The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 9 (January 1, 1930)
The Commerce Train
The Commerce Train
Second Annual Country Excursion
A Tour through the North Auckland Peninsula
A handshake between city and country” is an apt description of that now most popular innovation in railway excursions—the Commerce Train. The success of the first Commerce expedition launched by the combined efforts of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and the New Zealand Government Railways Department was so great that there was cordial approval of the proposal for a similar train in November of 1929, and the experience gained on the pioneer excursion enabled the promoters to make this tour an even pleasanter one. A year ago the first Commerce Train made a comprehensive tour of 1,300 miles, covering most of the railage in the Auckland provincial district. It was rather strenuous travelling, and so this summer's trip did not cover so great a distance, but gave the travellers more time to look around them in interesting districts. It was arranged that the tour should begin with a run to the great dairying valley of the Waihou, extending from the Thames inland to Matamata, this trip giving an opportunity of seeing the Hauraki Plains and the proposed route of the Pokeno-Paeroa railway; and thus then the line of travel should be through the North Auckland peninsula. This programme proved in every way satisfactory. The tour was less hurried, and there was a feeling that more good would come of it than of a hasty run over a great many districts.
When the sixty men of commerce returned to Auckland from their nine-days’ excursion (November 15–24) they had travelled 584 miles by rail, 506 by motor-car, and 44 miles by motor-launch. The train ran a total distance of 780 miles in the nine days; it travelled empty for 232 miles in order to pick up the passengers at various points where the motor tours ended.
The train was a most comfortable travelling home. There were three sleeping cars, each with a capacity of twenty beds (four berth cabins), a quite luxurious lounge car, with its easy chairs and settees; there were day cars, and a canteen which supplied many wants. Everything that a painstaking management could devise was done to ensure the comfort and pleasure of the travellers who were out to do what they could to bring town and country interests closer together.
“Who's Who” on the Train.
Commerce Train Scenes In The Dargaville District.
(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Top: At Dargaville Station. Centre: Donnelly's Crossing: The Stationmaster, his wife, his dog, and his garden. Below: The Commerce Train party at Kaihu.
“An importantce factor in the brilliant success which was achieved last year in the running of the first commerce train,” said the Auckland Star in a preliminary description of the tour, “was the presence of leading officials of the New Zealand Railways, and members of the party are gratified that most of them have again been able to make of table he next few days, and meanwhile he is represented by the Divisional Superintendent, Mr. E. Casey. (Mr. Sterling joined up during the North Auckland journey.) The Commercial Manager, Mr. D. Rodie, is in charge of the arrangements on the train, and with him is the Business Agent, Mr. A. W. Wellsted, who for two years running has toured the districts in advance to make plans in conjunction with local committees. The Publicity Manager, Mr. G. G. Stewart, is again travelling, and to his department are due the thanks of the party for an excellent brochure descriptive of the places to be visited. Mr. R. B. Morris is acting as secretary, and Mr. A. H. W. Eveden, Supervisor of the Refreshment Branch, is again giving efficient oversight to the catering on the train and in wayside refreshment rooms.”
There was that important group known as the “diplomatic corps,” and consisting of the Trade Commissioners, who welcome the opportunity of touring on the Commerce Train. A newcomer this time was the British Trade Commissioner, Mr. L. A. Paish, but old friends were Messrs. C. M. Croft and Julian B. Foster, Commissioners respectively for Canada and the United States, and Mr. L. J. Thedens, Trade Commissioner for Austria. Members of the “corps” played an important part in the speechmaking at the various social gatherings along the route.
A pleasing feature was the presence of representatives of Chambers of Commerce in other parts of the Dominion. These included Messrs. H. A. Brown and A. Seed (Wellington), C. H. Burgess (New Plymouth), W. Lock (Nelson), A. R. Crane (Whangarei), H. D. M. Hazard (Waihi), and H. C. Ernest (Papatoetoe).
The Hauraki Plains.
The first day's tour was not by train, but in motor-cars from Pokeno station eastward over the Mangatawhiri hills and across the Hauraki plains—once the great Piako swamp—to Paeroa. The purpose of this jaunt was to give the business men an idea of the character of the country which it is urged should be traversed by a short-cut railway line, thus saving 47 miles in distance and two hours in time on the journey from Auckland to Paeroa. The sight of this broad belt of fertile reclaimed fen land covered with homes and farms—the homes of four thousand people—was a revelation to most of the travellers, and made many page 12 strong champions of the much-discussed railway. For one, there was Mr. Merritt, the president of the Chamber of Commerce. At a social gathering in Paeroa he said he had been converted from an official supporter to an ardent advocate of the project. There were several other strong supporters of the proposed line among the speakers.
The Land of Butterfat.
The men of commerce did not dally long in Paeroa: they moved on that Friday afternoon up the Waihou Valley to Waitoa and Te Aroha. At Waitoa they inspected the great factory of the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Co., where butter, dried-milk and condensed-milk are produced on a very large scale. From the roof of the factory building (three storeys high) the visitors obtained a grand view of the splendid rich country spread around.
There were some cordial speeches at afternoon tea in the Y.M.C.A. building which stands in the centre of the neat factory settlement. The Chairman was Mr. F. W. Walters, who was described by one of the speakers as “the biggest dairy farmer in New Zealand”; his milking herds numbered just on a thousand cows. Mr. P. H. Saxon, in endorsing the Chairman's welcome to the visitors, spoke of the importance of making known the country districts and of settling the unimproved lands.
Mr. F. J. Strange, an old resident of Te Aroha, spoke of the time fifty years ago, when the total dairying output of the Valley consisted of two barrels of salted butter shipped from the Thames by the weekly steamer. Now the combined districts of the Waihou Valley sent out dairy produce to the value of £2,000,000 per annum.
Sunday, 17th November, was spent at Te Aroha. Most of the visitors went to the Spa in the morning and many tried and enjoyed the famous warm baths. In the early afternoon there were visits to the surrounding country and to large dairy farms. The farms selected for a look-around were those of Mr. F. W. Walters, at Waitoa, Mr. Fred Strange, at Mangaiti, and Mr. J. Mackay, at Elstow. The visitors were entertained by members of the page 13 family to afternoon tea, and thanks were warmly expressed for the opportunity which had thus been afforded of seeing some of the best dairy farms in New Zealand. “When the sheltered plains between Hauraki Gulf and Matamata are divided into farms of 50 acres and those farms are under intense cultivation,” said an expert among the visitors, “the district will produce as much butter-fat as is now produced by the whole of New Zealand.”
Along the Northern Wairoa.
Next morning (Monday, 18th November) found the travellers in quite another part of the province, the north Kaipara and northern Wairoa country, after a smooth night run.
After breakfast the party went on from Kirikopuni to Tango-wahine; thence there was a run by motor cars to the metropolis of the northern Wairoa, the town of Dargaville, crossing the great river by the new bridge. The Commerce Train made history by being the first to carry passengers over the ten miles of new line between Kirikopuni and Tangowahine. It was predicted by Public Works officials that the remaining seven miles to Dargaville would be completed in a year's time.
There was a hearty welcome from the Mayor of Dargaville, Mr. F. A. Jones, and the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. W. Whitmore, and more cordial greetings came at Ruawai, where the travellers were entertained at lunch by the Otamatea County Council and settlers. Mr. Rodney Coates, the County Chairman, was the chief spokesman.
From a hill at Rehia, there was a remarkable panorama, the look-out over this great reclaimed swamp land of Ruawai. Once this area, 30,000 acres, was nothing but a great marsh; now it was drained and settled, and this season it is expected the local dairy factory will turn out from 800 to 900 tons of butter.
A particularly interesting speech was made at Ruawai by Mr. L. A. Paish, Commissioner of Trade for Great Britain, who had just arrived from London and was greatly pleased to find New Zealand so far advanced in industry. “It had sometimes been said,” he told the audience, “that there was a danger of over-production, but there was little danger on that score. The imports of butter into Britain were at the rate of 6,000 tons a week, of which New Zealand supplied 1,500 tons.” They could aim at securing more of the balance supplied by the other countries, and this applied also to other produce. In this endeavour the Empire Marketing Board was going to be of great assistance.
The Waipoua Kauri Forest.
After a day and an evening of the most generous hospitality and most pleasant of speeches, the men of commerce had a day in the wilds, motoring through the grand and ancient forests of the Northland. The first part of the journey was by train from Dargaville up the Kaihu Valley—once a great kauri - timber working district — to the railhead at Donnelly's Crossing, thence there was a motor car procession through the Waipoua State Forest to the western parts of the Hokianga county. For mile after mile the way was among the trees, greatest of all was the kauri. It was explained that no exploitation has been carried out in the forest proper (24,000 acres), and none is contemplated until it is found possible and practicable to regenerate the present stands of kauri. For this purpose Waipoua has been created a forest experiment station, and will be used for the purpose of testing the possibility and practicability of extending the range of the kauri over areas where it is not at present growing—namely, on the barren gum-lands surrounding the forest. When the kauri pine first caught the eye of the visitor, it was seen that the forest contained all of the native pines, such as rimu, miro, white-pine, totara, cedar, tanekaha, silver-pine, and matai. Most of these species are very numerous in their seedling stages in the portion of the forest lying to the east of the main road.
“Here The Dairying Country Is A Richer Denmark.”
Top: A Northern clearing. Centre: Emerging from the marvellous Mangamuka Valley. Below: Colonel Allen Bell (right) welcomes the General Manager of Railways (Mr. H. H. Sterling).
The Heart of the North.
There was much to be seen this day (Wednesday, 20th November), around the Kaikohe-Waimate country, the pleasant lands of Taiamai. The principal trip of the morning was to the Ngawha hot springs, between Kaikohe and Ohaeawai. Here there are boiling springs, warm pools, boiling mud pools and most of the thermal phenomena of Rotorua. A company is now busy there making preparations to develop the working of cinnabar, in which some of these springs abound.
An unfortunate happening here, a tragically sudden end to a useful life, was the death from heart disease of Mr. W. M. Passmore, an Auckland business man. He collapsed and died on the morning's excursion to Ngawha; the exertion of the walk to and from the cars was too much for his weakened heart. His friends of the Commerce Train attended at the railway station next morning for a reverent and regretful farewell to the remains of a much-liked member of the touring party.
In the afternoon there was a quiet visit to the annual Agricultural and Pastoral Show at Waimate North. This was the forty-second annual show. As the visitors approached in cars driven by Kaikohe settlers, they were impressed by the richness of the pastures and the charm of the old English mission settlement. They appreciated, too, the quality of the exhibits, which demonstrated well the resources of this district of good soil and mild climate.
The Kopa Maori.
(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Top: When the pie was opened. Centre: Strange food—fingers before forks. Below: Maori cooking.
“An Eden For The Tired And The Retired.”
(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Top: Famous Keri Keri, scene of the first wooden and brick buildings in New Zealand. Centre: Whangaroa Harbour, the glory of the east coast of New Zealand's Northland. Below: Commerce Train party entertained by residents at Willow Bay, Whangaroa.
Here, at Waimate, amidst rural scenes of a most satisfying comfort and charm, where cattle and sheep, and grain, grass, and fruit all thrive and flourish exceedingly, the travellers saw many reminders of the heroic era in pioneering. The missionary came inland here before the trader or soldier. The prettiest and most productive parts are those pioneered by the mission families. Waimate, Pakaraka, and surrounding places bear strong impress of the hands of the early apostles of the Churches—the Williams brothers, Selwyn, Davis, Burrows, and their contemporaries and successors. Shingle-roofed churches of antique design, stoutly built of heart of kauri and totara, stand amidst lordly groves of oaks and elms; around their doors the graves of the white pioneers and Maori warrior chiefs.
Waimate churchyard in particular is a place to take the eye and the fancy. The mission station dates back to the year 1830; its centenary is to be celebrated on this 12th of January by the erection of a lych-gate at the churchyard and by placing a tablet in the interior of the church in commemoration of the Rev. Samuel Marsden and the early missionaries. Here at Waimate is the oldest oaktree in New Zealand; it was originally grown from an English acorn planted at Paihia and transplanted to this mission farm in 1831.
In the afternoon, going from Waimate to Okaihau Station, the travellers’ cars skirted Lake Omapere, notable because it is the largest of the very few sheets of fresh water north of Auckland. Omapere is shallow; it is two and three-quarter miles in length and two miles in width; the area 2,880 acres; its surface is 750ft. above sea-level. It is proposed to generate electrical power for the district at the swift outlet, the Rere-a-tiki, which is the source of the Utakura River, flowing into Hokianga Harbour.
Mr. Malcolm Stewart, Vice-President of the Auckland Chamber, said the visitors had been deeply impressed by the resources of the district. He understood that the local butter output was over 1,000 tons from over 400 suppliers, also that Kaitaia swamp land was being drained, which would provide from 10,000 to 15,000 more acres for dairying on what was known as one-cow land.
Mr. A. P. Crane, of Whangarei, gave his reminiscences of the early days in the Far North.
He suggested that the executive of the Northern Chambers of Commerce should organise a return visit to Auckland and to Southern districts. He praised the energy and courage of the pioneer farmers, and particularly the women of Mangonui County.
Mr. W. Alexander, formerly of Invercargill, spoke of the pleasure of his first visit North, and said he could not pay a greater compliment than to compare the quality of the land favourably with that of older settled Southland.
Whangaroa and Kerikeri.
Friday the 22nd was a day in a lifetime for members of the Commerce Train party. Nothing page 20 they had seen in the North so far was so beautiful as the brilliant scarlet of the pohutukawa on the cliffs above the waters of Whangaroa Harbour. Arriving from Kaitaia via Mangonui, the visitors were met at Totara North, a settlement on the North shore of Whangaroa and conveyed in launches around the harbour. The cruise terminated at Willow Bay, a sheltered cove just inside the heads. Here some hundreds of residents were assembled, and straightway they escorted the guests to a hangi—the Maori steam-oven, in the earth—prepared for the occasion.*
For the benefit of visitors the whole process was demonstrated. On top of the heated stones were placed leaves, and on these a plentiful supply of pipi shellfish, kingfish, snapper, kumara, potatoes and onions; these were covered with damp cloth, wet sacks and earth.
So as not to delay the feast, and, having regard to the hurried nature of the visit, another hangi had been stocked with food a couple of hours earlier, and from this the guests were invited to help themselves into flax baskets prepared on the spot for the occasion. Staid city men, as well as more youthful members of the party, entered heartily into the spirit of the occasion, and sat Maori fashion around the great oven.
The ladies provided a delicious supplementary luncheon of pakeha cooking. It was a feast carried out on a lavish scale, and never was such more heartily relished.
After a delightful hour or so, Mr. Malcolm Stewart, Vice-President of the Chamber of Commerce, expressed hearty thanks to the residents, making special mention of the ladies and the Maoris who had assisted in the cooking. Cheers were given for each group in turn.
From Whangaroa the party were motored by settlers of Whangaroa County to Kerikeri, on a tidal river of the Bay of Islands. Here a visit was made to the experimental plot of the North Auckland Land Development Corporation, where 76 elevated sections have been sold for fruit farming on the group settlement plan, the holders having come from China, India and other parts during the past year. Ten houses have been built, 16,000 passion fruit vines have been planted, also 20,000 sweet orange, lemon, mandarin and grape page 21 fruit trees, 30 miles of shelter belts, and 400 acres of afforestation.
Afternoon tea was provided by the ladies of the settlement in the central homestead, charmingly set in flower gardens, and within view of Rainbow Falls, about to be harnessed to provide power and lighting for the settlement.
At the historic Kerikeri village the visitors saw the two oldest buildings in New Zealand—the mission house, built in 1819, and the stone store, built in 1833.
Private cars from Kawakawa and Waimate North carried the visitors to Kawakawa in time for dinner. Over fifty cars were used in the three stages of the journey from Kaitaia to Kawakawa this day.
At Kawakawa township there was another warm greeting, voiced first by Mr. George Leity, President of the Kawakawa Chamber of Commerce at a smoke social. He spoke of the history of mining in the district, and said that the coal seams had merely been scratched. Capital alone was needed for development, not only in mining, but also in freezing works and other primary industries.
Mr. Malcolm Stewart, replying to the toast, expressed thanks for the hospitality extended to the party, and explained the objects of the tour. Those who had come would in future be “boosters” for the wonderful North. The Auckland Chamber of Commerce would do all that was possible to assist the farming industry with a view to bringing about greater production.
The toast of the “New Zealand Railways” was given by Mr. G. W. Smith, who praised the Railways Management and thanked Mr. Sterling for the attention given to local requests. Railway officials realised that they were running a huge business, and it was a pleasure to work with them.
Responding, Mr. Sterling expressed satisfaction that local difficulties had been unravelled. The Railways stood as a bulwark against excessive transport costs, and he hoped they would continue to give satisfaction to the people of the Dominion.
Mr. D. Rodie, Railways Commercial Manager, said it was the endeavour of his branch to get into touch with commercial men and the people in both town and country in order to provide the best possible facilities for all. They did not sit “on page 22 the high horse,” but were out to give the maximum of service.
The toast, “Trade Commissioners,” was proposed by Mr. C. F. C. Miller, chairman of the Bay of Islands Hospital Board, who expressed pleasure with the visit to the North.
Mr. J. W. Collins, secretary of the Department of Industries and Commerce, expressed great pleasure with what he had seen of the North, and suggested that local people should submit proposals for opening up the coal fields.
Mr. L. A. Paish (Great Britain), replied for the Commissioners. What the North needed, he said, was more capital and more production, and to get these they needed more publicity.
The Whangarei District.
The final day of the tour in the North (Saturday, 23rd November), was spent in and around Whangarei, the largest town in North Auckland. The rural beauty of the good country in rear of the town charmed the visitors’ eyes, and the whole district impressed the travellers as a region of fertility, comfort and prosperity.
The final social gathering for talk and song was held at Whangarei on the Saturday night. The Mayor of Whangarei, Mr. W. Jones, presided, and said many pleasant things about the visitors.
Replying, Mr. Merritt, President of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, expressed gratitude for the warmth of the Northern welcome. The tour had been harmonious and in every way successful. They did not come on a joy ride, but to get to know the people and the problems of the country, and he knew of no better way to do this than by such tours.
The toast of “Local Bodies” was proposed by Mr. E. Casey, Divisional Superintendent of Railways, who spoke in eulogy of the priceless service which was being rendered to the Dominion by members of local bodies from North Cape to the Bluff. In Whangarei the hand of friendship had always been readily extended and he wished the town the prosperity it deserved.
Mr. J. A. Finlayson, chairman of the Whangarei Harbour Board, said one of the most pleasant memories he would carry away from public life would be the friendly relationships which had existed between the Harbour Board and the Railways Department. To show how Whangarei was progressing, he said that in 1919, before the advent of the railway, the harbour revenue was £3,000. “Since the railway has come to take our trade away, our revenue has gone up to nearly £14,000 a year, which shows that the goods and produce are here to be carried.”page 23
Mr. Crawford said that in the great North Auckland peninsula there were 3,000,000 acres of first-class and good second-class land. With the sub-tropical climate and an average annual rainfall of 63.87 inches, feed was abundant. There was no need to grow winter feed, and in the North, unlike the South, it was rare to see a stack of hay. In the last dairying season the total amount paid out for butterfat in North Auckland was £1,817,600, an increase of £479,675 over the total of the previous year, and an average return of 10s. per acre counting all land in North Auckland, good, bad and indifferent. Returns from other primary industries brought the total annual income to over £2,000,000.
Summing up the Tour.
“The success of the first two tours justifies the suggestion for an annual tour.” The President of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce expressed this view at a happy valedictory gathering on the train at Whangarei. Members of Chambers in other parts of New Zealand expressed their gratitude for the opportunity of joining in the tour and said they had been so impressed as to welcome the thought that it might be possible for representatives of their respective districts to join in future tours. A special vote of thanks was conveyed to Mr. H. H. Sterling and his staff for the successful working of the tour.
Mr. Malcolm Stewart, Vice-President of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, told his interviewer on his return to Auckland that he was greatly impressed with what he had seen and was convinced that dairy production in North Auckland would increase at a greater rate than in any other part of New Zealand. Farmers were now getting better results by means of top-dressing, rotational grazing and herd testing. With their mild winters, abundant supply of water and paspalum grass for summer feed, farmers of the North were greatly aided by Nature. The northern portion of the peninsula, too, possessed wonderful scenic attractions in the Trounson Kauri Park, Waipoua Forest, the Mangamuka Gorge, the great West Coast Beach and the two harbours of Whangaroa and Bay of Islands.
Members of the party were full of thanks to the residents of North Auckland for their great hospitality not only in arranging delightful functions at all places visited, but also for so generously providing motor cars in which to drive the travellers through districts away from the railway lines.
The travellers also commended the enterprise of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce in promoting such tours and expressed unstinted admiration for the efficiency displayed by all branches of the Railways Department in carrying out the tours.
* [The hangi is sometimes called by pakehas a “Kopa Maori.” “Kopa” is not real Maori but “pidgin”; it is the native way of pronouncing “copper”—ship's cooking coppers. The early whaleships’ coppers were, no doubt, the origin of the phrase. The Maori always uses the word hangi or umu.]