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Ohakune Old Coach Road history 

The Junction, 1930

Originally the Ohakune Old Coach Road was part of a network of trails used by the Tangata Whenua for hunting birds. By 1889 the track was suitable for horses, and by 1895 it was improved to a dray road suitable for pulling a simple cart or wagon, at a cost of 1131 pounds.

John Rochfort began surveying the new railway route in 1883, using nothing more than axes to force their way through the thick undergrowth, a theodolite and chain. He also used the bridle track described above before it was upgraded into The Ohakune Old Coach Road. In spite of resistance from local Maori who was opposed to the railway going through their land (at one point they took him, prisoner, for several days) he finished the job in Feb. 1884. The modern railway runs very close to his first surveyed route.


Between 1906 and 1908 the OOCR covered the only unfinished section of the main trunk railway line, the 39 km between Ohakune and Raurimu. One train with three carriages would disgorge up to 100 passengers at Ohakune, who would then transfer into up to 10 coaches being pulled by 50 horses. The road needed to be well constructed to withstand this heavy use in often wet conditions. So in 1906 The Ohakune Old Coach Road was once more upgraded, this time with cobbles, at a cost of 3900 pounds.

Visit Ohakune - viaduct-old-and-new-oocr

The cobbles, which can still be seen today, are rectangular setts, of hard volcanic rock (andesite and basalt) quarried locally. Their rough surface provided the horses with traction as they pulled their passengers uphill.


Most workers came straight from England to work as “navvies” on the railway and lived on the construction sites. Conditions were dire; in winter it rained most days and snowed. One particularly severe snowstorm killed 20 men when their tents collapsed on them in the night. At one point hundreds of men were living in the mud, smoke and noise of the construction site. No wonder the locals greeted newcomers with “ Welcome to the front!”


The tents the men lived in were provided by the government but the workers had to repair or replace them. They often had wooden floors and walls, and corrugated iron chimneys. Bunks were fashioned from bush vines, with sacking stretched over as a mattress. Fireplaces were dug into hillsides and lined with rocks: many have been found along the Ohakune Old Coach Road and near the viaducts.

Their work tools consisted of dynamite, picks and shovels, with wheelbarrows to move the soil, rocks and gravel.


Was constructed of cast concrete for the sides, and large concrete blocks for the ceiling, all still visible. First used in 1908. When the line was modernised in 1987 to provide a straighter route for faster longer modern trains, the tunnel became obsolete. In addition, it didn’t have enough headroom for modern trains. The ensuing earthworks and cuttings done with modern machinery were bigger than those originally done by hand and made the old Hapuawhenua Viaduct and tunnel, Taonui Viaduct and Haeremaere Bridge obsolete.

The Hapuawhenua Tunnel

Visit Ohakune - Hapuawhenua

This viaduct and its construction camp were given Category 1 Historic Places Trust status in 1995.

It was built in ten months with no construction machinery as we know it today. All materials came in by packhorse and via a purpose-built tramway at the bottom of the gully, and were hauled up with steam engines. However steam engines weren’t reliable enough to hoist the trusses and girders into place: this delicate operation had to be done by hand.

Construction occurred in the following stages:

-        Built an access road

-        Built a bridge across the Hapuawhenua stream

-        The site was cleared of vegetation

-        Work platforms were built

-        Thirteen 43 m high concrete piers were brought in and hoisted into place

-        Finally, the wooden deck was laid and the rails mounted into place.

The finished viaduct was

-        286 m long,

-        had used a total of 688 tons of steel

-        27,000 cubic metres of jarrah

-        27,000cubic metres of ironbark

-        3,880 cubic yards of concrete – and remember, all this was hauled in by packhorse.

Visit Ohakune Hapuawhenua viaduct.jpg

The Hapuawhenua Viaduct

The engineer who designed the Hapuawhenua Viaduct was a brilliant mathematician called Peter Seaton Hay. He migrated here with his parents from Glasgow and became the first graduate of Otago University, obtaining an MA with honours in Mathematics.

He was able to overcome various problems in the construction of the Hapuawhenua Viaduct

 - its unique curved shape

-  the delivery of materials by hoisting the from the individual piers

- the problem of handling the huge steel trusses which were extremely heavy.


He also designed the Makohine, Mangaweka, Hapuawhenua, Taonui, Manganui O Te Ao and Makatote viaducts on this route. Again these were designed without the assistance of computers, using simple tools: the theodolite and the slide rule.


Hay died of pneumonia in 1907 aged 55 while the Hapuawhenua Viaduct was still being constructed.

Visit Ohakune - Taonui Viaduct.jpg
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