The Cook Islands’ one and only steam locomotive during the early 2000s. Photo: Roger Smith/22062432
The Cook Islands' first ever railway track and locomotive is as elusive as it is amazing.
Sometimes history speaks in rhyme. During the early 1900s the first-ever railway track was laid down at Avarua wharf on the island of Rarotonga, by the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. According to reports, the track was used to help move cargo off the passenger ships that would arrive at the wharf and needed to be unloaded onto the island almost 90 years ago.
forward to the early 1990s, and another railway track was laid, but this time
in a different location along with a steam locomotive shipped to the Cook
Islands and restored - almost 90 years after the first railway track was laid
down in Rarotonga.
not much history has been recorded about the railway tracks laid in Rarotonga
at Avarua wharf in the early 1900s. But photos from a few local residents and
Cook Islanders have revealed that the tracks existed, and the images are
The photos reveal train tracks along the jetty, with local workers from a bygone era, as well as a time when huts and buildings from the past appear to be totally intact.
The most striking photos taken show the Union Steam Ship Company shed at the beginning of the wharf and the railway tracks, with a horse, carriage and local people close by.
That said, the railway's story is one of the most elusive if not illustrious in terms of exploration and research. In fact, the same can be said about the island's one and only steam locomotive, which has been remarkably well preserved considering its location — a fact attributable to its owner.
Restored in 1991 by local resident and steam enthusiast Tim Arnold - who is also a lawyer for a lot of transport related companies - the steam locomotive which is no longer operating, was a working-class Px48 0-8-0 tender locomotive of 750mm gauge, with Polish Railways number 1741, and was shipped over from Poland and brought to Avarua during the early 1990’s.
time, Rarotonga had never had a proper railway before, and because there were
no laws or health and safety rules regarding railway operations and locomotives
in the Cook Islands, it meant that the railway and the country’s first-ever
locomotive could operate as wanted.
several years into the early 2000s, the locomotive was used to offer rides to
the public, on a short railway which was around 170 metres long, and installed
at the back of private property by its owner.
unfortunately, the locomotive and railway weren’t to last, just like the
railway tracks which have been lost during the early 1900s. Today, the
locomotive and railways stand as a parable of dreams not quite realised.
locomotive, along with other equipment and railway tracks, are stored on the
island in a shed awaiting possible further use.
to the International Steam Pages, although the locomotive and train tracks are “unlikely
to ever operate in Rarotonga again” there is hope that the locomotive and
rolling stock might be moved to New Zealand for use on a new
one can only hope.
discovery of the first railway tracks laid down at Avarua wharf along with the
Cook Islands’ only locomotive is a reminder of deeds and dreams that have long passed.
It’s also a lesson in how technology such as a camera from the 1900s and a steam
train can transform our encounters with the past.
back at such old photos, it’s hard to believe a railway track could ever exist
in the early 1900s. I can only imagine what sights we might have beheld had the
railway tracks at Avarua wharf continued from the jetty or the locomotive had
continued to operate.