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The Driving Creek Railway is
considered the top tourist attraction on the Coromandel peninsula, and is
certainly a unique New Zealand
It wasn’t originally built with tourists in
A professional potter named Barry Brickell bought the 60-acre property in 1973, which at the
time was mainly a scrubby hillside.
In many places on the hillside, though, natural clay deposits could be found
which were perfect for use in terracotta pottery.
It so happened that Brickell also had an engineering background and
conceived the idea of building a private railway that could be used to move clay and
wood (for use in firing his kilns) from sources on the steep hillside to his
This turned out to be a very
complicated project, involving surveying, earth moving, bridge and tunnel
building, and the laying of a great deal of narrow gauge (15-inch)
Two small diesel locomotives were also custom
built in the workshop.
As might be expected, all of this was expensive, and loans were taken out to pay
But while a living can be made creating and
selling pottery, it apparently isn’t a good enough living to be able to
pay for and maintain a private railway, so eventually the lenders, with an eye
toward possibly being repaid someday, strongly suggested that the railway be
opened up for tours to a paying public.
Being the artist he is, one can imagine reluctance and skepticism on the part of
Brickell, but a passenger-carrying car was built that could be attached
to an existing locomotive, and the railway was opened for business in 1990.
The rest, one might say, has been history.
The track has been extended to its current 2.6 km, with additional tunnels and bridges
(including a double-decker viaduct) being built.
An observation tower (called the “Eyefull Tower”)
was constructed at the upper end of the line.
Three new trains have been added for the sole purpose of carrying passengers.
The trains are all named for animals – the
newer ones are called “Snake”, “Possum” and “Linx”; the original ones
are called “Dieselmouse” and “Elephant”.
Tens of thousands of visitors ride the trains each year.
If you wish to ride, it’s best to make a
reservation (by phone or e-mail) in advance.
And the railway’s creator has apparently warmed to the
whole idea, greeting visitors when he’s around.
On our visit
he wasn’t, having gone off to Wellington
with a vanload of pottery.
Conservation is another passion of Mr. Brickell, and he’s been planting kauri forest plants on
the property since the 1970’s.
The wood he’s used for the kilns has been from faster-growing California
pine trees, planted in the 19th Century by visiting gold miners or
descended from such trees (the first gold discovery in New Zealand
was in the Driving Creek area in 1852).
Many native plants can be seen along the railway, with signs identifying
them. Development of a wildlife sanctuary is also
underway, with a vermin-proof fence (to keep out predators as small as mice)
having been installed around the planned area.
It is hoped (among other things) that essentially
defenseless kiwi birds can eventually be reintroduced to something resembling a natural
Welcomed by a Chicken?
… and Sheep?
Our visit began with paying for our train tickets and boarding the “Linx”
train at the appointed time.
Connie and Nella with "Possum" and "Linx"
Nella and Bob Aboard "Linx"
The train moved past
a workshop area and immediately entered forest.
It also immediately started to rain.
There was a running commentary by the train’s driver over
a P.A. system, but it was difficult to make out a lot of it because of noise made by
the train and the weather.
Heading Out of the Station (WMV Video, 14.8 MB)
Occasionally there were gaps in
the forest through which some outstanding scenery was visible.
Coromandel Bay Through Bushes
Coromandel Bay from Train (WMV Video, 7.5 MB)
There were also areas alongside the track
with pottery displays or unique retaining walls.
There were also several “reversing points” at
locations where the train needed to switch back more sharply than its turning
radius would allow. At such points the
driver would stop the train, get out and walk to the other end of the train,
and drive the train from that end back the way it had come, except taking a
fork in the track that went upward instead of downward.
Reversing Point and No. 3 Tunnel (WMV Video, 10.4MB)
Eventually we reached the Eyefull
where the view of Coromandel
the Hauraki Gulf
was magnificent (and it had even stopped raining).
Eyefull Tower Station (WMV Video, 9.5 MB)
The train driver gave us a talk pointing out
some things and discussing the history of the railway, and then we got back in
the train and returned back down the hill to where we started.
Valley and Bay
Nella and Connie with Coromandel Bay
At the bottom there was a shop with pottery
and glassware and a small sculpture garden, displaying some of the larger
pottery that had been created in the workshop.
More Sculpture Garden
While we were in the sculpture garden, the rain began
again, so we returned to the car and set out to cross the peninsula to the east coast.
Landscape from Train
Tunnel and Bridge (WMV Video, 12.0 MB)
Eyefull Tower Station
"Linx" from Tower
Hillside from Tower
Signpost at Station
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