Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 22, June 1978
By C. W. MALCOLM
In JOURNAL 14 of October 1970, facing page 16, is a photo of real historical significance, a photo of a scene which few now remember or know anything about. It records a vitally important era in the development of the town and district. It shows the Paeroa Railway Station on its original site right in the town's main street with the Thames Express on one side of the platform and the Waihi passenger train on the other.
It was a great day for the district when, in December 1895, the rail reached Paeroa. It was another historic occasion when, in November 1905, the line linked Paeroa with Waihi. Road transport had been by coach and wagon drawn by horse teams, communication with Auckland being by river steamer. The coming of the rail was progress of a spectacular kind. The train was faster than either road or water transport, not so subject to weather conditions, and there was a reliability and permanence about the solid rails that linked us with the rest of the country. It was felt it could never be superseded.
But we have seen the total disappearance of the passenger trains from the district and now (Herald 21/5/77) comes the announcement that with the completion of the Kaimai Tunnel the whole line from Paeroa through Waihi and Katikati to Apata will be closed in favour of the route from Morrinsville to Tauranga.
May I contribute a nostalgic epitaph on the line from Paeroa to Waihi - the twin bands of steel which for over half a century have linked the peoples of our two Historical Societies?
There is nothing so sad as the sight of an abandoned railway line. They are to be seen all over England - the deserted grass-grown track, the derelict rusting bridges, the abandoned fern-fringed tunnels. They are constantly photographed for magazines. Train Lovers' Societies preserve stretches of them and maintain the old steam trains for the enjoyment of tourists and those who would journey back through time into history. New Zealand, too, has its "vintage" railways in both North and South Islands.
Were I a wealthy man, I should preserve the Paeroa - Waihi line for future generations and restore to it a vintage train from the days now gone. There are few stretches of railway in the world like it. How fortunate we were as boys and girls to travel over it for manual classes at Waihi! How fortunate were those who rode over it daily to attend the Paeroa District High School! Journeys to Thames and Te Aroha were, by contrast, dull, weary, and monotonous. But oh! the trip to Waihi!
The train quickly drew out of the Paeroa station, crossed the bridge over the Ohinemuri, and skimmed over the paddocks with fleeting views of the town, Primrose Hill, and the beautiful Coromandels beyond it. The level crossings of the Tirohia and Old Te Aroha Roads roared beneath us as we headed for Te Moananui's Hill round which Maori history clung, and so to the first brief stop at the tiny Mackaytown flag station with its swing bridge over the river to the road, the houses beyond, and the hills.
Now we had left the plain with its familiar flatness and were in the hills, the track winding and twisting through deep cuttings and under high fern-clad banks, until we felt the application of the brakes that brought us to a standstill beside the platform at Karangahake. Here we were in a new world. Houses, Churches, and old mine buildings found room on narrow spaces or climbed precariously up mountain sides. The peaks of the White Rocks and the Trig reared their heads far above us. Glimpses of gorge and rock-strewn river met the eye and the remnants of a once throbbing mining township caught the imagination. No one can deny that the hills closing in upon the train and dwarfing its surroundings possessed a majestic beauty and a rugged grandeur of their own.
Childhood imagination compared them with the mighty summits of the Canadian Rockies traversed by the CPR of our geography lessons. A favourite composition subject set by our headmaster was "A Pretty Piece of Scenery" and he maintained that the Waitawheta Gorge was among the finest views in the world!
Panting to increase speed, the train made the crossing of the combined rail and road bridge and with a flurry of smoke and steam plunged into the dark maw of the tunnel. Especially when the guard had neglected to light the gas lamps, we enjoyed the simulated horror of the palpable inky blackness that closed in upon us for the next three-quarters of a mile. Choking sulphurous fumes seeped into the carriage as the blast of the locomotive, labouring up the gradient of 1 in 50, hit the roof of the narrow tunnel and was violently deflected back upon the following coaches of the train.
Into the daylight again, across another steel bridge with the Ohinemuri beneath, foaming into its narrow, high walled canyon, and we are clinging to a narrow ledge between precipitous cliffs that threaten the track on the right and a sheer drop to the river on the left. The line twists and turns, climbing all the way, the engine panting laboriously ahead.
A gap on the right reveals the splendour of the Owharoa Falls cascading white over black rocks towards us ere we make our way through the township of Waikino. Across the river the buildings - hotel, hall, and shops cling to a narrow strip of land or climb the hills, while on our right the vast battery, one of the largest in the world, pounds and thunders, extracting the gold from the Waihi quartz. The diminutive quartz train whistles its way on its own track more or less parallel to ours but we soon lose interest in it as we crane from the windows to catch a glimpse of the giant rock worn by time into a remarkable profile of the great queen - Victoria. And so, through opening country and green fields to Waihi.
The return journey reveals all the same breath-taking wonders from new and ever-changing angles. There is the advantage of a down-hill ride all the way, free-wheeling, windows wide open, rushing through the tunnel, the fresh wind whistling in our ears, exciting glimpses of the locomotive ahead leading the way as we twist and turn round the curves that follow the bends of the river.
Unforgettable journey! Through country rich in the history of the gold days. Through terrain rugged in its grandeur and magnificent in its scenic beauty. It may still be glimpsed from car or bus but never again from the relaxed comfort of a railway carriage a truly thrilling experience never to be known to younger generations. The rails are to be torn up, the wooden sleepers lifted from their bed, the tunnel reduced to an empty cavern piercing the hill, the silent mountains never again to re-echo to the beat of a locomotive exhaust or the roar of a train. The exciting era of the railway gives place to the unromantic age of the bus and motor-car. An historic and picturesque part of our district is losing something altogether irreplaceable and it is with regret that we should see it go in the doubtful name of progress.