Nelson Section [7]: Belgrove-Tapawera 1

Belgrove-Tapawera is where things slowed down a lot in the original railway construction plan. From Nelson to Belgrove took only five years. But Belgrove ended up being the railhead for nearly 20 years because of a number of factors. These were as follows:
  • The hilly country specifically the Spooners Range made further construction westward difficult.
  • There was difficulty in selecting a route to take the railway through the hills.
  • The first route chosen was partly constructed and then abandoned because of this indecision. The work was carried out between 1883 and 1885.
  • When the work was to be resumed, the government didn’t have any money, so it decided to contract the work out. 
  • A company, the Midland Railway Co, had to be formed to take the contract for the railway that was to run from Belgrove, on the Nelson line, and Springfield, on what became known as the Midland line, through to Greymouth.
  • The MRC contract was signed in 1888. 
  • By this stage it had been decided to change the route, so the earlier work done of some 4 km of formation was abandoned.
  • It took another two years (1890) from the signing of the MRC contract before tenders were invited to carry out the work west of Belgrove including digging the summit tunnel (approximately 900 metres long at an elevation of 306 metres. Trains had to ascend 172 metres from Belgrove making for a steep climb).
  • Three years were needed to finish the tunnel and the formation works up from Belgrove but by now (1893) the MRC had run out of money. 
  • At the end of the 10 year contract period (1895) the company defaulted on the incomplete work resulting in the Government seizing its assets.
  • It was not until December 1896 that the line to the western portal of the tunnel was eventually completed.
  • Another two years were needed (until November 1898) to complete the construction to Motupiko. NZR officially took over this section in March 1899.
  • The section to Tadmor, 9 km west of Tapawera, was formally opened in 1906. Tapawera was reached some time before this, but I don’t have a date, as NZR chose to wait until Tadmor was reached before formally opening the section from Motupiko. Trains were probably running into Tapawera by 1902-3 but not under the NZR.
So to advance the railway from Belgrove to Tapawera took over 20 years for a track distance of just under 25 km. This very slow rate of progress and the further delays south of Glenhope in particular (14 years from Glenhope to Kawatiri) were what eventually killed the railway. From the 1920s onwards with rapidly developing viability of road transport, it was no longer a given that all possible railways that could have been developed eventually would be. Governments were forced to prioritise which railways would be completed. During the Depression years of the early 1930s most railway construction works ground to a halt (some notable exceptions were the Stratford Okahukura Line from Taranaki to the central north island and the Tawa Flat deviation of the NIMT at Wellington). Even when Labour became the government in 1935 they were forced to choose and the Nelson line lost out to the Main North Line and the Stillwater Westport Line in the South Island. The rails from Glenhope to Gowanbridge were even lifted in 1942 for these other projects.
So enough history and here are some maps and photos, this just covers the section up to Motupiko, the rest will be covered in another part. Map drawing right now is up to Richmond, pretty soon the Nelson Section maps will be all complete.

Tapawera. The road layout was different when the railway was operating, with the deviation at the level crossing, and a different approach onto the east side of the Motueka River bridge.

A 1946 view of Tapawera showing the different roading layout as well as the station.

The site of the station today, seen from Matai Crescent.

Tapawera has a couple of local monuments to the railway seen here on either side of the former main road where it was on a curved alignment to give a right angle crossing of the slanted railway line, which crossed over at extreme right of this picture. The local interest in the railway history resulted in the formation of the Grand Tapawera Railroad Co in the mid 1980s which proposed to rebuild a section of the former railway around Tapawera as a heritage line. They were also associated with public tours of the Spooner Tunnel which at that time was generally closed to public access. In 1991 the GTRR split between Tapawera and Nelson interests with the bulk of the operation reforming as the Nelson Railway Society based at Founders Park. The Tapawera community outlook remains with the replica loading bank and shelter seen above right built in the 1980s, and the Kiwi station building seen to the left which was relocated in 2004. The actual Tapawera station site is on the other side of the present main highway, seen by looking in the opposite direction from this view.

South (east in railway terms) of Tapawera the highway swung out towards the riverbed for a short distance then came back alongside the railway.

At the south end of the highway deviation looking north, the railway carries on straight ahead.

Looking at the same section on an aerial photo. A small bridge or culvert can be seen on the ground alongside what are now sports fields.

Mararewa is the next station east of Tapawera and was just a flag station with a small shelter shed. There were never any siding tracks or other buildings there.

A small bridge just north of Mararewa.

Aerial view of Mararewa in 1946, in which the small bridge, cattle stops and the shelter shed can be seen. The level crossing of the highway was just in front of the cemetery.

The location of Mararewa station seen roadside. The kink in the road ahead is where the railway crossed the road.

 There was another crossing of the highway a bit south of Marerewa.

Motupiko was a major transshipment point taking over from Belgrove once the railway opened to there.

Motupiko seen in 1946. There was another level crossing immediately east of the station.


This section of abandoned highway to the right took the main road around the Motupiko station. The straightening of the highway subsequent to closure has cut into the edge of the Motupiko yard and is one possible explanation for the lack of remnants at the site today. At the far end of this section the highway cut back across the railway.

These three photos show small bridges or culverts alongside the road between Motupiko and the Norriss Gully corner.

 The entrance to Norriss Gully where the highway crossed over the railway yet again and both headed inland from the Motueka River valley.

Norris Gully corner seen in aerial in 1946. The highway of today has been realigned closer to where the railway ran, but there is still likely to be a bridge site hidden away in the bush at the side of the highway to be investigated in future.