Barry Brickell - artist and creator of Coromandel's Driving Creek Railway - has died.

Aged 80, Brickell was renowned as a potter and for his 2.7km Driving Creek railway, which became a popular tourist attraction.

The railway site was Brickell's base for four decades, with the potter initially developing it to bring clay down from the hillside and then wood from wild pines to fire his kiln.

As the railway stretched across the 32-hectare site, Brickell became a champion for conservation with the planting of thousands of native trees to replace the scrub and exotic species he was removing.

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Barry Brickell's Driving Creek Railway on the Coromandel Peninsula. Photo / Supplied
Barry Brickell's Driving Creek Railway on the Coromandel Peninsula. Photo / Supplied

Thames-Coromandel mayor Glenn Leach paid tribute to Brickell, saying the area had lost an iconic figure who was a huge part of the development of art and tourism on the peninsula.

"The wide range of his contributions and his giving of himself to the community means he will be sadly missed."

Leach said Brickell's pottery was a pervasive influence on New Zealand art, with it being shown in Te Papa and pieces on display in Parliament.

He said there would be a public service to farewell Brickell at Coromandel Area School on Wednesday.

The service was expected to be as unconventional as the man being farewelled -- Brickell is believed to have designed his funeral and had his coffin made before his death yesterday.

"He knew and he's known for a while," said Mr Leach.

Coromandel community board member Kim Brett said Brickell was a part of the fabric of the town. "It's going to be a huge loss for us."

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson said on Facebook that Brickell's death was a "a great loss to Coromandel and New Zealand".

"Much of what we recognise as contemporary Coromandel today has been built upon foundations laid by him."

He said he often received long letters from Brickell, written on a manual typewriter, with advice and opinions "on all manner of issues political, local and artistic".

The Driving Creek Railway faced scrutiny after a 19-month-old child fell from the slow-moving train at one of its steepest areas. The child fell 9m into scrub, receiving a fractured jaw. An investigation by the NZ Transport Agency made a number of safety recommendations.

The Green Party expressed sadness at the death of renowned Coromandel conservationist and craftsman Barry Brickell

"I have known Barry for 42 years and have been privileged to witness his extraordinary creative drive both as a master potter and as the creator of one of the best eco-tourism experiences in this country. His voice and his vision will be hugely missed but never forgotten," said Coromandel-based Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty.

"By restoring native forest at Driving Creek, Barry created a shining example of conservation that is accessible to all, and also generated employment for the Coromandel community. It showed how one person's vision and astonishing work ethic can make dreams real.

"Barry's pottery and sculpture is world-famous due to its powerful simplicity and ability to retain the essence of the natural materials.

"Barry has been a strong voice for protecting the environment and in his last days was encouraging us to support his vision of a pier in Coromandel harbour, rather than a marina which could disturb the contaminated mud from historical gold mining," Ms Delahunty said.

The Green Party sent its respects and commiserations to Brickell's family and to his wider community at Driving Creek.