North Island Main Trunk Line Centenary

On 7 August 1908, the first train ever to travel the length of New Zealand’s North Island Main Trunk Line left Wellington, bound for Auckland. Three months later, the route was officially opened – the culmination of 23 years of backbreaking work in some of the country’s toughest terrain. In 2008, we celebrated the Line’s centenary, its important role in New Zealand’s economic and social development and its enduring place in our contemporary world.

Issue information

Almost 700 kilometres long, the North Island Main Trunk Line railway journey originally took more than 20 hours – but it proved an unbeatable alternative to a long, uncomfortable sea voyage or a challenging stagecoach or car trip on primitive roads. For decades the Line was the mode of choice for everyone from politicians and Governors-General to royal visitors, businesspeople, public servants, entertainers, sports teams, soldiers bound for war, local holidaymakers and overseas tourists.

50c – The ‘Last Spike’ ceremony near Manganui-o-te-Ao Viaduct
On 6 November 1908, Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward hammered the Main Trunk Line’s ‘last spike’ into a railway sleeper, just north of the recently completed Manganui-o-te-Ao Viaduct. The ceremony marked the joining of the two railheads and the creation of the Wellington-Auckland link – and Ward was presented with a commemorative silver spike, which is now held by Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum.

$1.00 – 50th anniversary display at Taumarunui Railway Station
The construction of the North Island Main Trunk Line heralded the formation of a number of ‘railway towns’ – including Taumarunui, later immortalised in Peter Cape’s song, ‘Taumarunui on the Main Trunk Line’. In November 1958 the town celebrated 50 years of service for the Line with a display at the railway station of KA 947, a representative of the famous class of steam locomotives that ruled the Line’s central section for many years.

$1.50 - Ka powered goods train crossing Makatote Viaduct
At almost 79 metres (260ft) high , the mighty Makatote Viaduct is the third highest railway viaduct in New Zealand. It’s located about 10 kilometres south of National Park and soars over the Makatote River, providing a visual treat for passengers on the North Island Main Trunk Line. The image on the stamp was taken in the ‘Golden Age’ of rail, when steam locomotives like this one ruled the Line.

$2.00 - Ka powered goods train climbing the Raurimu Spiral
Conceived in 1898 and completed 10 years later, the Raurimu Spiral is a masterpiece of engineering design. Comprising four kilometres of track, it travels almost 200 metres in altitude (on a grade of 1 in 50) through the ingenious use of a full spiral, a horseshoe curve and two tunnels. It was also a huge saving, as the alternative route through Taranaki would have required nine viaducts and 20 kilometres of track!

$2.50 - EF powered ‘Overlander’ crossing Hapuawhenua Viaduct
The Hapuawhenua Viaduct, located just north of Ohakune and built in 1907-08 as part of the North Island Main Trunk Line, was the longest viaduct on this section (284 metres). However, when the track was electrified in 1987, a 10-kilometre deviation between Ohakune and Horopito saw it bypassed and become part of the surrounding national park. The stamp features the 414-metre bridge now used instead.
Tracking progress through the century

The North Island Main Trunk Line was a shining symbol of progress, introducing a golden age of rail transport in the first half of the 20th century. The five stamps in this series track its progress from 1908 until today – providing a fitting tribute to a development that fuelled economic development and population growth in the North Island, and confirmed Auckland and Wellington as the country’s leading cities.

New Zealand Post is delighted to celebrate the centenary with a first day cover and presentation pack that capture the magic and the majesty of this engineering marvel. The presentation pack is extra special, featuring not only the stamps but also a copy of a 1910 Timetable and a ticket for the 1908 ‘Parliament Special’ – that first-ever train trip, which ferried politicians north to meet the United States Navy’s visiting Great White Fleet.

Limited Edition products (only 2,000 packs produced)
Miniature Sheet and Souvenir Cover

Technical information

Date of issue: 3 September 2008
Denominations: 50c, $1.00, $1.50, $2.00, $2.50
Stamps and first day cover designed by: Communications Arts, Wellington, New Zealand
Printer and process: Southern Colour Print Ltd - by offset lithography
Number of colours:  4 process colours
Stamp size and format: 40mm x 30mm (horizontal)
Paper type: Tullis Russell 104gsm red phosphor gummed stamp paper
Number of stamps per sheet: 25
Perforation gauge: 13.33 x 13.60