Paritu Station, Wharerata Hills, stunning on a clear winter day

Views, exercise and education

Views, exercise and education

Paritu Station, Wharerata Hills, on a clear winter’s day. Our guide, Peter Hair, is second from left.
Tikiwhata Tunnel Construction
Coastal views near Beach Loop
Geraldine Oliver Hickling with Beach Loop, Te Puna Beach and Whareongaonga behind
Tikiwhata Railway Construction Camp
Tikiwhata Construction Camp site, 2017
Tikiwhata Construction Camp site, 2017

Paritu Station is on the coastal side of Paritu Road (off Wharerata Road SH2 near the summit of the Wharerata Hills) south of Hikurangi Forest Farms. Farm owner Peter Hair was our guide.

With Peter’s descriptions and some old photographs from Tairawhiti Museum, our group of 23 learned a lot about the period of construction of the Palmerston North to Gisborne railway line.

We saw rail tunnels, bridges, water drives and culverts, a jig way, the remnants of work platforms and rail workers’ construction camp sites.

Gisborne had to campaign hard to be included in the government’s rail construction effort.

Initially, surveying and construction began on this coastal route in 1929, then work was halted in 1931.

Construction was restarted in 1936 by the new Labour government, and in 1937 there were 900 men employed on the Gisborne-Waikokopu section, which was the last and most challenging section as it includes many tunnels and viaducts — an immense effort.

The group walked down one of the roads built as part of the construction work to the northern portal of the three kilometre Tikiwhata tunnel, which shows one example of the awkward work conditions the workers and engineers had to cope with.

The worksite here was built on posts in a steep gully. The stream in the gully was diverted with a concrete wall into a vertical shaft and water shot out like a geyser from below the tunnel entrance.

The name comes from this work site — “tiki” (post) and “whata” (platform), platform on posts.

The platform was built in front of the waterfall.

From here, we could look up to where a jig way, a double set of rail tracks and pulley system, was built to carry wagons of materials steeply down slope from the construction road to this work site. When the tunnellers digging the Tikiwhata Tunnel met in the middle in mid 1941 their alignment was only ¾ of an inch out. Remarkable!

The coastal views are spectacular (but hard to photograph with the low-angle winter sun).

We agreed there was an obvious case for restoration and reopening of the railway line for carrying freight and for excursion trains. Peter pointed out several pa sites along this coastal area.

We walked through the site of the Tikiwhata construction camp on Paritu Station on a hillslope more or less on top of the “Coast” Tunnel. This was the second largest, after Bartlett’s, of a series of construction camps, which were built as temporary accommodation for rail workers and their families, so they could be housed close to their work. There were 500 people living here from 1937 to 1941 and there was a regular Red Bus service from Gisborne.

The gentle hill slope was terraced for siting small houses for the married quarters, and in the foreground were the single men’s small huts.

The terraces and road formations of Tikiwhata Camp can still be clearly seen, and in the spring bluebells emerge from where gardens were planted.

The YMCA hall with canteen (in the centre of the 1939 photo) was built on the levelled site.

It was an almost self-sufficient community with at least one store, and Tom Gaskill’s small dairy farm just below Beach Loop supplying dairy produce. Social life revolved around the YMCA canteen, which also housed the post office. Movies were shown at the YMCA and dances “Bob Hops” (a shilling was a bob) were occasionally held.

In June 1942, the first freight train ran on the line and amid cheers given by 10,000 onlookers, the first passenger train left Gisborne for Napier on September 7, 1942.

Seeing the excitement on the faces of residents in Kaikoura when their rail was reopened (following damage by the November earthquake) made us think about how excited Gisborne residents must have been when the railway line was restored here.

The cost of construction of the section of railway line from Waikokopu to Gisborne was £2.8 million in 1942 (Historic Poverty Bay by J. A. Mackay), which would be about $250 million in 2017 value (Reserve Bank of NZ).

By 1941, near the end of the rail construction period, both the school and the post office had closed at Tikiwhata and the workforce was moving away to other construction work, e.g. the power station at Tuai. Most of the buildings were dismantled and moved along with the workers, but some of the families stayed living at Tikiwhata because insufficient accommodation for families was provided at these other construction sites. Apparently, life was very tough for the families left behind and they were often short of food.

They would have welcomed the generosity of Peter Hair’s grandfather who occasionally gave them a sheep to keep the wolf at bay.

The tramping club group had a big climb over the station back up to Paritu Road to finish of a marvellous day, and we appreciated Peter Hair sharing his knowledge about the history of the area.

Paritu Station is on the coastal side of Paritu Road (off Wharerata Road SH2 near the summit of the Wharerata Hills) south of Hikurangi Forest Farms. Farm owner Peter Hair was our guide.

With Peter’s descriptions and some old photographs from Tairawhiti Museum, our group of 23 learned a lot about the period of construction of the Palmerston North to Gisborne railway line.

We saw rail tunnels, bridges, water drives and culverts, a jig way, the remnants of work platforms and rail workers’ construction camp sites.

Gisborne had to campaign hard to be included in the government’s rail construction effort.

Initially, surveying and construction began on this coastal route in 1929, then work was halted in 1931.

Construction was restarted in 1936 by the new Labour government, and in 1937 there were 900 men employed on the Gisborne-Waikokopu section, which was the last and most challenging section as it includes many tunnels and viaducts — an immense effort.

The group walked down one of the roads built as part of the construction work to the northern portal of the three kilometre Tikiwhata tunnel, which shows one example of the awkward work conditions the workers and engineers had to cope with.

The worksite here was built on posts in a steep gully. The stream in the gully was diverted with a concrete wall into a vertical shaft and water shot out like a geyser from below the tunnel entrance.

The name comes from this work site — “tiki” (post) and “whata” (platform), platform on posts.

The platform was built in front of the waterfall.

From here, we could look up to where a jig way, a double set of rail tracks and pulley system, was built to carry wagons of materials steeply down slope from the construction road to this work site. When the tunnellers digging the Tikiwhata Tunnel met in the middle in mid 1941 their alignment was only ¾ of an inch out. Remarkable!

The coastal views are spectacular (but hard to photograph with the low-angle winter sun).

We agreed there was an obvious case for restoration and reopening of the railway line for carrying freight and for excursion trains. Peter pointed out several pa sites along this coastal area.

We walked through the site of the Tikiwhata construction camp on Paritu Station on a hillslope more or less on top of the “Coast” Tunnel. This was the second largest, after Bartlett’s, of a series of construction camps, which were built as temporary accommodation for rail workers and their families, so they could be housed close to their work. There were 500 people living here from 1937 to 1941 and there was a regular Red Bus service from Gisborne.

The gentle hill slope was terraced for siting small houses for the married quarters, and in the foreground were the single men’s small huts.

The terraces and road formations of Tikiwhata Camp can still be clearly seen, and in the spring bluebells emerge from where gardens were planted.

The YMCA hall with canteen (in the centre of the 1939 photo) was built on the levelled site.

It was an almost self-sufficient community with at least one store, and Tom Gaskill’s small dairy farm just below Beach Loop supplying dairy produce. Social life revolved around the YMCA canteen, which also housed the post office. Movies were shown at the YMCA and dances “Bob Hops” (a shilling was a bob) were occasionally held.

In June 1942, the first freight train ran on the line and amid cheers given by 10,000 onlookers, the first passenger train left Gisborne for Napier on September 7, 1942.

Seeing the excitement on the faces of residents in Kaikoura when their rail was reopened (following damage by the November earthquake) made us think about how excited Gisborne residents must have been when the railway line was restored here.

The cost of construction of the section of railway line from Waikokopu to Gisborne was £2.8 million in 1942 (Historic Poverty Bay by J. A. Mackay), which would be about $250 million in 2017 value (Reserve Bank of NZ).

By 1941, near the end of the rail construction period, both the school and the post office had closed at Tikiwhata and the workforce was moving away to other construction work, e.g. the power station at Tuai. Most of the buildings were dismantled and moved along with the workers, but some of the families stayed living at Tikiwhata because insufficient accommodation for families was provided at these other construction sites. Apparently, life was very tough for the families left behind and they were often short of food.

They would have welcomed the generosity of Peter Hair’s grandfather who occasionally gave them a sheep to keep the wolf at bay.

The tramping club group had a big climb over the station back up to Paritu Road to finish of a marvellous day, and we appreciated Peter Hair sharing his knowledge about the history of the area.

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