Makatote Viaduct

North Island Main Trunk (NIMT), POKAKA; ERUA

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The Makatote Viaduct is an important physical reminder of the substantial resources and expertise that were invested in the construction of the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) railway, and is an iconic monument of the 'final push' to complete it. Prior to the construction of the NIMT, the Central Plateau was closed off to European settlement and its resources and landscape were relatively untouched. However, this soon changed because a key motivator for the railway, aside from creating a direct link between Auckland and Wellington, was to encourage immigration with the employment opportunities it provided, and also to establish settlements in the area. The NIMT took 23 years to finish and, because of the protracted construction period, at the turn of the 20th century the government was under considerable public and political pressure to bring it to a timely completion. Therefore, significantly more resources were targeted toward bringing it to a resolution with a 'final push.' This section also happened to be the most difficult area in terms of terrain and required a concentration of engineering feats to navigate it, of which the Makatote Viaduct is a notable structure alongside the Raurimu Spiral and the other viaducts in the area. Between its completion and the mid-20th century, the NIMT was fundamental to both the local and national economies. The Makatote Viaduct, built between 1905 and 1908, was the last and highest structure constructed on the NIMT, and was therefore vital to its completion. The design of the Makatote Viaduct, with its superstructure that features five central tall, latticed, steel piers, is representative of the time it was built and showed an awareness of international developments in engineering. A testimony to the technical skill demonstrated in its construction is the superstructure has remained relatively unchanged, although some additions to the viaduct in the 1920s and 1980s were necessary as part of broader changes in the operation of the NIMT. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the viaduct's two tallest central piers also needed remedial underpinning to enable the ongoing viability of the structure. The viaduct gains much of its significance as an engineering feat in its own right. An indication of the scale of the project is that a large community had to be established for the viaduct's construction. The Makatote Viaduct generated immense public interest at the time of its construction, and despite the decline of rail transport, its monumentality and dramatic setting has meant it has continued to delight and awe people. Originally the Makatote ranked among the highest viaducts in the world and was the highest in New Zealand. Consequently, it is considered an icon of the NIMT and 20th century New Zealand engineering, as well as a significant, prominent, landmark in the Central Plateau.

Makatote Viaduct, Between Pokaka and Erua, Manawatu-Ruapehu | N Jackson | 21/12/2016 | Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
Makatote Viaduct, Between Pokaka and Erua, Manawatu-Ruapehu | N Jackson | 21/12/2016 | Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
Makatote Viaduct, Between Pokaka and Erua, Manawatu-Ruapehu. Ref. # ABIN W3337 Box 252. CCL 2.0 | Archives New Zealand



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

2nd February 2009

Date of Effect

2nd February 2009

City/District Council

Ruapehu District


Horizons (Manawatū-Whanganui) Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as the NIMT rail corridor and the structure known as the Makatote Viaduct thereon, including its abutments (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

Legal description

NZ Gazette 1910, pp.596-597

Location Description

The viaduct bridges the Makatote Gorge 12km south of National Park, between Pokaka and Erua. There are viewing areas for motorists on State Highway 4 (SH4) between Pokaka and Erua at a rest stop beneath the southern piers of the viaduct, and also from the Makatote Scenic Reserve at the northern end of the viaduct.

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