Makohine Railway Viaduct

Ironworks Road, Ohingaiti

  • Makohine Railway Viaduct, Ohingaiti. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Joe Wallace. Taken By: Joe Wallace. Date: 18/10/2021.
  • Makohine Railway Viaduct Ohingaiti. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Daniel Garland. Taken By: Daniel Garland. Date: 4/12/2012.
  • Makohine Railway Viaduct, Ohingaiti. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans. Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 8/07/2016.
  • Makohine Railway Viaduct, Ohingaiti. CC BY 3.0 Ref: AAVK W3493 E4642 This image shows the first train crossing the completed viaduct in June 1902.
    Copyright: Archives New Zealand - Te Rua Mahara o te Kawanatanga.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 32 Date Entered 2nd April 1985 Date of Effect 2nd April 1985


City/District Council

Rangitikei District


Horizons (Manawatū-Whanganui) Region

Legal description

Rway No 44048 LP 1158 Makohine Viaduct NIMT Blk16 Tiriraukawa

Location description

The viaduct can be viewed from below at the State Highway 1 (SH1) rest stop which abuts the Makohine Reserve.


The Makohine Railway Viaduct, completed in 1902, was an impressive engineering milestone in the construction of the North Island Main Trunk line. The construction of a railway line connecting Wellington with Auckland was first proposed by the Vogel government in 1870; but it was another decade before relations between the Crown and Waikato Maori had improved sufficiently for planning for the line to proceed. By 1884 the House of Representatives approved the route of the railway and the first sods were turned on 15 April 1885. Work began at each end of the Island with the intention of meeting in the middle. Progress was slow, subject to the difficulties of the terrain and the vagaries of changing governments. By 1887 the line had progressed as far south as Te Kuiti and as far north as Marton. The remaining section to be completed crossed difficult terrain which necessitated the construction of a number of tunnels and viaducts.

Plans for the viaduct at Makohine, begun in 1893, were prepared by the resident engineer Public Works Department, Peter Seton Hay (1852/53-1907). Hay also designed the Mangaweka, Hapuawhenua, Taonui, Manganui-a-te-ao and Makatote viaducts. Unable to obtain a satisfactorily low tender for the structure it was decided that the viaduct would be built primarily by the Public Works Department. Work was well under way by 1897, but the weather and delays in the delivery of the prefabricated steel from England hampered progress. The viaduct was finished in June 1902 and was officially opened by Minister for Public Works, William Hall Jones, in the same month. The last spike was driven on the Main Trunk line at Manganui-a-te-ao on 6 November 1908.

The Makohine Railway Viaduct is a most significant example of New Zealand engineering heritage. At the time of its construction it was the second highest viaduct in New Zealand, and today is still ranked the seventh highest and fourth longest viaduct on the North Island Main Trunk line. Its completion overcame one of the major natural obstacles that stood in the way of what is now the busiest and most important railway line in New Zealand. It was designed by one of the great engineers in the history of the Public Works Department. The viaduct is one of the best-known of all railway structures adjoining State Highway 1 in the North Island.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Hay, Peter Seton

Peter Seton Hay (1852/1853? - 1907) was born in Glasgow, Scotland, probably in 1852 or 1853, the son of Janet (Jessie) Dalziel and her husband, James Johnston Hay, a journeyman engineer. When Peter was a child the family emigrated to New Zealand, arriving at Port Chalmers on the Storm Cloud in April 1860. Educated in Dunedin, he was the first graduate of the newly established University of Otago, obtaining a BA in 1877 and an MA with first-class honours in mathematics in 1878.

In June 1875 on the advice of a university teacher he had joined the Public Works Department as an engineering cadet. After completing his studies he was engaged in railway surveys and construction for the lines from Dunedin to Moeraki and Clinton. In the early 1880s he was employed on Central Otago railway surveys from Rough Ridge to Hawea, in the Cromwell district, and from Balclutha to the Catlins River. Hay's reputation as a brilliant young engineer was established in these Otago days. Stories were told of his prodigious mental calculations when he was working in the field without the usual aids such as logarithm tables. In 1884 Hay was transferred to the head office of the Public Works Department in Wellington. He began his steady progress through the ranks of the department, and two years later was promoted to resident engineer.

In 1896 he was promoted to superintending engineer, equivalent to assistant engineer-in-chief. By then the construction of the North Island main trunk rail link was the foremost Public Works Department project. Hay helped plan most of the important railway works of the central North Island section and was responsible for the primary design of the Makohine, Mangaweka, Hapuawhenua, Taonui, Manganui-a-te-ao and Makatote viaducts. By any standards the viaducts were great works of engineering. Much of the credit for their construction must be attributed to Peter Hay.

Hay succeeded W. H. Hales as engineer-in-chief of the Public Works Department in 1906, only to die in office on 19 March 1907. He suffered the effects of exposure while inspecting the main trunk railway works near Waiouru, and subsequently died from pleurisy at his home in Wadestown, Wellington. He was aged 54.

One of Hay's major achievements was his investigation and report on the proposed Southern Alps rail crossing by the Midland railway in 1903. The scheme recommended by the government's American advisory engineer, Virgil Gay Bogue, required a 3½-mile tunnel and a steep gradient incline track. Hay's scheme, which was ultimately adopted, avoided expensive grading and track work but required a tunnel over five miles long. This tunnel, at Otira, was completed in 1923, long after Hay's death. Equally important was Hay's contribution to the development of hydroelectric power generation in New Zealand.

Peter Seton Hay married Mary Clarke at Wairuna, Otago, on 22 April 1879 and they had four sons and one daughter. His wife and children survived him. Hay was the first New Zealand-trained engineer to rise to the rank of engineer-in-chief. He died at the height of his powers and before many of his projects had been completed. Although his life was relatively brief, his works endured.

Lowe, Peter. 'Hay, Peter Seton 1852/1853? - 1907'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 16 December 2003 URL:

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

1893 -

Original Construction
1897 - 1903

Completion Date

11th October 2001

Report Written By

Helen McCracken

Information Sources

Churchman, 1990

Geoffrey B. Churchman and Tony Hurst, 'The Railways of New Zealand, a journey through history', Auckland, 1990

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Peter Lowe, Peter Seton Hay, Volume Two, 1993, p.205

Furkert, 1953

Frederick William Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953

Thornton, 1982

Geoffrey G. Thornton, New Zealand's Industrial Heritage, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1982

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.