Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Kawerau: New Zealand's logging trains

Kawerau, (pronounced Cow-eh-rah) is a logging town hidden away at the end of New Zealand's East Coast Main Trunk Railway. Originally a 14 km long branch line that originated from Hawkens Junction near the Tarawera River on State Highway 2, it was incorporated into the East Coast Trunk in 1978 when the original terminus of the East Coast Main Trunk at Taneatua was mothballed beyond Hawkens Junction. Today it is the nerve centre of all logging traffic that is railed to Tauranga Harbour.

Tracks lead in all directions from the Kawerau Railway Yard into the giant Norske Skog Mill and adjoining Carter Holt Harvey sawmill and pulp plant as seen in December 2013.

The town of Kawerau is only 54 km from Rotorua. With State Highway 30 skirting the edges of Lake Rotoiti, Lake Rotoehu and Lake Rotoma on the 45 minute drive from Rotorua to Kawerau, I convinced my wife to come along for a leisurely drive to see some beautiful lakes. Little did she know that my intended destination was the giant Norske Skog paper mill and associated railway yards at Kawerau. While I did stop and take two photographs of some stunning lake scenery on our drive, my wife and daughter moaned in protest when I finally admitted that 'according to my intel, there is a train station in town'. Actually, there never was a train station as such in town, passenger trains ran only to Taneatua on the East Coast Main Trunk, and only up until 1959. The Kawerau branch line, town of Kawerau itself, and the 57 km sub branch to Murupara where the logs are loaded, were all built as late as 1953 for the sole purpose of serving the mills that are supplied by the Kaingaroa Forrest.

Check out the bumps in the tracks that this crew has to negotiate, and the disapproving stare from the brakeman. "Nah mate, I'm not trespassing. I'm from Australia. I'm just takin' pictures of trains."

After moving our little rental car to several locations along the two mile stretch of railway yard, the girls finally thought we heading back to our holiday accommodation in Rotorua. Man were they wrong! A brand new DL class locomotive had begun coupling onto a string of boxcars. Not only did I have to move the car again to a better location to shoot even more photos, but I also had to chase it out of town, catching a final shot as it passed over the level crossing at Onepu Spring Road, the point where the branch to Murupara leaves the mainline.

Sitting opposite the ruins of a bygone railway building in Kawerau, this train is finally ready to head to the Port of Tauranga.

There's a lot to be said about the photogenic properties of KiwiRails DL class locomotives. These bone shaped locos may be built in China, but when I shoot them on just the right angle, they remind me of a baby version of a Victorian N class loco back in Oz.

There really was a lot to be liked about photographing trains in New Zealand. Not yet having traveled on any of New Zealand's KiwiRail Scenic trains, I can honestly say that the only thing stopping me from returning to train trek the land of the long white cloud, is having the money to do so. But after my first trip across the ditch, returning to ride the Northern Explorer, the Coastal Pacific and the world famous TranzAlpine Express is now firmly on my bucket list.

With my final train photo from my trip to New Zealand now safely stored away on my memory card, it was time to head back to our holiday accommodation. I can honestly say we did enjoy our morning drive from Rotorua to Kawerau. And although we never found a place to stop for a morning coffee, either along the highway or in town, the roadside views of each of the lakes were fantastic. But the highlight for me, will always be the perfect timing of being able to watch a train assemble and roll out of Kawerau, a logging town tucked away on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island that will long be a highlight of my book 30 Years Chasing Trains.

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