Bluff Branch

Bluff Branch

The Bluff Branch is a railway line in Southland, New Zealand that links Invercargill with the port of Bluff. One of the first railways in New Zealand, it opened in 1867 and is still operating. It used sometimes to be considered a continuation of the Main South Line.


In the early days of New Zealand's colonisation, transport between Bluff and Invercargill was through sometimes impassable swampy terrain. Construction of a road to Bluff (called Campbelltown until March 1917) was approved in 1859, but the swamp defeated the builders and by 1861, a railway was being considered as an alternative. On 8 August 1863 "Lady Barkly", arguably the first locomotive to steam in New Zealand, ran on a small section of track on Invercargill Jetty, and the same year construction of a line to Bluff began. In 1864 the failure of the wooden rails used on the Invercargill-Makarewa section of what became the Kingston Branch became apparent, and the decision was made to use iron rails to Bluff. Built to the international standard gauge of 1435 mm (4 feet 8.5 inches), the line opened on 5 February 1867. The national gauge was set at a narrow gauge of 1067 mm (3 feet 6 inches) in the early 1870s and the Bluff Branch was converted to this gauge in a single day, 18 December 1875.


Bluff established itself as the port of Southland and the line has always been busy with both inbound and outbound freight. When containerisation was introduced and freight transportation trends changed, Bluff was not selected to be a container port, but it and the railway have remained busy with traffic such as frozen meat, wool, and wood chips.

For many years, passenger traffic on the line was heavy, with 20,000 travelling in a single day to a regatta in Bluff on 1 January 1900. However, the development of modern road networks and private cars caused passenger numbers to decline. The 1950 public timetable showed seven weekday services each way, with an eighth on Fridays; five on Saturdays; and one on Sundays. This declined starkly over the following years, and by 1964, only one passenger train ran each way on weekdays and none at weekends. The remaining service was operated for school children, running from Bluff to Invercargill in the morning and returning in the late afternoon. In 1967, services were cancelled. Passenger trains briefly returned when the Kingston Flyer operated some services to Bluff between 1979 and 1982.

External links

* [ Bluff's history, including a mention of the railway]
* [ Ohai Railway Board - the Southland Railway History section of the Archives contains some facts on the Bluff Branch]


* Churchman, Geoffrey B., and Hurst, Tony; "The Railways Of New Zealand: A Journey Through History", HarperCollins Publishers (New Zealand), 1991 reprint

Further reading

Demonstration Test Runs of the "Lady Barkly" Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, September, 1964

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