Mr and Mrs Dalglish travelled to New Zealand in March – here they share a snippet from their trip journal on an unexpected and little-visited attraction on the Coromandel Peninsula.
We decide to visit Coromandel Town today, as we shall not have time to do it justice on our way through tomorrow when we drive to Auckland for our final stay before flying home.
The small township of Coromandel sits on the northwest corner of the Coromandel Peninsula and the drive from Whitianga is gorgeous, with some tortuous mountain pass roads (again!). The views dropping down into the town and looking across towards Auckland are stunningly beautiful and we are lucky, as it is a sunny day. Coromandel Town was a gold mining and logging centre in the 19th century and the Old Assay House is still in use as a public building, taking pride of place on the main street. There are several other reminders of the town’s gold mining past in the form of preserved buildings around the town.
After seeing the sights and enjoying another excellent coffee shop, we drive to the nearby Driving Creek Railway, so named on account of the logging technique used in pioneer days to create a temporary dam in which the season’s logs were stored, before releasing the whole lot down the mountainside in a massive avalanche. Although this method destroyed everything in its wake, it was a quick way of getting thousands of tons of logs down from the hills. The DCR is the creation of one man, Barry Brickell, who gave up teaching after just a few months to become a potter and started building his bush railway up the hillside to access clay deposits and pinewood fuel on land he purchased in 1974. He was one of the first New Zealanders to make a living out of pottery and used his childhood passion for bush railways to exploit the materials on his inaccessible land. It was initially Barry’s art that funded the construction of the railway but he had never repaid any of his mortgages! Eventually, the bank manager realised that he had not been paying his mortgage, and “advised” that he open the railway to tourists to make money. The DCR has been a successful visitor attraction since 1990.
The whole railway is only about three miles long but has several significant engineering challenges to overcome, including 1 in 14 inclines. The line boasts several switchbacks, a spiral loop, two vertigo-inducing trestle bridges, three tunnels and 10 bridges – all hand-built. It is truly a unique and inspiring, if quirky, feat of engineering. Incredible to think that he laid every bit of rail himself by hand. The railway ends at a lookout Brickell had built in 2004, called The “Eyefull” Tower! The views across Coromandel to the sea are fantastic. Brickell died a few years ago and is fittingly buried on the hillside by his creation.