Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Driving Creek Railway

Driving Creek Railways, 3km north of Coromandel Town on the Coromandel Peninsula, is one man’s passionate hobby that took 27 years to build.

Barry Brickell came down from Auckland in 1961 and bought 22 ha (60 acres) of hilly scrubland in 1973. Building the railway from scratch required the task of surveying the route though very rough back country. Trial surveys with slasher and home-made instruments had to be repeated until a suitably graded route could be found. Local contractors were then used to do the major earthworks.

The tracks were made from the old logging tracks that had been left in the area and the result is some major viaducts, two spirals, and 5 reversing points that elevate the railway up the terminus to the Eyefull Tower where at 173m above sea level gives you colossal views of the Coromandel Peninsula coastline.

This was my first time on the railway, despite coming to the coromandel region many times and I have to say that I was pretty impressed.

We couldn’t have picked a better day to go – the weather was stunning, not a cloud in the blue blue sky, fantastic visibility for those views up top.

We arrived at 10am in time for the first trip of the day. Bookings are essential, and there’s four trips a day during the summer months, and 2 per day during winter.

I asked if there were a commentary on the train and was told there was. I explained I was deaf, and asked if there were any notes I could read instead. The result was that I not only got a small handout, but my Dad became my ‘caregiver’ and he was able to ride free! We chuckled over this as it’s been a while since he’s had to play that role, but hey – a free ticket isn’t to be sneezed at!

Once seated on the train, I was then sought out and given another handout titled ‘Notes for passengers who are hard of hearing and deaf’. This explained that prior to the trip the driver gives a safety talk, and that the main points were to keep your arms and heads etc inside the train at all times as trees, tunnels, buildings and other structures come very close to the train during the trip.

I was quite impressed that they had taken the trouble to understand that deaf people can’t hear commentaries, and had supplied an alternative. In my experience, very few organisations do this, so top marks for Driving Creek Railways.

Our train was packed full, as was the other one leaving at the same time, and waiting for it to start, you could feel the air of expectation and excitement from the adults and children around alike.

The train takes you through beautiful New Zealand bush/forest where you see native Rimu, Rewarewa, Tanekahu, Miro, Kauri, Kanuka, Kahikitua and many more. Little signs have been nailed to the trees naming them as well to make it easier for everyone to recognise them. You pass through a Eucalypt plantation, a pine reserve, an old golddiggers campsite, clay pits, springs, over bridges, through tunnels, around spirals, a Kauri plantation, and over viaducts, one which is double decked. The steepest grade is 1:14 and one of the reversing points is on top of a high ridge which gives you quite a weird feeling of being suspended in midair!

Any banks that have had to be shored up around the tracks have been done ‘green’ style. Either clay bricks have been used, which have been made at the pottery/brickworks, used tyres, or recycled wine bottles. Impressive!

The Eyefull Tower (Eiffel) is a round building at the top and very nicely constructed so that you can either go up the quick way up the stairs to the views, or wander around the ‘scenic route’ which is a spiral ramp around the building taking in the view as you spiral to the top. The views are simply amazing.

There's another notable building by the Eyefull tower - the toilet! It's organic and self composting which is great in itself, but what’s amazing are the bottles used in the walls, which let in light, that you can see out of, but no one can see in.

After a talk at the top, it was back to our seats, and the trip back down to where started from. One hour in total, but an hour well worth it.

Driving Creek Railways is also a Pottery as Barry Brickell is a potter by trade. At the potteries they have studios for resident and visiting potters, but they are not a teaching institution.

I really enjoyed the time spent here as it’s not often you get a place that combines art, Conservation AND engineering all in one hit.

View from the 'Eyefull Tower' - 8 image pano stitched together. Click on image to see in full.<


Henry said...

Robyn, you are a splendid travel guide!


Bron said...

Wow! Great blog. Better than watching Michael Palin.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that sounds fantastic! And it sounds like a LOT of thought went into understanding the design and impact on the land as well as the visitors. Very cool!