Home' Greymouth Star : December 28th 2015 Contents West Coasst Feature
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orse-drawn carriages rattling along wooden
tramlines were a relatively primitive means
of public transport, but on the West Coast
goldfields they were a popular though costly
option. Once laid, the tough workhorses could speed along
the track at a fast clip when needed, delivering passengers
and freight faster than anything else.
As monopolies, they also delivered their shareholders a
hefty return of up to 50% a year; only the Ross line, with its
legacy of the present day Tramway Street, failed to make a
According to transport historian and author Graham
Stewart, many tramway companies had guaranteed
agreements with the Westland County Council that no
competing road would be constructed for a set number of
years; some even claimed compensation when a road was
built in their territory.
As a result, tramlines popped up on most new goldfields,
some short-lived while others sur vived well after road
and bridge improvements opened up easier transport. In
Greymouth there was the line to Kumara, starting from
the terminus in Mackay Street near Postie Plus and then
straight up the western side of Tainui and High streets.
As the goldfields capital, Hokitika was the hub for at
least four tramlines that spoked off into the hinterland
the Hokitika-Greymouth line, which only ever reached
Awatuna before branching off to Stafford; Hau Hau (Hou
Hou), extending from Revell Street and straight up the
middle of Hampden Street to the top of Blue Spur; Tudor
Street, a short-lived line that carried on up the terrace
by way of the present Airport Drive; and Kanieri (later
Kaniere), following the Hokitika River bank.
They were all built on wooden rails and sleepers, but this
form of horse-drawn transport was far from a gentle trot
it was just as dangerous as the steam-powered trains that
followed, and many were the accidents on these lines, often
fatal, such as this incident from 1876 in which a two-year-
old girl who stumbled on the Kaniere Tram just as the tram
was approaching, was knocked down and the carriage ran
over her head. On the Kumara Tram in 1893, a man was
bowled over and killed right outside the Tramway Hotel, the
tram running over his legs, amputating them.
The Hokitika and Kanieri Tramway Company opened for
business on Christmas Day 1866, although initially only 130
chains long — the length of Gibson Quay.
When completed — a 4ft gauge rail line costing £1038
a mile — it basically ran from the Hokitika Bridge to the
Kaniere Bridge, with termini about the site of the Kaniere
garage and the other right alongside the future Hokitika
The rail line hugged the riverbank the whole way until
reaching Kaniere township where it deviated through a deep
cutting that emerged just west of the Empire Hotel. This
cutting remained until road widening works about 30 years
Initially the tram was the principal means of
communication between the two townships and carried
everything to and from — including funeral caskets! The
inland route of Kaniere Road was a slower development,
but even when fully opened the tram maintained a strong
Inevitably, though, the convenience of stagecoach
from Rimu and Woodstock, with competing schedules
throughout the day, won the battle for passengers and the
tram drew its last carriage about 1906.
After 40 years’ service it slowly slipped from sight and its
demise did not even rate a mention. Three years later the
newspaper note: “The Kanieri tram shed, a well-known
landmark for nearly 40 years past, has been demolished.
The building within recent years had fallen into a very
dilapidated condition and its removal is a decided
improvement to the aspect of the main street of Kanieri.”
(West Coast Times, June 29, 1909)
The tramline itself was reused by sawmillers for a time,
while the Gibson Quay route eventually became part of the
Railways Department side line to the Hokitika dairy factory.
“This tramway, which is the property of a limited liability
company, connects the town of Hokitika with the township
of Kanieri, three miles distant, and the Kanieri gold-
diggings, which are adjacent to the township. The terminus
at Hokitika is on Gibson’s Quay, and skirts the banks of the
Hokitika river through its whole route.
“The rails are of wood, laid down in a similar manner
to those on the other tramways; but in making this line
eight bridges had to be erected over creeks and gullies. Mr
Frew, the present Town Sur veyor, lately superintended its
In May 1866, this line was first laid down from Gibson’s
Quay to the Islay Hotel, about a mile distant from the
terminus. In the following September it was carried about a
mile further, and in February, 1867, it was finally completed
to the Kanieri. It has two branch lines running half a mile
into the forest for the purpose of bringing down timber,
fanciness, and firewood.
From the Hokitika Terminus, until near the Islay Hotel,
on our journey up the line we passed a number of villa
residences — many of them surrounded by gardens very
tastefully laid out. Beyond this — as we journeyed on —
the country became wild in its character, although the forest,
which was on one side of the line, the river being on the
other, bore here and there marks of civilisation in the form
of cultivated patches surrounding the huts and tents of the
Passing the Half-way House, the train sped on through the
same kind of country, until it passed through a cutting five
chains in length, and thirty six feet in depth; emerging from
the cutting it passed until a lofty frame of timber, which
supports the flume conveying water to the wheel, which
works the machinery for pumping the claims, and which is
the property of the Westland Gold Mining Company, and
beyond this is the Kanieri Terminus — where the train
There is a good deal of passenger traffic on the line, and
a large quantity of goods are weekly conveyed up it to the
Kanieri Diggings, and are forwarded also to the Eight Mile
Diggings (Woodstock) on the opposite side of the Hokitika
Timber, firewood, and fascines are brought down the
line in great quantities, and we hear it is contemplated
to lay down a branch line to extensive gravel beds in its
neighbourhood so as to obtain a supply for ballasting the
tramway, also to bring into Hokitika for sale. Two branch
lines already exist for the more convenient transit of timber
There are stables at each terminus, and five powerful horses
are daily working on the tramway. There are in the employ
of the Company a manager, clerk, four drivers, and two
plate layers, besides labourers engaged in cutting timber and
firewood.” (West Coast Times, December 7, 1867)
The late discovery of the Kumara goldfield in 1876 gave much
needed impetus to the West Coast’s flagging fortunes, buoying
spirits in both Hokitika and Greymouth. When someone suggested
connecting the new goldfield with Greymouth by way of a tramline
and a cablecar across the Taramakau River, £5000 was raised in
Greymouth in just two days.
So was born the Greymouth and Kumara Tramway Company,
which continued profitably until it was emphatically put out of
business with the opening of the Taramakau Bridge and Hokitika-
Greymouth railway line.
On the north side of the Taramakau, the tramline from the older
Greymouth and Paroa Tramway (1868) was reused.
This line was initially a narrow 2ft 6in gauge — the cheapest
construction — and for the first seven miles south of Greymouth
it ran along the top of the beach — until the sea wiped out a mile-
long section. After that it was rebuilt on a safer inland route, up
Tainui Street and right past the doors of the Recreation Hotel and
Australasian Hotel in the north, and the Paroa Hotel in the south.
When Kumara came along, it was then a matter of laying a new
line from the south bank of the Taramakau. The job fell to Amos
Wilby, who constructed five miles of tramline in an almost straight
line to the new town and goldfield — and then drove the tram
until it ceased running. Crossing the river was another matter
— an engineering feat of genius by way of a steam-operated cage
suspended high above the river, although it did not operate in very
high floods, the suspended wires drooping perilously close to the
The new line also required a new terminus at the Taramakau, right
next to the future Tramway Hotel (now The Bridge Bar). The cage
or ‘wire tram’ crossed the river straight out from the hotel, and it
carried everything from passengers to barrels of beer. The wire tram
was met by the horse tram at either end, freight and passengers
were loaded, and then the overland journey resumed.
With the completion of the Hokitika-Greymouth rail line
also came the opening of the Kumara Straight, between Kumara
township and Kumara Junction, which proved another nail in the
coffin for the tram.
The end came on December 31, 1893 when the last carriage left
the Kumara terminus in Greenstone Road (formerly Main Street),
down the road from the Empire Hotel, overloaded with passengers
keen to experience the last tram to the Taramakau. The old tram
station at Kumara was sold for demolition in 1917.
“After several stoppages at different hotels on the way, including
changing carriages, the Teramakau River is reached, the great
drawback against safe and uninterrupted communication being
carried out between the Grey and Westland Counties.
“Here the passengers are transported across the river by boat. The
place is very suitable for working a ferry, and little danger of any
accident occurring except when the river is in high flood.
Very shortly the ferry will be done away with, as the company
have nearly completed a wire tramway from bank to bank which
can be worked without any chance of being interfered with by any
flood that should ever be in the river.
A powerful engine is being erected to work the machinery
required to work the wire in pulling the goods and passengers to
and fro, over the river.
“After the Teramakau is passed the tramway for miles is as
straight as an arrow, and runs through an immense forest of pine
timber, which will be valuable for export at no distant date. The
original pioneer surveyors of the tramway, Messrs Kilgour and
Cheverton, deserve great credit for the route that they discovered,
and which the tramway was constructed on.
“Six miles from the Teramakau, the Kumara Tramway Station is
reached. The station is admirably suited for the traffic requirements
at the present time, and within a convenient distance of the central
business portion of the town ...
After several days residence in Kumara, I found myself seated in
the tramway car, leaving behind me the premier alluvial goldfield
of New Zealand, and soon arrived at the premier coalfield of New
Zealand, the future Newcastle of the south — Greymouth.” (Grey
River Argus, January 10, 1878)
Riding the tram to Kumara
“The rails are of wood and each length of rail joins the other in
such a rustic manner that the uninitiated traveller prepared for a
probable alarm of ‘off the rails’ at any moment. However, that signal
is seldom heard.
“The horsecar carries a number of passengers and is as
comfortable as the best of our city tramcars, while the absence of
dust and the beauty and freshness of the bush makes the journey an
exceedingly pleasant one.” (Bill Heinz)
As cyclists on the West Coast Wilderness Trail begin wheeling through the swampy
recesses between the Taramakau Bridge and Kumara, and soon also the forgotten
byway linking Kaniere with Hokitika, they will be following routes well-trodden in the
late 1800s by horse-drawn trams. PAUL MADGWICK takes a look at the history.
‘Five powerful horses are daily working on the tramway’
The tramline passes the Kanieri Junction Hotel (now the Empire Hotel site) and
fluming for the goldmines that encroached on Kanieri township.
The Greymouth-Kumara tramway bridge across Saltwater Creek, heading into the original Paroa Hotel.
PICTURES: Hokitika Museum
The Kumara Tram, in true ‘wilderness’ countr y.
The aerial cablecar suspended over the Taramakau River, looking upstream. The cablecar linked the Greymouth and
Kumara ends of the Greymouth-Kumara Tramway. It operated about 25m upstream of the road-rail bridge.
The Tramway Terminus Hotel sits opposite the Hokitika-Kanieri Tramway terminus, near the end of the Kanieri Bridge. The tram rails can
be seen on the opposite side of the road, running towards the terminus.
Tram owner Tom McGuigan and son aboard their tramcar after its return from Kanieri. This booking
office and waiting room was situated a few metres upstream of the current Hokitika Bridge.
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