“Build it and they will come”

A love for bush railways led one man to conceive, design and mainly build his own unique railway through native bush. The result is a train trip that attracts thousands of tourists every year.

On 24th December 2011, the Driving Creek Railway carried its 1 millionth passenger.“Awesome!” “Dinky.” “Quirky” are some of the adjectives used to describe this unique bush railway.


Barry Brickall was one of New Zealand’s best known potters and his ceramic works of art were highly regarded across New Zealand. In 1988 he was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his services as a potter. He was still working right up to his death at the age of 80 in 2016. He is buried beside his beloved railway and his grave is pointed out to tourists who travel past it on their ride.


In 1962, Barry moved from the city to the seaside town of Coromandel and purchased 22 hectares of land with the plan to set up a pottery collective where people could come and create clay works of art. In 1975, he purchased another 60 hectares and started construction on a 15 inch narrow gauge railway to transport wood and clay to supply his pottery from the slopes above it.


Born in 1935, Barry Brickell was considered an eccentric and liked to work naked, even in the bush (apart from sandals to protect his feet). Forced to take on helpers as the project expanded, he began to wear clothing but the less he could get away with, the better. One of his passions was the replanting of kauri trees to make up for their wholesale destruction in the 1900s. He was also passionate about protecting the native bush on his property and was careful to cause minimal damage as he constructed his railway through its lush acres. Although he became a clever, self taught engineer, he never gave up his pottery. When he opened the railway to tourists, he started placing his pottery pieces at suitable points along the line and today, they are part of the railway’s quirky attraction.

Barry Brickell teaches at Pottery Workshop


Once Barry had completed the first length of his modest railway, mainly with his own hands, he couldn’t leave well alone and started dreaming of a real bush railway, like the ones used in early New Zealand to transport native trees to saw mills. He wanted to use his railway to plant new native trees, not remove them. He named his first crude locomotive, constructed from discarded materials he found on nearby farms, “Dieselmouse” and started operating it in 1979. The hand made little engine proved to be up to the job.  The following year, again made from spare parts Barry had sourced from friends and acquaintances, the more powerful “Elephant” became his second diesel locomotive and was able to carry 24 passengers.


Barry’s Bush Railway

Over the next 25 years, the Driving Creek Railway, as Barry named it, developed into one of the most unique railways in the world. The name comes from the term used by Victorian saw millers who referred to the rivers they used to transport the huge kauri logs from their source to the mills as “driving creeks”. Barry was surprised by the number of visitors who wanted to ride his railway and this prompted him to extend it to the length it is today. Before he could make it a commercial enterprise, he had to strengthen some of the steel supports on the viaduct and replace some rails.

The completed railway as it appears today, changes direction 5 times by using reversing points to zigzag up the steep terrain to the Eyefull Tower. The staggering achievement includes 3 tunnels, 10 bridges and the unique Double Deck Viaduct.

Double Viaduct


I have recently read Barry’s book “Railways Towards the Sky” It makes for interesting reading as he details the trials and triumphs he had during the quarter century he took to build a railway he was finally satisfied with. He talked about rains in 2004 that washed out many parts of the railway and of the issues he had with broken rails and train breakdowns, but he had a vision and never wavered from it. During the long years of construction, he also kept his pottery operating. In fact, he paid for much of the railway’s equipment with pottery, as money was always tight. His passion for his project was infectious and over the years he had help from various people from professional men to young travellers who liked the idea of working in the bush and getting fit. They were also attracted to the idea of helping build one of the most unique railways in the world.

Pottery beside Railway


Rising 165 metres above the railway, the aptly named Eyeful Tower is the terminus of the railway and is one of the main reasons the one hour return rail trip attracted over 50.000 visitors last year. The viewing platform around the top of the tower offers a spectacular view across the Hauraki Gulf and is the best man made vantage point on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Eyeful Tower


When Barry was finally given engineer approval to carry paying passengers, he started to advertise and before long his two old trains were unable to cope. “Elephant” and “Dieselmouse” were working trains and were not really suitable for paying customers. The small 14 seat “Possum” was not large enough so new rolling stock was needed. In 1992, he introduced “Snake” a self propelled railcar and in 2004, “Linx” was introduced. Both trains could carry 34 passengers on comfortable seats, and were designed to offer the intimate bush experience that has made a ride on this railway so special. The native forest is so close that it can be touched with extended arms as the trains wind their way from the main terminal to the Eyeful Tower. The narrow tunnels create a great deal of excitement for those who are sure the train won’t fit.


The Driving Creek Railway is a remarkable achievement by one man with a vision and passion. It just goes to show that if you build it they will come.

This 10 minute video takes you for a great ride on the Driving Creek Railway.

Enjoy a ride through the magnificent native forest that has made New Zealand such a special place.

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Ceidrik Heward

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