The Raurimu Spiral on the Main Truck Line has been hailed as “an engineering triumph” with good reason. For many years the Public Works engineers had been constructing and laying the rail line, working south from Auckland, and north from Wellington. Finally, the line had reached Waimarino, now know as National Park Station, on the south side, and to Raurimu Station on the north side. Although only 4 1/2 miles separated them, the height difference was 714 feet – the problem was to join up the two places with a workable grade through bush covered rugged terrain.
The problem was solved by senior engineer R W Holmes in 1898. Laid out in the form of an ascending spiral, incorporating a complete circle, three horseshoe curves, and two short tunnels, this section of the track covered 11.5km, with a gradient of 1 in 52.
The passengers reboarded the Spiral Snow Express at National Park, and we travelled along the Raurimu Spiral, stopping at Raurimu Station for a look around. We checked out some local residents too, in the adjacent paddock.
At Raurimu Station
The loco engine was then taken off the front, shunted up the rails, down again, and coupled up to the other end.
Changing the engine to the other end of the train
Then the train chugged along, and stopped for a photo opportunity just before the tunnel. The more active passengers climbed down from the train, and traipsed up the hill to get a good vantage point. That all seemed a bit too energetic to us, so we joined the other photographers just in front of the tunnel.
Getting ready for a photo opportunity
The train was then reversed around the corner, and then moved forwards towards the crowds of waiting photographers. Click,click went the cameras around us, and the other group high on the hillside were surely doing the same. Just think how much more exciting it would have been if the steam engine was still attached.
Cameras ready, here comes the train
With that bit of excitement over, we settled back to enjoy our homewards journey. We passed Horopito Motors, which claims to be the largest and only vintage car dismantlers in Australasia, with car bodies as far as the eye could see. In 1981 the noted New Zealand film "Smash Palace" was filmed here and Horopito Motors became known internationally.
Photo courtesy of Horopito Motors
We then crossed the new concrete Hapuawhenua Viaduct which was built in 1987, gazing out at the old viaduct which is now part of the Rail Trail. The first Hapuawhenua Viaduct was classified as a Category 1 structure by Historic Places Trust in October 1995 and was built in 1908.
The original Hapuawhenua Viaduct
As the miles chugged by, the sun was going down, the sky darkened, and there was not much to see out the windows. There was a quick stop at Hunterville when our pre-ordered evening meals were loaded on-board, with about 200 passengers and staff took advantage of this optional extra. Cooked and individually packed by the local pub, we declared they had done remarkably well with such a big order. Soon we were busily tucking into our Beef and Guinness Casserole and veggies, followed by a choice of cheesecake or fruit salad. So tasty after a hard day’s sight seeing. Fully replete, there were a few grey heads nodding off as our journey continued south.
The train stopped at Palmerston North to reattach the steam loco, and before we knew it, we had reached our home station of Levin, arriving at 9.30pm. It had been a long day, but so enjoyable.