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A Bit of History...

 It is not possible to discuss the history of Helensville without considering the largest harbour in the Southern Hemisphere, the mighty Kaipara. For 25 years in the late 19th century the Kaipara Harbour was the most significant export port in New Zealand processing many tons of timber, flax, and Kauri gum. Likewise Helensville was built on the harbour, which provided the easiest access from Auckland to the north for many decades, other than by sea on the east coast. The record for ships leaving on one tide stands at 14 and was made during the 1880s. Despite a fearsome reputation the harbour entrance did not see a large number of ships lost. All those lost were in fact sailing ships most of which were caught out by an unexpected loss of wind or wind change. No steamers were ever lost crossing the entrance.

 In the early decades of the 19th century there was not a large population of Maori in the Kaipara area, because it was very much a no-mans land bordering the Ngapuhi Iwi in the north and Ngati Whatua Iwi around Auckland. As they often went to war they kept a distance between themselves consisting of the disputed territory. The last major battle between these two groups was as late as 1828.  

 The first European ships did not even enter the Kaipara Harbour until 1836, but the area began to boom when the export timber industry started to be expanded soon after.

 Prior to the opening of the railway line from Riverhead to Helensville in 1875 the easiest way to get from Auckland to Helensville was by steamer from Auckland to Riverhead, then a two day trek with an overnight stop at Waimauku, or later coach from Riverhead. The road then followed what is now Old North Road, a very hilly route of 14 miles. It was not until well after the opening of the railway that the road we now know as State Highway 16 was formed along a much flatter route, following the Kaipara River along the river flats generally alongside the railway. The rail route in fact became a well-used pedestrian access into Helensville from the south, especially by local mäori. They did not have much in the way of OSH regulations in those days! Alternatively one could take the train from Auckland to Onehunga, and ship from Onehunga to the Kaipara but risk crossing two difficult harbour entrances on the way. Then if you wanted to go further north another steamer would take you to Dargaville. From there you could take small boats much further up the Northern Wairoa River, and proceed overland to the Bay of Islands.

 In fact a railway was not the only option considered for access from Auckland to the Kaipara, a canal was a serious option for a while.

 The first major European settlers in Helensville are acknowledged to be the McLeod family, Scottish settlers from Nova Scotia. The McLeod’s set up the first sawmill on the Kaipara in 1862 near the site of the present railway station where the Awaroa Stream flows into the Kaipara River. The original name for the area was Te Awaroa and the name Helensville comes from the original McLeod matriarch, called Helen. Her name is also given to the large two-story home built on the hill above the stream called “Helens-villa”. That home is now preserved in largely its original state, and is a landmark when seen from the north of the town.

 In 1872 two large wharves were built in Helensville by the Auckland Provincial Council, a coal wharf and a railway wharf.

 The early function of the railway (opened from Riverhead to Helensville on 29 October 1875) was not only for passengers but also as a transshipment point for large export ships that berthed in the river adjacent to the railway yards. That first trip took 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach Helensville. The section from Riverhead to just south of Kumeu follows the route now known as Old Railway Road, and was closed after the line was pushed through West Auckland to Kumeu with the first train running on 18 July 1881, thus providing direct rail access from Auckland to Helensville. The line from Kumeu to Riverhead was closed at this time. It is interesting to note that the route via Swanson and Waitakere was not the only contender and a second route, which follows the present Lincoln Road from Henderson, was suggested. This route would probably have been more practical today, especially as a commuter line, as it is much shorter, but the landowners at Waitakere won the battle for “their” railway. At the same time the Awaroa Stream in Helensville was bridged and a new railway station and yards opened on the much larger site of the present station. Helensville remained the terminus of the line until the route to Kaupakakapa was opened in 1889.

 The original Helensville Railway Station was at Helensville South. So in fact the present station (which should correctly be called Helensville North), was the second terminus at Helensville and both stations were used for many years, as Helensville South was closer to the centre of town.

 The present station was built in 1880; just prior to the when the link to Auckland was opened. The station was originally further west of its present location. At this time the Helensville South station became a passenger stop only and in fact remained open until 1978. In 1881 a Post Office was added which operated until 1911. The Stationmaster doubled as Postmaster. The station was moved east to its present site in 1927, and the main line was also moved further east, which also removed a curve. It was also enlarged and a new verandah added. In 1980 it was closed as an officered station when the last passenger train to Auckland stopped running and became a flag station with a traffic operator in charge. In 1983, 20 metres at the southern end of the building was unfortunately removed. All of the expected ancillary structures once existed at Helensville including Goods Shed, Engine Shed, Coaling and Water facilities, stockyards and also timber loading facilities. A turntable was in place from 1908 until a turning triangle was built in 1942. This triangle is still used today for excursions from the south and shunts from as far north as Whangarei.

 It was not until after the opening of the line right through to Whangarei in 1922 that NZR decided to consolidate their operation at Helensville North. A separate Railway Refreshment Rooms was built earlier, but in 1923 they were built on to the railway station. At this time 12 railway cottages were also built in nearby Awaroa Road and Nelson Street.

 The Helensville Dargaville ferry service continued until the railway went through to Dargaville in 1942. The Port of Kaipara was officially closed in 1947 and the Marine Department closed their Kaipara offices at that time.

 Helensville was of course a refreshment stop for passenger trains. The Northland Express ran on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from when the line was opened to Whangarei in 1923 until 12 November 1957, after which Fiat railcars ran a daily service until they were withdrawn on 31 July 1967. A commuter train ran leaving Helensville at 0650 in the morning with an evening return until it too was withdrawn on 18 August 1980. In July 2008 a single daily return commuter train was re-introduced from Helensville to Auckland on a trial basis but it failed due to lack of patronage and was withdrawn at the end of 2009.

  Men Came Voyaging -  Colleen M Sheffield, 1963.
  Written for Helensville Centennial.  

  Tracks in the North - H J Hansen & F J Neil 1991

  Tall Spars, Steamers & Gum -  Wayne Ryburn 1999

  The Kaipara Line -  Peter Reeves 2000

Les Downey Recollections

In part of the 1950's I lived at Waimauku and used to catch the morning train # 14 to work in Newmarket. The time allowed between Helensville and these country stations was more than adequate so often the train would sit at Waimauku for 5 to 8 minutes and one of the three locos crews who I had become friendly with would see me walking down the road to the station and would give a pop on the steam loco whistle. This of course would make me run and with cheeky grins on their faces the crew would say "why are you running we're not due away for another 5 minutes yet. I became good friends with this crew and one Saturday they invited me up for a cab ride on the banker to the Makarau or Waitangi tunnel.
Ab 833 was duly attached tender leading to the rear of the goods train and away we went. Because of the weight of the train the crews didn't want to stop to uncouple the bank engine so they had a rope rigged up that they could lift the hook with. I don't think that was the regulation way of doing it hence I'm not mentioning names. The pictures show 833 about to exit the tunnel and exiting. The latter picture of course arranged to give me time to get off the loco and out front.
The loco then returned boiler leading to Helensville for the next train.
I suggested they leave me there so I could get a picture of the next train being assisted, to which they agreed.
I found a great position about 7 or 8 metres above the rails and near a headland that the train would have to skirt. I thought this should be an ideal spot. That day there was a very stiff wind blowing down from the direction of the tunnel but unfortunately between the wind and the headland I could neither see back towards Helensville nor hear anything from that direction. I can't remember now how long I was sitting up on this bank for but it seemed like the best part of a week. LOL I finally decided the second train must have been cancelled and that I would have to walk down the line to Helensville. I climbed down the bank and was walking towards the headland when suddenly this Ab hauled train burst around the corner moving very fast. I did my best to do a mountain goat act but only managed to get about to funnel height up the bank so the pictures weren't what I'd hoped for.
Anyway they uplifted me on their return and back to Helensville we went. Was a great day which is still very vivid in my memory.