There's something unique about being in another country for the first time and searching for trains that you've previously only seen pictures of on the internet. That was the case on my New Zealand road trip from Matamata to Rotorua, following parts of the Kinleith-Rotorua branchlines. A good section of Highway 27 parallels the railway line between Matamata and the small town of Tirau, so I was disappointed not to have passed a train on a weekday that sees up to 8 trains a day using the line to Kinleith. However, a quick stop at Tirau to track down what became of the old railway station there, turned this quirky tourist stop into a moment of train photography heaven.
The first thing you notice when you enter the town of Tirau is the quirky information centre. It is a huge two story corrugated iron structure constructed in the shape of a sheep dog. Situated 180 km from Auckland on the junction of Highways 1, 5 & 27, Tirau is an important crossroad in the Waikato Region of New Zealand. So by my reasoning there should have been an important looking railway station somewhere on the outskirts of town. I was wrong. After giving the man behind the information desk his most unusual question of the day; "Mate, you wouldn't happen to know where I could find the railway station would you?" And getting a very puzzled reply; "The railway station? I couldn't even tell you how long ago they would have pulled it down." He did give me a map and obligingly point me in the direct of where it once stood, at the end of the aptly named Railway Street.
|The park alongside the town of Tirau's railway track as photographed in December 2013.|
A few moments later, I pulled our hire car alongside the picturesque, tree lined park that adorned the side of the railway line that passes by the edge of town, and stepped out in a light shower of rain to photograph the stone water tower that still stands in the park beside the track. I was just about to make a beeline for the car when the familiar sound of level crossing bells caught my attention from the distance. To the amusement of my family waiting in the car, I was told I looked like a puppy dog chasing its tail as I first ran left, right and left again trying to see which way the train was coming from. Luckily the train finally appeared from the direction of the water tower I had just photographed, the rain stopped and I had just enough time to stand back and snap some photos of the first KiwiRail train I had encountered on my holiday.
|KiwiRail locomotive number 9325 was the first New Zealand train photograph I snapped as it headed north through the town of Tirau.|
|A KiwiRail freight train from Kinleith bound for the harbour at Mount Maunganui passes through Tirau. The former station platform is located in front of the trees to the right.|
Although the branchline today survives only to service the giant Kinleith Mill at the end of the line, we were heading to Rotorua. I wanted to retrace the Rotorua branchline that is now closed beyond the junction of nearby Putaruru. It was time to leave behind the excitement of photographing trains, and the Kinleith Branch and head east on Highway 5.
Tirau was just one of the many fabulous locations in New Zealand that feature in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, and is available now exclusively through the links below.
Rotorua: Railcruising in New Zealand