Ngatapa Branch

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Ngatapa Branch 1911 - 1931
Distances approximate, source: NZR Mileage Table 1957.
Port of Gisborne
0 km Gisborne
Palmerston North - Gisborne Line (1942)
Makaraka Branch
Park Racecourse
Ngatapa Branch
18.5 km Ngatapa
Moutohora Branch

The Ngatapa Branch was a secondary branch line railway 18,50 km long that for a short time formed part of the national rail network in Poverty Bay in the North Island of New Zealand. The Ngatapa branch diverged from the Moutohora branch line about 6 km from Gisborne and ran a further 12.5 km across the coastal flat to a terminus at Ngatapa.

Built to the New Zealand standard 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge the branch was originally authorized as part of the proposed inland route for the Wairoa to Gisborne section of the Palmerston North – Gisborne Line. However, in 1924, an engineer's report recommended that the then new isolated section between Wairoa and Waikokopu in Hawke's Bay be incorporated as the southernmost portion of a new coastal route from Wairoa to Gisborne. The Public Works Department (PWD) accordingly stopped work on the inland Ngatapa route, which was officially opened as a branch line on 15 December 1924, and began work on the coastal route.[1] The Ngatapa branch became a dead end, and it was closed on 1 April 1931.[2]


Construction started in 1911, and the line was completed to Ngatapa by December 1915, although it was not formally handed over to the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR) until 15 December 1924.[3] Between 1918 and 1920, work started at Wairoa on the section to Frasertown, which was to have been linked through to Ngatapa, and on the Waikura section beyond Ngatapa, but all work was stopped in 1920 after the Waikura section was found to be unstable.[4]

Construction of the line presented few problems as far as Ngatapa. The course of the line beyond this point was a different matter, and would have required heavy earthworks and extensive tunneling. Beyond Ngatapa, some formation work was undertaken for about 8 km, including the excavation of a short tunnel, but rails were never laid on the section.[5] Today, earthworks such as embankments and cuttings can still be found, but no actual tunnels can be located, possibly due to collapse in the slip prone ground.[4][6][7]

Operations and closure[edit]

By December 1915 the Public Works Department (PWD) was operating goods trains on the branch, and continued to do so until responsibility for the line was transferred to the NZR.[3] The line carried only about 12,000 tonnes of freight per annum, almost all road metal.[3] By 1930 a Railways Commission noted that with the abandonment of the originally proposed inland route the need for the line had disappeared, and the twice-daily Monday to Saturday NZR service attracted an average of only 20 passengers a day. The commission recommended the branch should either close or be taken over by its users, the PWD, or the Gisborne City Council. There were no takers, and the line was closed on 1 April 1931.[3]


Not much remains of the branch formation or other works on the coastal plain.[3] Apart from the bridge piers of the Waipaoa River crossing between Makaraka and Patutahi, the most significant remains are those past the original terminus at Ngatapa, over which trains never ran but which illustrate the problems that would have faced the constructors if the line had continued into the hills. Beyond the terminus at Ngatapa the formation works take the proposed line through a 180 degree climbing turn[5] before following a winding path across the face of the hills until disappearing into the bush.[3]


  1. ^ Churchman, G. and Hurst, T., 1990, ‘The Railways of New Zealand; a Journey Through History (2nd edition 2001), Transpress New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand, ISBN 0-908876-20-3
  2. ^ Hermann, Bruce J; North Island Branch Lines p 59 (2007, New Zealand Railway & Locomotive Society, Wellington) ISBN 978-0-908573-83-7
  3. ^ a b c d e f Leitch D. & Scott B., 1995, ‘Exploring New Zealand’s Ghost Railways’, Grantham House Publishing, Wellington, New Zealand, ISBN 1-86934-048-5
  4. ^ a b Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.. J A Mackay, Gisborne, 1949
  5. ^ a b Bromby, R., 2003, ‘Rails That Built a Nation – An Encyclopedia of New Zealand Railways’, Grantham House Publishing, Wellington, New Zealand, ISBN 1-86934-080-9
  6. ^ "Of Stone, Steel And Skill", A L R Merrifield. Chapter from "Steel Roads of New Zealand" (p.111), G S Troup (ed.), Reed Books, 1973.
  7. ^ The Ngatapa Branch Tunnels Mystery. P J R Dunford, 2010

External links[edit]