Riding the rails . . . Christchurch tram tracks

Trams supporting our local rugby team ...The Crusaders
Trams support our rugby team – The Crusaders


I used to think my mother was so brave when, holding my hand, she stepped out into the middle of Colombo street to board the tram. I was excited and scared at the same time. A few years ago I took my mother on a tram trip – in the restaurant car: she was delighted with the silver service and delicious meal.

Baby of the fleet - 411 came from a Sydney, Australia, Tram Museum
Baby of the fleet – 411 came from a Sydney, Australia, Tram Museum

Seems my family history with trams goes back even further as I have a tattered photo of my maternal grandfather laying, or repairing, tram tracks in the mid-1930s: a photo that had appeared in the Christchurch Press. It’s only a few years ago that I always had an annual pass for the tram as, living in the inner-city I rode the tracks frequently – especially if it was raining or I was carrying my groceries and vegetables.

The KiwiTravelWriter becomes world-famous in the Tram Clippings newsletter

Trams removed were  from Christchurch’s streets in the mid-1950s, but returned in the mid-90s, mostly as a tourist attraction – back then, and during  my travels on this trip, even as a local I enjoyed hearing the history of places we passed. Unlike many places around the world,  taped commentary are played: here the drivers, or motormen as they are correctly called, speak freely about the city’s history and add their own personal touches. I hope this never changes as it makes these tours unique and personal. A travel writing friend of mine, Roy Sinclair, has been a tram driver here and provided historical context for the other drivers – he also tells me that the training is comprehensive.

It appears trams are simple vehicles, with a control to go, and a brake to stop, however, learning to drive them smoothly is not always easy, nevertheless it seems there are bonuses with the job. I recall one who used to recount his 15 minutes of fame when he co-starred with Kate Winslet in the 1990’s film Heavenly Creatures. As he said, ‘three days of work and I made it onto the film for about three and four seconds!

During an All Blacks game the flags fly
During an All Blacks game the flags fly

These motormen come from a range of backgrounds including; an economics professor, musicians, school principals, bank managers, and of course Roy Sinclair, an author.

On my most recent trip back to Christchurch (February 2016) I was a guest of Welcome Aboard with a combo ticket to travel on the tram, gondola, punting and the delightful, and informative Caterpillar Tour in the Botanic Gardens – all of which will appear in another blog. Now, let these photos tell the story of our trams.

For some history about Christchurch trams see this library website

NOTE: This is one of a series of posts about Christchurch. See this recent post about the 2010/11 quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.


Thank-you to Breakfree On Cashel for hosting me during part of my stay in the city – I will be writing a small blog about that soon


Four Victorian Bridges to visit in Christchurch, New Zealand

Getting to the other side: go for a walk and check out these old bridges

Despite its calm appearance, the Avon River claimed many lives in the past and getting to the other side was difficult so bridges were of vital importance to the settlers- here are justa few of the inner city bridges that make an intersting walk. ( See also my blog on Victoria /Market Square)

Papanui Bridge

. . . was the first to open and when it closed in 1863 because it was unsafe, it was missed even though a narrow swing bridge on Gloucester St replaced it for pedestrians and the Manchester St Bridge was built the same year for the total cost of 240 pound. (New Zealand currency used pounds shilling and pence until 1968 and when it change one pound became two dollars)

Ironwork for the new bridge was ordered from England (costing 3000 pounds) and when it reopened in 1864, the councillors arrived in a yellow wagonette drawn by four horses and officially opened the it with a bottle of champagne being broken on it to give it the new name of Victoria Bridge. It used to carry the tram towards Papanui, is now a footbridge and has been opened in the centre so the ironwork that supports it can be seen.

Worcester St

A footbridge on Worcester St was swept away in the 1868 floods and the following year it was replaced by the iron bridge that now stands there: although full-sized it now only carries pedestrians and the tram.

Antigua St

A footbridge was built here in 1868 while the Cashel St Bridge (where the various war remembrances are) is now called the Bridge of Remembrance and was completed in 1873.

Christchurch is fortunate to have these wonderful examples of Victorian work and many are under-light so their beauty can be admired at night too.

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