway into Kapua Road just before the crossing and the railway will now be on your right about 400 metres away. A bridge is close to the line of the formation about 500 metres south of Arno and may be an ex railway structure. At the intersection with Kapua School Road, turn right into this road to encounter the McLeans station site and level crossing after 150 metres. Continue north on this road to rejoin the highway, turning left at the intersection. The railway soon comes in from the left as the road dips down through a river terrace. As you continue west the railway is about 150 metres out to your left. After you cross the Waihao River bridge, the road takes a sweeping left hand bend to go southerly, and soon brings you to the intersection of Mount Harris Road, into which you should turn. As you head back north-east, the railway is encountered right alongside the road and after about three hundred metres you come to the site of the Waihao Forks station. Returning to the highway, head west and the railway is on your left, running along the foot of the hills. At the far end of the hills you can see the Waihao Downs goods shed still on its original site.
Beyond Waihao Downs, further formation work was constructed which never had any rails laid on it, with the aim of reaching Waihaorunga, a locality some 12 km to the north-west. I have marked out a hypothesised route on the map in green, based on what appears to be formation viewed from Google Earth, along with hypothetical station sites. The route probably came right alongside SH82 just before the four way intersection (Turners Rd & Serpentine Valley Rd) and then crossed the highway and turned sharply northward along the west edge of Serpentine Valley Road. After about 500 metres the route crossed Serpentine Valley Road and continued on the north side of it, with significant formation work clearly visible from above, 500 metres from the road. Passing through the locality of Douglas, Bridge Road gives access to some of the formation and a hypothesised station site. It appears the route then turned back towards S.V. Rd and possibly “terminated” at a hypothesised station site near the intersection with Elephant Back Rd. As no further formation traces have been determined with any reasonable certainty, it appears likely that no work was undertaken beyond this point.