Sunday, August 7, 2011

1908 - travelling on the Main Trunk Line

Building the North Island's Main Trunk Railway Line was an enormous task for New Zealand. It took more than twenty years to complete the 680 kilometre line from Wellington to Auckland, through some challenging landscapes. The line was officially opened in November 1908, but the first train to travel its length was several months earlier. On 7 August 1908 a group of parliamentarians, including Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward, boarded the train in Wellington. The track wasn't quite finished, but those politicians really wanted to get to Auckland. The engineer in charge was offered £1,000 (a lot of money in 1908) to get the line finished in time for this August journey. The train and its passengers survived a section of temporary, unballasted track, and the politicians got to Auckland after a journey of 20 hours.

And why were they so keen to get to Auckland? The attraction was Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet, a massive naval deployment and a major news story of its day. The politicians made it to Auckland in time for the Fleet's arrival on 9 August.

These days one can fly between the two cities in less than an hour, or drive the distance in around nine hours, but in the early years of the 20th century this 20-hour journey (reduced to a mere 18 hours in 1909) was a huge improvement over the long sea journey or going by stage coach.

The Main Trunk Line was a major achievement, but it still left many provincial areas isolated, including the Bay of Plenty. Rail did not reach the central Bay of Plenty till 1928, and got no further east than Taneatua, near Whakatane. The proposed link through to Gisborne was never achieved. My fictional Ruatane never did get a rail link.

I'm currently at a section in my work-in-progress where a character has to travel from Ruatane to Wellington. It means taking the coastal steamer to Auckland (which means going north when his destination is south), then the train to Wellington. Even this long, somewhat convoluted journey is a great improvement on the trip he would have had to make before 1908.


  1. Sounds like when America made their railway from the east to the west. 2000 miles long! I hope all is moving along well with your writing, I really need another dose of your stuff. I was thinking of reading them all over :P

  2. Hi Jo! Yes, it's going well, though there's still a fair way to go. Watch this space - but don't hold your breath. :)