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Work on the Otago Central Railway: Poolburn Viaduct from the top of the gorge taken from working level.

Otago Witness, 1 April 1903,  Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago

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Intensive and significant bridge building was required along the Otago Central Railway and their construction was a marvel of engineering. 


Building the bridges on the Central Otago Railroad involved hard, physical labour. In 1902, at the height of constuction, up to 300 workers were employed. It took 42 years from 1879 to construct the rail from Wingatui, Mosgiel to Cromwell, Central Otago with many bridges having to be rebuilt due to the harsh conditions effecting the building materials. 



Gangs of workers would set up camp as they moved up the line. Sometimes they pitched camp in an existing village or ground was foung at the head of the line.  A canvas town would almost appear overnight.


The Capburn Bridge was built next to Tiroiti in 1897. The 40 metre long bridge straddles the unsealed Horseburn road. 

Tiroiti existed here from 1895 to 1897 with a shop, churches and a school. The school was later moved up to Kokonga when the next camp was established. 

Capburn horse traffic bridge, 1895. 

Archives New Zealand R25279505 

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The creek and significant viaduct which spans it, is names after William Price, an 1860's Squatter and farmer who was believed to be Hydes first resident. 

Prices Creek Viaduct is 91 metres long and 32 metres high, constructed from steel and concrete, was one of the last structures to be built on the Rail Trail. The Prices Creek Viaduct replaced an older wooden version. 

A Pair of Vulcans on Prices Creek Viaduct, Headlight in Dunedin direction. 12 April, 1966. 

S33 313 
G W Emerson Collection 


AB hauled Goods #52 steams across Poolburn Viaduct with Ida Valley in the background. 6 April, 1963. 

G W Emerson Collection 533 364 

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Otago Central Railway: Continuation of the line to Poolburn Gorge. The big cutting approaching the bridge showing the magnitude of the work. 

Otago Witness, 1 April 1903, 
Hacken Collections, Uare Taoka o HElkena, University of Otago 

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Manuherekia means ''tether a bird'' in Maori. This name originated from Maori expeditions on pounamu trails where a scout would tether a bird at a place on the ever changing river to show it was safe to cross to all who followed. 

This bridge is the second longest bridge on the rail trail at 110.6 metres. The Otago Central Railway line has a unique series of historic bridge construction from the 1900s masonry abutments, girder types, and wooden trestles to the 1960s reinforced concrete structures. This bridge was one of the first that used concrete in its construction and was completed in 1904.


During the early 20th century, one of the technological changes in bridge building saw an increasing use of concrete instead of masonry and the use of rolled steel joists instead of wrought iron for plate and lattice girders. Subsequently masonry was then used only for culverts and single span bridges. Large bridges were constructed with concrete, metal girders and massive timbers. 

Otago Central Railway: Bridge cylinders over the Manuherekia River 

Otago Witness, 1 April 1903. Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago

The Poolburn Viaduct is the highest on the Otago Central Rail Trail - 37 metres high. The construction of the viaduct took over 3 years to build, beginning in 1901 and involved hard physical labour with up to 300 workers employed at the peak of construction around 1902. Men used wheelbarrows, picks, shovels, horses and carts in often inclement weather to build the viaduct and adjacent tunnels. The piers and the abutments for the Poolburn Viaduct were built with a locally quarried schist rock.


Nearby Ida Valley station became a busy rail and coach terminus, while the difficult Poolburn Gorge section was being constructed. 


The Manuherekia No 2 bridge is the third longest bridge on the rail trail and was the highest of the wooden trestle bridges constructed on the Otago Central line. It was completed in 1905.


The 1930s saw a large period of wooden bridge renewals, as the timber was not lasting in the dry hot climate of the Manuherekia Valley. Almost all the timber superstructures in the valley were replaced from this time. 

Pair of DH's with #441 on Manuherekia Bridge #2. Note the string of Y type wagons. 

S33 479 
G W Emerson Collection 

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C-4 Special or School Holiday special train on Muttontown Gully bridge. 25th April, 1962. 

S33 619 
G W Emerson Collection 


The 110 metre viaduct was constructed in 1907 and had the most spans (18) out of any bridge along the railway line. 

Muttontown Gully, over a kilometre south of Clyde, was the site of a large canvas town (settlement of tents) during the 1862 gold rush. Miners ran very short of food, so diggers bought mutton from an abattoir, which established in the gully sourced from William Fraser's Earnscleugh sheep station.





He won the Wakatipu electorate in the 1893 general election, and retired in 1919. He served on the Legislative Council from 1919 to 1923, when he died.


The settlement at Muttontown was short lived and was quickly abandoned in favour of a site at Clyde. 


William Fraser was a member of the Otago Provincial Council (1867-1870) and was a member of the inaugural local Vincent County Council from 1877 until 1893, and the chairman for the last 10 years. 

William Fraser. General Assembly Library: Parliamentary portraits. Ref: 35mm-00183-f-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. 

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