Enjoying The Eccentricities Of The Driving Creek Railway in Coromandel, New Zealand

by Karen Warren
A railway line on the steep hillside of Driving Creek Railway

The Driving Creek Railway, on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand’s North Island, is more than just a scenic ride up a tall mountain. 

It manages to combine trains, landscapes, and art with a heavy dose of eccentricity – four of my favorite things!

If you’re looking to visit this unique attraction, continue reading to learn more about the Driving Creek Railway and hear about my experiences. 

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History of Barry Brickell And The Driving Creek Railway

The story of the construction of the Driving Creek Railway is almost as fantastical as the railway itself. 

It all started when Barry Brickell, who was to become New Zealand’s most famous potter, moved to Driving Creek, a few miles north of Coromandel Town. 

In 1973, he purchased a tall mountainside to ensure a source of clay for his work

Two years later he started building a railway line to move clay and other raw materials down the hill.

Barry Brickell built the railway himself, using reclaimed materials including a narrow gauge track from abandoned coal mines and bits of his own pottery. 

The line reached the clay after a few hundred meters. However, he had some track left over so he just carried on going until he got to the top – 35 years later. 

The result was no mean feat of engineering: the railway includes three tunnels, ten bridges (including a double viaduct), and several steep inclines.

Visiting The Driving Creek Railway

The story doesn’t stop there. 

In 1990, when the construction was still not complete, Barry Brickell’s bank manager gently reminded him that he had not repaid the original loan for the purchase of the mountainside. His proposed solution was that the railway should start to generate income as a tourist attraction.

One of the tunnels along the Driving Creek Railway that looks like a face with a large mouth for the train to enter

Even the tunnels are a work of art! Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

Today, visitors can ride on custom-built trains right up to the quirkily-named Eyefull Tower, with its spectacular views across the water towards Auckland

The Driving Creek Railway train stops at a viewpoint to see the sunset

Photo credit: Driving Creek Railway

The train climbs up through a spectacular natural environment. The hill is covered with native vegetation, including tea trees and newly planted kauris. And the loud chatter of cicadas follows you up the hill.

An aerial view of the two trains along the Driving Creek Railway lines

Photo credit: Driving Creek Railway

It isn’t just a railway: it is a work of art in itself. 

Barry Brickell made extensive use of recycled materials for decoration and reinforcement, especially broken pots and green glass bottles

There are sculptures and specially designed structures too. These include the trackside figures who greet you as you pass and tunnels with grinning faces.

A pottery figurine of a man drinking something from a cup and sitting next to a circular brick area at Driving Creek Railway

You’ll see pottery figures and other artworks line the railway track. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

The railway tours last 1 hour and 15 minutes, and it’s a family-friendly ride. It’s recommended to reserve tickets ahead of time here.  

A Pottery Community

Barry Brickell himself had unfortunately died just a couple of weeks before we visited (his body traveled by train to its last resting place on the mountain). 

However he had managed to establish a thriving pottery community at Driving Creek, and this is still very much in evidence. 

Our train driver, Paul, was himself a potter. We spotted one of his pieces beside the Eyefull Tower, and several more in the gift shop.

You will see more pottery as you wander around the sculpture park and the bushwalk at the bottom of the hill. 

A pottery sculpture with two long legs at Driving Creek Railway

There is more pottery in the sculpture garden to check out during your Driving Creek Railway excursion. Photo credit: WorldWideWriter

It is a bit like a pottery graveyard: nothing, however imperfect, is allowed to go to waste

There is even a collection of disused kilns, one of them bearing a sign that says, “Old retired kilns become shrines… we never demolish our old kilns”. 

It seems to sum up the philosophy of the place.

Other Things to Do

While the train ride and pottery exploration were the highlights of my visit, there are other fun activities to try. I didn’t get an opportunity to do them, but they look exciting to do in the future. 

Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy ziplining through 8 canopies and passing through the gorgeous forest area. The forest is human made yet there there are over 27,000 native trees hand planted in the forest. Zipling is safe and is a family-friendly activity. You’ll need 2.5 hours for this activity. 

For those who prefer the creative side and want to practice pottery skills, there are beginner-friendly pottery classes. Each class is 1.5 hours and you’ll get clay, access to the pottery wheel, apron, and a teacher. Advanced pottery classes are available as well. 

Driving Creek Railway Additional Information

Address: 380 Driving Creek Road, Coromandel 3506, New Zealand

Location: Click for Google Maps

Official Website & Buy Tickets Here: https://drivingcreek.nz/ 

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re riding the railway, ziplining through the forest, or creating a piece of clay artwork, a trip to Driving Creek Railway will be a memorable experience in Coromandel. 

Visit my blog at WorldWideWriter to read about my travel adventures. 

Featured Photo Credit: WorldWideWriter

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