NZRM Volumes: Volume 5 (Palmerston North Gisborne Line)

Volume 5 of New Zealand Rail Maps covers the Palmerston North Gisborne Line and all its branches. The sub volumes for each part of Volume 5 and the areas they cover are as follows.

PNGL Main Line Corridor

Volume 5 coverage of the Palmerston North Gisborne Line starts at 7 km just beyond Whakarongo station. (the section from the junction in Palmerston North, at 139.51 km on the NIMT, to 6.5 km, is covered in Volume 6). Gisborne is located at 390.40 km. The line was very slow to be developed and many routes were considered, with early proposals including the linking of Gisborne from the north to Auckland via what eventually became the East Coast Main Trunk (covered in Volume 3). Despite its name, the ECMT line never reached further east than Taneatua. Railway construction in Gisborne itself began in 1900 and after many years of development, the Gisborne Section reached Moutohora 78 km to the north in 1917 (see separate section below). The connection to the national network was finally completed to the south in 1942 after decades of work through very difficult and often unstable land with numerous natural disasters and other problems to contend with. The Gisborne Line never carried a high traffic volume and was and extremely expensive to maintain particularly in the hilly country of the Whareratas between Wairoa and Gisborne and one of the numerous “weather bombs” that the area is prone to caused the line to be closed in 2012 after major damage. The section from Napier to Wairoa was re-opened in 2019 for forestry traffic. In 2023 Cyclone Gabrielle caused major damage to the Palmerston North-Wairoa section throughout the Hawkes Bay region. The Palmerston North to Napier section is expected to reopen in the same year but the future of the Napier to Wairoa line is currently uncertain. Click here to download the maps of the PNGL main line from 7 to 391 km.

Moutohora / Makaraka Branch

As mentioned in the main line section the Moutohora Branch started life as the Gisborne Section, intended to link through to the Bay of Plenty. Many routes to the north-west of Gisborne were surveyed and one of these is covered in the section on the Gisborne Opotiki Corridor (see below). The branch line was the first railway work undertaken from Gisborne itself taking a route inland following the present route of State Highway 2 for the most part via Ormond (16 km), Te Karaka (28 km), Waikohu (37 km), Otoko (50 km) and Matawai (70 km) whereupon it followed a local route to the terminus (78 km). Its first name was the Gisborne to Rotorua line until 1910, then after being the Gisborne Section for decades, it became the Moutohora Branch (first spelt Motohora) from 1942. Around this time with the opening of the main line to the south, traffic on the branch declined dramatically but it lingered on until it was finally closed in 1959 and lifted back to Makaraka (5 km). Now known as the Makaraka Branch, this 3 km remnant (as measured from the main line junction 2 km from Gisborne) served local industries in the area until it was mothballed around 1990. The track is still in place and Makaraka has become the base of the East Coast Museum of Technology which includes a railway station and various items of rolling stock. Click here to download the maps of the Moutohora / Makaraka Branch.

Ngatapa Branch

The Ngatapa Branch was the earliest attempt to link Gisborne to Napier that started from Gisborne itself. It would have linked to a line that was started from Wairoa that reached as far as Frasertown. Work began on the Ngatapa Branch in 1911, joining it to the Gisborne Section at Makaraka and reached the terminus 13 km further inland three years later. The next section of the line was under construction for the next decade and was purported to have included three small tunnels, but no trace of any of them can be found at the present day. This area was found to be very unstable and was never opened to traffic. It was determined in 1920 to halt the construction work and transfer the line to the Railways Department for public operation in 1924. Due to light traffic volumes the Ngatapa Branch was closed during the Great Depression in 1931. Click here to download the maps of the Ngatapa Branch.

Gisborne Opotiki Corridor

This section of Volume 5 refers to the route that a railway line linking Gisborne to the Bay of Plenty might have taken. In actuality a number of routes were considered and the one closest to completion was via Taneatua rather than Opotiki. The reference to a Gisborne Opotiki Corridor is thus presently conceptual inspired by the actual route of the highway because of the lack of clarity over which route the railway could have practically taken. The maps for this sub-volume are mainly focused around a survey for which an actual official map was located at National Library of New Zealand that ran inland from Matawai via Te Wera; this is possibly the local survey referred to in Chris Woods’ 1996 book “Steaming To The Sunrise” at page 46. Click here to download the maps of the Gisborne Opotiki Corridor.

Ahuriri Branch / Napier Port Branch

The Ahuriri or Napier Port Branch is the only section of the Volume 5 corridor that branches south of Gisborne. It runs from Napier and was first opened in 1874. Major damage from the 1931 Napier earthquake saw big changes in the layout of the port resulting in the working harbour moving further west, requiring a further extension of the line, now about 5 km long in total. Pandora, the area around the junction with the main line, became the main working base of NZR in Napier in the late 1980s following the closure of the Napier Workshops and the main freight yards and locomotive depot in the city centre. Over time the Port of Napier has developed to become an international container terminal and freight is transferred daily between the city and points further south. The reopening of the Napier-Wairoa section of the PNGL main line has brought additional log traffic into the Port from the north of the city from 2019 until 2023 when the line was temporarily mothballed following Cyclone Gabrielle; the main line to the south of Napier was also badly damaged and is currently under repair. Click here to download the maps of the Ahuriri / Port Napier Branch.