I found an interesting collection of photographs all the way on New Zealand’s side of the internet today. Pictured here is a steam train called the “Sandfly” circa 1915, travelling along what looks like a fun little railway– at first…
This is the Piha Tramway, which ran from 1906 -1921, along the Tasman Sea on the North Island of New Zealand, teetering around large volcanic outcroppings on a narrow gauge rail line as the notorious surf battered its foundations. New Zealand surf originated on this beach, famous for its changing rip tides, and today well-documented on a New Zealand TV Show called, Piha Rescue, based solely on the rescues of the shore patrol at Piha Beach.
It’s not exactly the kind of coastline you want to take a train ride down with the sheer cliffs above and the raging sea waiting to swallow you hole below should a screw come loose on the tracks. But of course, back in those days, they did a lot of things we wouldn’t do.
The Piha Tramway was a logging railway, transporting the local kauri tree, the largest and longest-living trees in the world, which became in great demand once the Europeans rolled in and discovered the trees made ideal timber for construction. They harvested the kauri which grew deep in the kauri forest, but for decades, industrialists tried and failed to efficiently transport the logs out of the remote valley. They tried sliding them down hills in lubricated chutes, driving them down rivers by building elaborate damns, damaging much of the timber in the process.
Finally, a wealthy Canadian-born dentist by the name of Dr. Raynor arrived in New Zealand and found himself quite taken with the region. At first, he wanted to build a restaurant atop a giant volcanic rock known as “Lion Rock” which sat on an island across from Piha beach. Instead, he tackled the local logging industry, building a sawmill in Piha and a tramway out of the the Piha valley, along Karekare beach all the way up to Whatipu, where a wharf awaited to ship the trees to Australia.
The tramway was a torturous, nightmarish journey. The tracks were rugged and primitive, carving its way along rocky ledges and traversing deep sand beaches over wobbly trestle bridges.
So why do I still really wish I could have taken a ride on the perilous Piha railway?!