West Coast, South Island, NZ

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West Coast Rail Trail

Old Cable Tram over the Taramakau River, now replaced by Bridge 13

West Coast Rail Trail

Rail History

After settlers arrived on the West Coast, the whole region was littered with tram and railway lines.  Trains were the main form of transport back in the day, being used mainly to move timber from the sawmills, and later on, coal from the coal mines, to Port towns, such as Greymouth and Hokitika. Some trains also moved supplies or people to places like gold towns, such as Ross, or to the first farms in the area, which were very remote at the time, especially as most of what we now call farmland on the West Coast, was once swampland.

These railways gave the motivation for the mass land clearing needed for settlement which lead to the West Coast you can see today. Many of the highways and roads around the West Coast are also built on these old lines as all the hard work and sweat that went into building the thousands of kilometers of railway left some prime quality, flat land on which to build our roads and now this cycle trail.

The largest railway line, The Midland Line, is still in use today. Historically used to move coal straight from the mines to the Port of Greymouth, this railway line is still in use today to move export coal to Lyttleton Habour (near Christchurch) and is what the Tranz-Alpine Tourist Train runs on. 

Here is a running compilation of all information on the different tram and railway lines which the West Coast Rail Trail follows along, just remember that there were many, many different lines operating back in those days, so some information on a particular line is a little hard to come by and we are still compiling/seeking it all. The Lines are listed by occurance along the West Coast Rail Trail.

If you have any extra information about the different lines, including any we missed or where they specifically ran, how and when they were operated as well as if you have any photos, then please email us so we can get this information up on this page.

From the West Coast Times, 19 June 1876: 
'The name of the new township at the Teremakau has been definitely decided on - it will in future be called Kumara, which is the native name for a white flower which grows freely on the banks of the Teremakau. There is no doubt that the name fixed on is far more euphonious than would be Seddontown or Houlahanville'.

The tramline from Greymouth to Paroa was extended to Kumara the following year. The population was 4,220 in October 1877.

Parts of today’s cycle trail was in use by cyclists in 1901. However it appears they were a little more skilled in those days. See if you spot the unicyclist in the photo below. The photo is taken at a site on the Rail Tail on Day One near Paroa.

Brown's City Drag, Greymouth, New Zealand

Brown's City Drag would leave Albion Hotel every Saturday evening at 10 o'clock; the drag also ran to the Leviathan Claim and Paroa on Sunday afternoon. Fare - 1/6 return to Paroa, 1/- return to Leviathan Claim (Grey River Argus, Volume LVII, Issue 10520, 12 July 1901, Page 3)

Driver: Archibald Brown (b. 1869)
Brown's City Drag, owned by A (Archibald) Brown
Date: 1901
Photographer: Unknown
Collection: Brown Family Collection


Railway and Tramway Lines:

  1. Coal Trains Wharf Line. 
  2. Greymouth Coastal tram from Blaketown.
  3. Olgins Tram Gladstone.
  4. Ogilvies Gladstone tram: with the Lokey (engine) called Possum. also used a Johnson 16 wheeler engine. Also ran the Midnight Special from Greymouth to New River using NZR hijacked UB wagons to deliver gold dredge parts. Double ended Flashy jigger. Closed about 1960
  5. Camerons United Sawmills Line.
  6. Midlands Sawmilling Company, Camerons.
  7. Kumara Tramline.
  8. Kumara Timber Tram.
  9. Baxter Brothers Tram, down the Arahura Valley: Used a rigid frame 0-6-0-T engine made in Dunedin by James Davidson & Co in 1879 for the Kaitangata Coal Mine. It could not turn corners. The tram was fairly straight.
  10. Kawhaka Valley Tramway.
  11. Milltown Line, ran by the Butler Brothers.
  12. Kaniere Tram, ran by Kaniere Hokitika Sawmill Line Price CB Engine pg 41.
  13. Finley & Howarth Line, at Hokitika.
  14. Stuart & Chapman Line, at Rimu: Used Davidson Lokeys made in Hokitika. Used Deisel in 1955.
  15. Mananui Line, ran by Ellis & Burnand.
  16. William & Josef, the Butler Brothers, had several tram lines and were based at  Ruatapu: used a Dispatch Lokey and then an NZR 0-6-0T F in 1956. They had 9 F & FA class locos from NZR. Rail Lines that you will cycle on that were bulit by the Butler Brothers are located at Ruatapu and Milltown.
  17. Hokitika-Ross Railway.

A special thanks to Paul Mahoney for the information on West Coast Rail & Tramlines, contained in his book, 'The Era of the Bush Tram in New Zealand'.

8 Whall St, Greymouth, West Coast, South Island, NZ