Introduction

The Great Barrier bushmen rode the tramway up and down inclines like a rollercoaster. Learn more about the incredible feat of engineering required to reach the last kauri stands.

Important notice: Extreme care should be taken when descending the north section of this track from Aotea Road to Awana Stream.

About the Tramline Track

The last large-scale kauri logging operation by New Zealand’s biggest native timber company, the Kauri Timber Company was carried out on Great Barrier Island. The Kauri Timber Company was a major influence on European settlement on Great Barrier Island in the first half of the 20th century. At its peak the company employed up to 70 men on the island.

A major feat of engineering

The timber company had extensive holdings on Great Barrier, but because of the difficult terrain, logging was initially restricted only to areas easily accessible by bullock teams. To combat this, a tramway was built in stages between 1925 and 1935 to transport cut logs from the last remaining kauri holdings that had proved more difficult to access.

The Tramline Track was considered a major feat of engineering. With a total of 10 inclines, a cumulative total of 1160m of vertical rise and grades as steep as 1-in-1, it comprised one of the most extensive incline systems anywhere in the world.

The Tramline Track route

The track enabled timber to be delivered from stands as far away as Palmer’s Bush through to Whangaparapara, and included a branch leading out to the Wairahi and Kiwiriki kauri stands. There were 7 steam haulers working the inclines, along with a locomotive and 2 rail tractors that operated on the flat sections. On arrival at Whangaparapara the logs were lashed into rafts to be towed through the Hauraki Gulf to the company’s waterfront mill in Auckland for processing. Six campsites were located along the length of the tramway to accommodate the workers.  

The closure of the track

The tramway eventually closed down in 1941 once the kauri had been depleted from the island. It was estimated that over 1.5 million m3 of kauri timber had been felled over an area of almost 5000 hectares.

Today

Many of the kauri bushmen who worked the track still have descendants living in the area today.

The Tramline Track is now utlilised as a 14km walking track and is one of the most visited sites on Great Barrier Island.  A high level of physical fitness is required to tackle the steep inclines.

The original track surface and other structural features, including the sleepers, are evident in places along the route as are the log hauler clearings. The track has left a visible scar on landscape. The well-defined corridor through the regenerated bush provides spectacular views over the island.

Getting there

This track is part of the Aotea Track (2-3 day walk). There are several entrance points to the Tramline Track:

  • Kaitoke Hot Springs
  • Aotea Road (signposted)
  • At the head of Whangaparapara Bay (signposted)
  • Forest Road
  • Peach Tree Track

Further reading

Lloyd, R. (1979) Great Barrier Island State Forest 1955: An Historical Account (Kauri Management Unit, New Zealand Forest Service). 

Luff, H. (2003) Tales from Great Barrier Island (David Ling Publishing).

Mackay, D. (1991) Working the Kauri: A Social and Photographic History of New Zealand’s Pioneer Kauri Bushmen (Random Century).

Mahoney, P. (1998) The Era of the Bush Tram in New Zealand (IPL Books).

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