Ohai Railway Board Office and Depot (Former)

86 Main Street, WAIRIO

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The vestiges of the Ohai Railway Board Offices and Depot (Former) dominate the small township of Wairio, Southland. At once utilitarian and picturesque, the structures are architecturally, historically and socially significant. Operated by the Ohai Railway Board, the Wairio to Ohai line was the only private railway built under the 1914 Local Railways Act. It has special value as one of only two financially successful privately-operated lines, and was also the longest running passenger and coal transport private line in New Zealand. It is particularly significant in its relation to the story of the coal industry in New Zealand. The Ohai Railway Board Offices and Depot form a rare set of railway structures, dating from around 1882 to 1947. They stand as a testament to a community, an industry and New Zealand’s most successful private line – the Ohai Railway. Coal helped underpin New Zealand’s economy and the provision of accessible routes to market was imperative. In 1878 Wairio was chosen as a new rail terminus to service the neighbouring Government coal reserve. In 1882 the line formally opened. As the importance of the Ohai coalfields grew, the lack of passable routes to Wairio became problematic. The community, which depended on coal for its livelihood, campaigned for the extension of the government line. The Local Railways Act 1914 provided for the establishment of local boards, who were authorised to raise funds for private rail lines. In 1916 the Ohai Railway Board was elected and plans for the only private line built under the Act were set into action. By December 1924 the private rail line between Wairio and Ohai was complete. While the coal industry simply needed the train and the line, another industry grew up around the maintenance of the railway. Engine sheds, goods sheds, administration offices, weighbridges, railway workers’ cottages and water towers were all part of the necessary structural support. The Wairio Terminus was in a continual state of flux as buildings were moved in and off site, while others were erected, demolished and re-erected. The one building unique to the terminus was the Ohai Railway Board’s ‘Boardroom’. Connected to the railway offices, the Boardroom was the seat of the decision-makers who oversaw the development of this private railway into the most successful and longest running line in New Zealand. The Ohai Railway Board ran the line for almost 75 years. In 1989 the Southland District Council took over management and in 1992 the line and its buildings were sold to New Zealand Rail. In 2000 the buildings housed a museum run by the Ohai Railway Board Heritage Trust, although the Trust eventually disbanded, resulting in the museum’s closure. The buildings have remained unused since this time. The Branch line, however, is still in use and is the last country branch left in Southland.

Ohai Railway Board Office and Depot (Former), Wairio | Jonathan Howard | 06/04/2017 | Heritage New Zealand



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

12th December 2018

Date of Effect

1st January 2019

City/District Council

Southland District


Southland Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Railway Land (Wairio Branch Railway), Southland Land District, as shown on ROLL 31/8, and the buildings known as the Ohai Railway Board Offices and Depot (Former) thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

Legal description

Railway Land (Wairio Branch Railway), Southland Land District

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