What a great day it was celebrating the opening of the historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct on Saturday 14 February. More than 450 people gathered at the Hapuawhenua Viaduct in Tongariro National Park on Saturday 14 February to celebrate the completion and opening of the historic viaduct for walkers and cyclists. The date also celebrated the centennial; of the first passenger train on the main trunk line.
While some of the 450 walked into the viaduct the majority travelled by a steam train brought up especially to Ohakune for the event.
Another 250 travelled into the viaduct by train in the afternoon. Before any of the assembled crowd ventured onto the viaduct kaumatua from Ngati Rangi performed a karanga and blessing. John Compton, Deputy Mayor of Ruapehu District Council welcomed everyone. The restored viaduct was officially opened by Barbara Brown, the Department of Conservation’s General Manager Northern Region. At the other end of the viaduct Project Tongariro and DOC welcomed everyone with food, drink and souvenirs of the day.
Work on the restoration of the 284m long historic viaduct, which stands 43 m above the valley floor, was undertaken as a partnership between the Department of Conservation and Project Tongariro (Tongariro Natural History Society). The restoration, which cost close to $1 million of community raised and departmental funding, is to be part of the Old Coach Road, at present a 3.5km walk into the viaduct from Marshall Road near Ohakune. Interpretation signs for the section of track from the Ohakune Railway Station to the viaduct will be installed over the next two months, extending the walk to 6.4km one way.
Sarah Gibb, Director of Project Tongariro said "It's time to celebrate and consider the number of people and circumstances that got us to this day — the original workers in 1908 who built the viaduct in 1908 and then its successful use as part of the North Island Main Trunk Line until 1987.”
Ms Gibb added that, following the realignment of the railway line through Tongariro National Park, when the steel viaduct was replaced with a sweeping concrete structure, New Zealand Railways offered the Lands and Survey Department (now DOC) the viaduct for the princely sum of $1.00. Paul Green, conservator, agreed to the purchase and the viaduct became part of the national park.
It was here Ms Gibb said that, “in the late 1980s AJ Hackett used the bridge to set up his first bungee jumping company. Now, a wonderful team of DOC track staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to clean, partially repaint and re-deck the viaduct and make it safe for walkers and cyclists."
The viaduct will form part of the Old Coach Road (OCR), a historic road in itself, formed as a vital link between the northern and southern sections of the main trunk line while the last rail section through the national park was being completed. Local community groups are working to complete the 14km road as a walking track from Ohakune to Horopito in the north.