Events In History


The North Island main trunk line

  • The North Island main trunk line

    All aboard! The North Island main trunk railway was 100 years old in 2008. Take a trip back in time to explore the epic story of its construction, the heyday of the steam passenger train and the place of the iconic railway refreshment room in New Zealand life.

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  • Page 2 – Building the main trunk

    On 15 April 1885 Premier Robert Stout, Wahanui Huatare and Rewi Maniapoto ceremonially turned the ‘first sod' of the central section at Puniu, near Te Awamutu.

  • Page 3 – Rise and fall

    A history of the North Island railway main trunk line since the first through train left Wellington on 7 August 1908

  • Page 4 – Travelling by train

    For most second-class travellers, travelling the main trunk meant a long, sleepless journey on hard-backed seats, struggling to find 'elusive comfort with the NZR pillow'.

  • Page 5 – Refreshments

    Refreshments are an essential and often talked about part of any train journey.

New Zealand disasters timeline

  • New Zealand disasters timeline

    The disasters timeline and map give an overview of New Zealand's worst natural disasters, transport accidents, fires, mining accidents and other tragedies that have caused major loss of life.

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  • Page 1 - New Zealand disasters timelineThe disasters timeline and map give an overview of New Zealand's worst natural disasters, transport accidents, fires, mining accidents and other tragedies that have caused major

Railway stations

  • Railway stations

    Before most people had cars or telephones, let alone television and the Internet, the railway provided many communities with their main connection to the outside world.

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  • Page 2 – A community hub

    In the heyday of rail travel the station was a vibrant hub of community life.

  • Page 4 – The dark side

    Like other public facilities, railway stations often attracted loafers and drunks, bored teenagers or lonely souls seeking human contact.

  • Page 5 – The changing rail landscape

    Today fewer than 100 railway stations survive, and only about 40 wooden stations remain on their original sites.

Cook Strait rail ferries

  • Cook Strait rail ferries

    On a fine, calm day ‘Cruising on the Interislander’ can be like a luxury Mediterranean cruise. But on a bad day Cook Strait can be one of the world's roughest stretches of water: seasickness, dodgy food and wildcat strikes have all been part of the colourful Cook Strait ferry story.

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  • Page 2 – 'The floating bridge'

    Before 1962 rail struggled to compete with ships for inter-island business, but the road/rail ferries changed that.

  • Page 3 – 'An array of awful pies'

    In the 1960s, the ferries' food and services fell short of the glossy ads, but now they are more upmarket.

  • Page 4 – Rough crossings

    Crossing Cook Strait is often idyllic, but it can be one of the world’s roughest stretches of water as it's part of the westerly wind belt known as the Roaring Forties

  • Page 6 – Strikes and strandings

    Cook Strait ferries were vital to the flow of freight and passengers between the North and South islands, and  interruptions because of bad weather, mechanical problems

  • Page 7 – Fast ferries on Cook Strait

    The old fable about the tortoise and the hare was replayed on Cook Strait as fast ferries offered travellers a quick dash across the ditch.

Rail tourism

  • Rail tourism

    From the late 19th century the expanding rail network opened up exciting leisure and tourism opportunities for ordinary New Zealand families. New Zealand Railways promoted rail holidays through bright, attractive posters and its own popular monthly magazine.

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  • Page 2 – Day excursions

    From the early days of rail, excursion and special trains gave people new opportunities to visit beaches, lakes, parks, racecourses and shows.

  • Page 3 – Holidaymakers

    As well as day excursions, from the mid-1890s New Zealand Railways offered special deals for travellers taking longer rail journeys over the Christmas and Easter holiday

  • Page 4 – Railways Studios

    In 1920 New Zealand Railways established it own Railways Studios – the country’s first outdoor advertising studio. The studios produced posters, pamphlets, maps and

  • Page 5 – Railways Magazine

    During the inter-war years no other monthly magazine matched New Zealand Railways for its commitment to promoting a popular literary culture in New Zealand.

  • Page 6 – Post-war changes

    After the peak years of the 1920s and late 1930s, tourist travel all but ceased during the Second World War.

Tangiwai disaster

The Vogel era

  • The Vogel era

    In 1870, Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel launched the most ambitious development programme in New Zealand’s history. The ‘Vogel era’ was a decisive moment in New Zealand’s 19th-century transformation from a Māori world to a Pākehā one.

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  • Page 2 – New Zealand in 1870

    Three decades after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s two main islands were like two different countries.

  • Page 3 – Vogel's vision

    In June 1870, Vogel unveiled the most ambitious public works and assisted-immigration programme in New Zealand’s history.

  • Page 4 – Building Vogel's railways

    Julius Vogel wasn’t the first colonial politician to promise to fund public works and immigration with borrowed money. But the early 1870s offered better prospects for success

  • Page 5 – Vogel's legacy

    After the initial enthusiasm of the 1870s, Julius Vogel’s reputation suffered in the 1880s when New Zealand’s economy slumped into a long depression that was triggered by an

NZ Railways at war

  • NZ Railways at war

    The railway system and its workforce was one of the most valuable assets available to the New Zealand state to support the national effort during the First World War

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  • Page 2 – Railways in the First World War

    The steam railway was a driving force of the industrial revolution and European imperialist expansion

  • Page 3 – NZ Railways in 1914

    On the other side of the world, New Zealand’s rail network was a small link in the vast wartime supply chain

  • Page 4 – Railwaymen in the NZEF

    More than 5000 permanent NZR employees served overseas during the war, about 40% of the 1914 workforce

  • Page 5 – Manpower challenges at home

    How did New Zealand Railways (NZR) keep up its massive manpower commitments during the First World War, while still maintaining services to its customers?

  • Page 6 – Railways war memorials

    Railway workers honoured the service and sacrifice of their colleagues in numerous ways.

  • Page 7 – Further information

    This web feature was written by Neill Atkinson and produced by the NZHistory team. Primary sources5th New Zealand Light Railway Operating Company - War Diary, 5 February 1917

Māori King movement - 1860-94

  • Māori King movement - 1860-94

    King Tāwhiao's reign was dominated by the Waikato War and the fallout from it.

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  • Page 6 - Tensions easeIt was clear by the 1870s that the Kīngitanga could no longer fight a war. Attempts were made to ease relations between the king and the colonial

State housing

  • State housing

    New Zealand's first state house was formally opened on 18 September 1937. But the government has provided rental housing for New Zealanders for more than a century. Explore the history of this country's various state housing schemes and their contribution to the New Zealand way of life.

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  • Page 8 - Outside the mainstreamMany of us associate the beginning of state housing with the hipped-roof cottages built by the first Labour government of the 1930s and '40s. But the origin of state housing has

The 1920s

  • The 1920s

    The 1920s was the decade that modern New Zealand came of age. Despite political and economic uncertainty, the country shrugged off the gloom of war to embrace the Jazz Age - an era of speed, power and glamour. Explore an overview of the decade and a year-by-year breakdown of key events.

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  • Page 7 – 1924 - key events

    A selection of key New Zealand events from 1924

First World War memorials

  • First World War memorials

    The New Zealand war memorials of the First World War have become part of the common fabric of our lives, like stop signs or lamp-posts. Virtually every township in the country has one, usually in the main street.

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  • Page 2 - Remembering the dead430 war cemeteries in Northern France, Belgium and the UK and more than 500 public memorials in New Zealand serve as permanent reminders of the terrible toll of the First World

Specialist Units of the NZEF

Dominion status

Rolls of honour and obituaries


  • Seddonville

    The West Coast coalmining settlement of Seddonville, 50 kms north of Westport, was named in honour of the Liberal Premier Richard Seddon. It was also the site of an early experiment in state socialism – New Zealand's first state coal mine opened there in 1903.

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  • Page 7 - Seddonville's rail heritageThe Ngakawau-Seddonville branch line was built solely for the transport of coal from mines near Seddonville to Westport harbour, where it was then transported around New Zealand

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