railways and rotorua
No trains travel to Rotorua today, but in the 1880’s railways played a pivotal role in the development of the city.
Before 1894 visitors to Rotorua had to travel in coaches over rough roads. A road led to the Lakes District from Tauranga, and another over the Mamaku ranges. Getting here was never easy.
All that changed in 1894 when a train named Te Arawa laden with VIPs chugged into Rotorua Railway Station. The land the station was built on was part of the parcel of land included in the Fenton Agreement of 1880.
Growth in Rotorua was rapid. The small tourist town boomed.
Many important visitors travelled to Rotorua by rail. In 1908 Admiral Sperry of the American Great White Fleet and 200 of his officers travelled to Rotorua for the formal opening of the Bath House.
Prime Minister Joseph Ward, the Americans and other dignitaries were welcomed in front of the Bath House by Chief Kiharoa of Ngāti Whakaue. They were reminded of the generous 1880 gift of the land ‘Hei oranga me nga iwi katoa o te Ao.’
The opening of the North Island main trunk line in 1908 added to the growth of Rotorua.
In 1930 the Rotorua Limited train was introduced to carry tourists to the spa town. “Take a Trip to Cureland and Relax” was a government slogan for the railways. Trains took people away too. In the 1940s trains took young Arawa men to training camps prior to their leaving for the war in Europe as members of 28 Māori Battalion.
In 1989 the Rotorua central city station and rail yard was closed, along with the last two kilometres of the line.
In 1993 Te Arawa successfully negotiated the Ngāti Whakaue Agreement that saw the return of railway land to local iwi. The area is now the site of the Rotorua Central Mall and Trade Central.
Qualities: innovation, diligence, relationships
More to watch:
Check out this amazing old film footage from 1939 about New Zealand’s railways, including a stop in Rotorua!
More to read:
The Founding Years in Rotorua: a history of events to 1900 (D M Stafford)
This entry is related to these other entries:
The Street Names of Rotorua
Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa