Labour Weekend is a top time for getting outdoors and enjoying the natural environment which makes our region so attractive to both tourists and locals.
The change in the weather combined with longer evenings marks the beginning of a season of fishing, hiking, beach walking and more. But there’s another way to appreciate the scenery that’s been brought to reality by a local team who have seen the potential of part of our history, and made it freshly relevant today.
When Dargaville was a centre for the timber trade above all else, the railway was one of our two main arterial routes to the rest of the country. Rails used to extend right through downtown to the river, and looped around to follow the upper reaches of the Northern Wairoa, stretching across to link us with the national network. When the big cargo trains stopped rolling they left behind a section of track that spans some very scenic country, allowing a new perspective on the land which was once only seen from the footplate of those locomotives.
Nowadays the rolling stock on this section of railway line isn’t so large, and the cargo carried is no longer cut timber. A group of local tourism entrepreneurs have managed to turn the railway from Dargaville to the nearby riverside settlement of Tangowahine into a tourist attraction that’s unique in the North — in fact, there’s nothing like it at all on this side of the Waikato. By opening up the line to a fleet of bright red, electrically powered rail carts, they’ve brought about a whole new way to see the sights, and in doing so they’ve provided a boost for the local tourist trade while also preserving a bit of history.
The self-controlled rail carts allow visitors to see the Northern Wairoa river from the rails, re-living the route once plied by steam trains and big cargo haulers as it winds through the green hills of the river valley. Travelling at their own pace — and, thanks to the rails, absolutely unable to get lost along the way — visitors young and old can appreciate this part of the country in a whole new way. In its first fledgling years of operation the entire project has been a booming success, attracting tourists from both overseas and closer to home. In fact, the rail cart excursion is proving just as popular as that other classic way of seeing the sights from a fresh perspective — taking to the harbour to follow in the path of the Kaipara’s historic ships. Both activities are a link back to the past, flourishing in the present, and looking toward a near future when tourism — especially the eco-friendly variety — ranks as highly in terms of the local economy as hauling timber by steam train once did.