Hundreds packed a 1938 railcar to travel through the Manawatū Gorge, eager to see what has happened to the former state highway which was closed indefinitely last year.

The Pahiatua Railcar Society ran five, one-hour trips through the gorge on Saturday from Woodville and another five on Sunday from Ashhurst, with passengers getting a fascinating insight into the state of the former highway and the 72 bridges along its length.

For former Tararua District mayor Roly Ellis it was the first time he'd been on a railcar in 60 years.

"The trip made all of us onboard realise what the problems with the gorge are," he said.

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Kerry's Wall slip and the pancaked bridge in the Manawatu Gorge. Photo / Christine McKay
Kerry's Wall slip and the pancaked bridge in the Manawatu Gorge. Photo / Christine McKay

"Although there isn't much to see of slips over the road, the fissures and rocks sitting above the road highlight how precarious the gorge is."

Tararua District mayor Tracey Collis said the railcar trip was a wonderful opportunity for councillors and key council staff to get an appreciation of the problems associated with the gorge.

"This was the second time in 12-months I've been through the gorge by train and it's given me a visual of the movement in there," she said.

"The sheer force of what happened to pancake the bridge and seeing that huge boulder sitting in a crack above ...

"At Kerry's Wall, significant damage was evident and while movement has slowed in this area, the now visible gabion wall is almost vertical, a real visual for me of the tremendous power behind the landslide. A huge rock to the side of this shows cracks and we were informed this would likely fall within two years.

Slips in the Manawatu Gorge, which was closed indefinitely last year. Photo / Christine McKay
Slips in the Manawatu Gorge, which was closed indefinitely last year. Photo / Christine McKay

"This was a good reminder of the challenge that exist when dealing with nature and confirmed to me that this road will not be re-opened. The trip helped reinforce the decision to develop a new, resilient alternative route which will serve our district into the future with a great east/west regional highway."

District councillor Alison Franklin said seeing first-hand the condition of the Manawatū Gorge road left her in no doubt the decision to close the road permanently was the right one.

"The damage we saw is certainly far worse than it was a year ago as more slips have come down, the cracks above Kerry's Wall certainly indicate the movement is there and it's not a matter of 'if it comes down', but rather 'when it comes down'," she said.

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One of the 70 bridges along the length of the now closed Manawatu Gorge road. Photo / Christine McKay
One of the 70 bridges along the length of the now closed Manawatu Gorge road. Photo / Christine McKay

For fellow councillor Andy Thompson the trip reminded him just how fragile our environment is and how vulnerable we all are to the vagaries of nature in the rugged, yet beautiful, place we call home.

"Riding through and back to Woodville reconnected Marianne (wife) and I with the enormities of the task ahead but also caused some concern from a few about the continued risk assessments being undertaken by NZ Transport Agency."

District councillor Shirley Hull said the trip was interesting. "To see, as we passed Kerry's Wall and the major slip, how it has impacted and pancaked the road and bridges below was an eye-opener," she said.

"But nature has quickly taken control with grass cover and there are more rock slips through the gorge."Hull, like many others, said the trip was "stunning".

Woodville's Peter Bonser said the trip was "excellent" while Norsewood's Kathryn Mulinder described it as "fabulous."

The vintage railcar, Tokomaru, is the only one running on a main line and has been restored by the railcar society, with president Don Selby giving a lively commentary during the trips.

"There have been slips in the gorge since time immemorial and personally I think the Manawatū Gorge road is still the best option for our highway system," he said.

"Three-quarters of the road is undamaged and personally, I think they've just given up on the other quarter really."