Nelson Section [3]: Glenhope-Gowanbridge 1

Gowanbridge to Glenhope was an operational section although Gowanbridge was never formally opened, but the station was under construction and the PWD were running freight services in 1929. Kawatiri in the middle of this section was opened in 1929. The section from Glenhope to Kawatiri was first built between 1912 and 1917 when the first 5 km of a 7 km section was constructed but track was not laid at that time. Works resumed again in 1920 and the tunnel and double bridge construction needed just east of Kawatiri dragged out the official opening date until 1926. Following the cessation of construction works west of Gowanbridge in January 1931, the railway beyond Glenhope was formally closed in June the same year. The track was however left in place for another 11 years.

Gowanbridge is at the junction of the road into Lake Rotoroa and as such is well known to many tourists. However like practically all of the railway route west of Tapawera there was next to no population in the area. Hence it was unsurprising the line was quickly closed by NZR once construction work had stopped.

 Through this section of the route there are several places the route is well separated from the road and traces could possibly still be found today.

Kawatiri is at the junction of SH63 to Blenheim and SH6 to Nelson and Murchison. The traces of the railway such as they are today are the platform and loading bank. The shelter which has been erected on the loading bank is not an original railway feature – there was a goods shed nearby, and a small leanto on the platform, but neither of these bore any resemblance to the shelter that exists today.

Closeup of Kawatiri. By 1973 a second one lane bridge had been added next to the old truss bridge, possibly this additional bridge was a temporary replacement. The overbridge was built for the railway as level crossing elimination was taken seriously by the 1920s and similar bridges were provided at Tui station further up the line from Glenhope, and on the Tadmor valley road near Kaka, as well as at Gowanbridge. However for a crossing up the line from Kawatiri in the Hope River gorge to Glenhope, there was no bridge, which is something of an anomaly. The overbridge at Kawatiri was only for traffic via SH63; SH6 went under the bridge. Once the tracks had been lifted the overbridge was abandoned and a road was put through the railway yard instead. Eventually the overbridge was demolished once it became clear it would no longer be needed.

The existence of overbridges said that this was expected to be a major railway route, and could therefore be seen as an indication that there was every intent in the early 1900s of completing the Nelson Section as a through line to the West Coast, and we all know that if it had ever been completed, the West Coast would have found it an economic lifeline because of their lack of deepwater ports. The East Coast ports are too distant from the Coast to be a viable alternative to a lack of a railway connection to Nelson or a deepwater port at Westport.