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This is an article by Henry Brittain from The Stockade, Volume 37, 2004, p 10-19.


Henry Brittain

In 2003 and 2004 Henry Brittain wrote a two-part account of the development of the Karori Tramway from the Wellington City Tram Terminus at the main gate of the Botanic Garden in Tinakori Road, first to the top of Chaytor Street at the Cemetery entrance, completed in March 1907 and extended to the foot of the Makara Hill in May 1911. The account was printed in Tramway Topics, the Journal of the Wellington Tramway Museum. We publish here, with the consent of and acknowledgements to the Museum, most of the text as in the original, for the story is of as great an interest to those concerned with Karori history as it is to tramway enthusiasts.

Once the main Wellington city tram network was installed in 1902, and people realised its potential to open up areas for settlement, considerable interest was generated within the outlying areas of Wellington to obtain a tramline connection. By this time the Brooklyn tramway was constructed as were those to Lyall Bay, Island Bay and extensions to other routes.  

By 1906 consent had been given for the Mount Victoria tram tunnel to be constructed thus allowing tram services to reach Hataitai, while the Boroughs of Miramar and Karori, which were both outside the Wellington City Council catchment area, were agitating for improved public access. The Kelburne Tramway Company was keen to promote a bus service from the top of the cable car via Kelburn to Karori, whereas the Karori Borough Council preferred the tramway to be extended from its existing terminus at the gates of the Botanic Garden to the Karori Cemetery. There were opposing views within the Borough and it was agreed that the only way to settle the issue was to conduct a poll amongst ratepayers to see what was their preference, especially taking into account the need to raise loan money if the tramway were the preferred option.

In January 1906 letters started appearing in the Evening Post expressing readers' views. Many supported the tramway, as it would allow a complete through journey to Karori whereas the cable car would mean changing over to a bus after disembarking from the cable car. It was calculated that a journey from the central Post Office to Karori Cemetery via the cable car would be 2 miles, six and one half chains, whereas the tramway via Tinakori road would be 3 miles, forty-five chains. If the tramway were to be routed through the cutting between Glenbervie Terrace and Sydney Street, the tram journey would be reduced to 2 miles 50 chains. This eventually did happen when the Bowen Street deviation was opened in 1940.

One subscriber stated he had just come back from London where buses were starting to make their presence felt, albeit unreliably, and were not allowed to run on main thoroughfares because of the problems they caused if they broke down. He stated, 'motor buses start when they like, and get there when they can'. Proponents of the bus service pointed out the considerable savings to ratepayers by not having to service loan money and the improved roads that would eventuate.

The poll of ratepayers

On 31 January 1906 the Karori Borough Council held a poll of ratepayers proposing to raise an amount of £37,000 for tramways, road widening and development of a recreation ground (presumably Karori Park which was costed at £6000). The existing tram terminus was at the gates of the Botanic Garden, and the new line was to commence from there.

To assist ratepayers in deciding which way to vote, the Wellington City Council gave an undertaking for a fare schedule to Karori as follows:

·       General Post Office (or close proximity) maximum fare 3½  pence;

·       this fare to comprise 1½ pence to the Botanic Garden (to be retained by the City Council) with the balance of the fare being paid to the Karori Borough Council;

·       an intermediate fare of 2½ pence to Bakers Hill (Karori tunnel) which would provide a return of 1 penny to the Borough Council.

The normal fare on the council-owned section from the General Post Office to the Botanic Garden was 2 pence and the proposal outlined above for through tickets provided a concession of ½ penny. In addition to fares, cars travelling to Karori would be levied at a negotiated rate and an amount of one shilling per car-mile was suggested.

Agreement between City and Borough

The poll of ratepayers was in favour of raising £31,000 for the installation of a tramway system, and on 11 March 1906 the full Wellington City Council considered a recommendation from the Tramway Committee that an agreement be entered into with the Karori Borough Council as follows:

·       Borough to furnish the City Engineers with a complete plan of the proposed system.

·       That the question of reducing the charge from one shil­ling per car-mile may be considered at a later date.

·       The City Engineers to supply the Borough with the con­struction specifications plus an estimate of costs with a view to the work being done by the City Council, or else under their supervision.

·       The Borough to pay all reasonable costs and charges incurred by the city.

·       The agreement be for five years with either side being able to give twelve months notice of termination, after the expiration of the five years.

·       The Borough shall construct lines within their own boundaries and shall pay the City Council the cost of keeping the same in repair.

·       The City Council to provide cars, power, motormen and conductors at a charge not exceeding one shilling per car-mile for cars holding up to twenty four passengers with the service to be as follows:

o        Ten minute service from 7.30 to 9.00 a.m., 12 noon to 2 p.m., and 4.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and all other times a twenty-minute service up to 10.30 p.m. when the last car will leave the Cemetery.

o        The service to be from the Post Office to the Cemetery gates and divided into the following sections: Post Office to Government Railway; Government Railway to Botanic Garden terminus; Botanic Garden to tunnel; tunnel to Cemetery. Fares to be one penny for each section and through fare of 2½ pence from the Post Office to the tunnel, and 3½ pence through fare to Karori. The City Council to take 1½ pence of this amount and the Borough 1 or 2 pence respectively.

o        Any fares taken within the Borough to be payable to the Borough and these could be altered at any time they see fit.

o        Provision to be made for regulating the increase or decrease of the service within the Borough as may be necessary upon the request of the Borough Council, it being understood that if the service is decreased, the charge per-mile will be increased.

o        The City to have the right of running extra cars over the Borough line at any time upon payment to the Borough of a royalty of two pence per car-mile. In such instances, the City to issue its own tickets and take all fares.

With the exception of the clause relating to the fares the concept was acceptable to the full Council. Councillor Izard argued that the City should take 2 pence rather than the 1½ pence contained in the agreement. After some discussion the Councillor’s amendment was put to the vote and passed by 7 votes to 6. The rest of the proposals were adopted without amendment.

Councillor Izard’s amendment did not find favour with the Karori Borough officials. The Mayor issued a statement expressing concern about the loss of revenue which would impact on the Borough, especially as the initial proposal from City Council officials had been regarded as a firm indication of the final agreement. 

Considerable discussion was generated by both officials and the public, plus the Miramar Borough who were expecting to enter into a similar agreement with the City Council for the running of cars to their suburb. This resulted in the Wellington City Councillors revisiting the earlier decision on 17 May 1906, however, the outcome resulted in no change to the agreed schedule of fares.

On July 7 1906 the Evening Post carried an article that the Public Works Department had approved the draft Order in Council for the Karori tramway and once an authorisation to proceed had been given, work was expected to start immediately.

Work begins

By the end of July 1906, work had commenced on straightening the road south of the Botanic Garden gates. On 31 July a large slip fell onto the roadway at the southern end of the Garden, and a report in the Evening Post mentions that the 85 men engaged on the road works were confident that the debris would be cleared within 24 hours.

On 23 August a report of the day stated that road widening had been completed as far as the viaduct. This had necessitated, in some places, encroaching into the Botanic Garden with the consequent removal of trees. The same report also mentioned that the first shipment of rails was expected in October, and it was hoped to have the line open as far as the Karori tunnel by Christmas 1906.

In an article on the Wellington tramway system in the New Zealand Times of 30 August mention was made of 13 new tramcars under construction, being six double deck cars and 7 bogie cars, all palace style. This would give a total complement of 59 trams, and would be insufficient to provide a service on the Karori and Miramar lines plus the possible extension to Wadestown. Estimates were that another 8 to 12 cars would be required, all bogie cars as four-wheel cars were now proving to be too small.

It is interesting to note that even though road reconstruction had commenced, the Order in Council for tramway construction had not yet been signed by the Governor-General. This was eventually signed on 24 September 1906. By this time the road had been aligned as far as the Karori tunnel, and a start made on laying a track bed from the start at the existing Botanic Garden terminus. By early November all the overhead poles had been erected to the tunnel and major earthworks commenced on the Karori side. Sleepers were on hand but supplies of rail were not.

The extension to Makara Hill Road

On 28 November 1906, the Evening Post reported that the Karori Borough Council meeting of the previous evening had decided to seek consent to raise a loan of £17,000 to meet increased and unexpected expenditure for the Karori line. The money was required for drainage work that had been more extensive than anticipated. At the same time they advised their intention to seek approval to raise another £32,000 to allow for the extension of the tram route from the cemetery terminus to the foot of the Makara Hill, and a 33-chain spur line to Northland. The meeting also received a letter from the Pharazyn Trust stating that the Kelburne Viaduct must not be interfered with, without their permission, when the overhead was being erected underneath the viaduct.

A poll of ratepayers was held on 21 December 1906. A breakdown of costs showed that the Karori extension had been costed at £26,000 (total length of 1 mile 25 chains) and with a twenty-minute service, this would give a total of 49,500 car-miles per year. The Northland extension was costed at £6,000 and with a twenty minute service would total 7570 car-miles per year.

The poll was broken down into two components, Karori and Northland. The Karori loan was sanctioned with 243 votes for and 144 against, whereas the Northland loan was defeated with 187 against, 121 for. Comment was made on the low turnout of voters. Northland residents had to wait until 1927 for the tramway to reach their suburb.

Laying of the rails had commenced by December 1906 and a cable connection laid from the power station via Aro Street. On 24 January 1907 the Evening Post reported that nearly all the single track had been laid, the exceptions being the tunnel, and a short length near the cemetery. The loops could not be laid until the arrival of the ship Indraghiri, whose cargo included the points and crossings. All that was required after this was the installation of some hardwood poles at the end of the line and finally the erection of the overhead. It was anticipated that trams would be running over the line by early March. The same article commented that reconstructing the road beyond the cemetery gates had also commenced.

On 12 March 1907, two cars, a combination bogie and four wheel box-car, made an inaugural trip over the line as far as Karori tunnel, much to the satisfaction of all concerned. Arrangements were then made for the official opening of the full line to be held on Wednesday 27 March. However from 13 March, a public service commenced as far as Karori tunnel with a total of 17,814 passengers being carried in the first two weeks. On one day alone, a Sunday, 2,799 passengers travelled on the trams.

The opening ceremony

The opening was held at the cemetery terminus with about 100 people attending, including Wellington City and Karori Borough Councillors. Special trams were laid on for those attending, departing from the Central Post Office and travelling via Molesworth Street and Tinakori Road with a journey taking approximately twenty-two minutes.

Passenger numbers were higher than forecast and large numbers of people travelled over the line for the novelty of it in addition to those commuting for work or visiting the cemetery. It was not long after the service commenced that the conductors complained about the shortage of halfpennies required for some of the fares. To alleviate this, the Wellington City Council issued coupons in sheets of twelve, and these were tendered in lieu of the coin.

Operational problems also arose in relation to visibility on the city side of the tunnel. The whole length of track ahead could not be seen from some loops, and instances had occurred of trams meeting, requiring one to reverse to the next loop. On 13 May, 1907, the Tramway Engineer advised that signalling equipment was to be purchased to overcome the problem.

On 13 February 1911, the Order in Council was signed authorising the line being extended to the far end of Karori Road, a distance of one mile, thirty-eight chains. This section was opened by May of the same year. Apart from the Northland extension in 1927, and a major installation of double track in Glenmore Street in 1932, the line remained unchanged till closure in October 1954.

When the line first opened, trams showed a destination of Karori. With the opening of the extension to the far end of the suburb, three destinations were introduced. These were, Karori Cemetery, Karori and Karori Park. Northland was added later.


Brittain, Henry, 2002: The Karori Tramline: Part 1. Tramway Topics, 213 July-September p.8-9

Brittain, Henry, 2003: The Karori Tramline; Part 2 Tramway Topics, 215, Jan-March p.10-11

See also

Wood, K.M. 2000: Completing the Tramway, The Stockade, 33 p. 32


Figure Caption

All the school children were out to greet the first tram to reach the top of Church Hill, Karori, in February 1911. This tram, No. 33, was the electric car given in 1904 by the contractors who built the original Wellington system for the exclusive use of the Mayor and City Councils. The line to the foot of the Makara Hill was completed three months later.

Photo by courtesy of Graham Stewart


From Stockade 39, 2006 Karori Historical Society