The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 5 (September 1, 1929)
From Greymouth to Rewanui — A Trip Through one of New Zealand's Coal-Mining Districts
Sixty years ago, coal, the product that was to make the West Coast famous, was discovered at Runanga. The honour of the first find went to the late Mr. H. McKenzie who arrived in the district in 1867.
Following upon his discovery (in 1868), a prospecting license over 1,000 acres was granted in 1871 to a small company formed at Greymouth.
In 1874, the property was taken over by a larger company of Greymouth business men who carried out extensive surveys. In 1888, the late Mr. McDougall, of Wellington, proceeded to England and there succeeded in floating a stronger company to develop the property.
Meanwhile the construction of the railway line and the bridge across the Grey River to give access to the coal field were started in 1893, but, owing to certain conditions, the company did not comply with the stipulations of the lease, which was cancelled. The Government subsequently took over the property, completed the various works, and opened the mine in the interest of the State.
Subject, of course, to that doubtful factor, the weather, a trip over this line, from Greymouth to Rewanui, a distance of a little over eight miles, is one of considerable interest.
Where the line diverges at the Grey bridge it will be observed that the mountain side has been cut away to make room for the railway, leaving a high wall of rugged rocks, which forms a protection for the main highway crossing the mountain above.
Under this rough projection of rocks is a large cave in the mountain side. As the train proceeds the traveller is greeted with magnificent vistas of bush scenery and high mountains reaching from Cobden to Seven Mile Beach, Point Elizabeth.
The construction of a deep-sea harbour at the latter point, in order to remove the handicap of the Grey bar, is still discussed periodically, and it appears to be conceded generally that the scheme is feasible. However, the enormous cost proves the stumbling block, and the matter is shelved and the deep-sea harbour scheme is still no nearer realisation. In this connection it is interesting to recall the long list of vessels wrecked on the Grey Bar since 1863. They are: The “Gipsy” (1863) (north beach), “Eleanor” (1865), “Swan” and “Excelsior” (1866), “Harriet” (1867) (south beach), “Jane Elkin” and “Cymare,” “Louisa,” and “Pat the Rover” (1868), “Bruce” (1869) (south beach), “Pearl,” “Constant” and “Lioness” (1882) (north tip), “Queen of the South” (1884) (south tip), s.s. “Wallace” (1885), s.s. “Gerda” (1888), “Thursa” (1895), s.s. “Hesketh” (1899), s.s. “Taupo” (1900), s.s. “Hawera” (1908), “Lauderdale” (1910). In more recent years the steamers “Kotuku,” “Opuri,” “Perth” and “Ngahere” have also become total wrecks.
But to proceed with our story.
Runanga, which is reached shortly after leaving Greymouth, is a picturesque little village with a population of about 2,000, An up-to-date miners’ hall and picture palace, a large co-operative page 31 store, swimming bath, tennis courts, a bowling green, croquet lawns and recreation grounds, are features of this progressive little place.
In order to obtain a better position as a stopping place for the trains on the main line to Rewanui and the branch line to Rapahoe, the Runanga Railway station was shifted from its old site, where it faced the town, and made into an island station facing towards Greymouth.
As the train proceeds on its journey from Runanga towards Dunollie, the traveller is interested in the beautiful king ferns, toi-toi and cabbage trees, which grow in great profusion along the railway line. Dunollie is a busy coal-mining settlement there being ten co-operative parties of miners employed in its mines. The output of coal runs into thousands of tons per annum, and train loads are hauled away daily in hoppers from the bins, to be delivered to the consumers. Owing to the height of the mines and their distance from the bins, a considerable amount of work and expense has been entailed in bringing them into operation. Some of the tracks to the mines have had to be formed by cutting away dense bush up the mountain side to a height of one thousand feet. Down these tracks the full trucks of coal are lowered on rails by means of wire ropes, the empty trucks being hauled to the top, simultaneously, on an adjacent track.
Some of the co-operative parties use electric power for haulage purposes. There are four parties near Dunollie yard, five more a quarter of a mile further on, and another one near the first tunnel. One of the parties, owing to the difficulty of putting in a siding, has to make arrangements for a special train to bring the coal down.
The train journey from Dunollie to Rewanui takes the traveller through country of great interest and variety of scene. The high mountain, covered with dense bush, the narrow valley through which the train climbs, the rock-bound cliff with tall trees overhanging, and streaks of coal showing on its surface, and, far below, the river, all hold the attention.
A centre-rail system of railway track provides for safe train journey through this narrow valley of jutting rocks.
By those who would enjoy a pleasant walk down the incline from Rewanui to Dunollie, the distance a little over three miles, could be covered comfortably in an hour. In the course of this walk ample opportunity is presented for taking photographs of scenes of rare beauty and charm, for here Nature wears her finest robes.