Nelson developed the first passenger street tramway. A single horse pulled the coach-style tram along 1.6 kilometres of line from the city centre to the Port of Nelson. The initial sixpenny fare was dropped to threepence to encourage greater use after pranksters laying stones on the rails caused derailments. In 1901 the service was bought by the Town Council but the cost of modernisation and electrification proved too much and the tramway was dismantled and removed.
One of the earliest locally-built tram carriages was made of that most famous of New Zealand timbers, kauri. Its short career had a rather inauspicious beginning. The discovery of gold at Graham's Town (now Thames) meant many passengers for the country's first steam tramway opened in 1871. The track ran from Thames to the deep sea wharf at Tararu Point. In May 1874 a heavy gale partly destroyed the wharf and washed away a large section of the tramway. Damage was so great both the wharf and tramway were abandoned. The line closed on 10 November 1874.
New Zealand's first cable cars appeared in Dunedin and came to be widely utilised there. The Rattray Street cable tramway was the first to operate outside the United States of America. In the days when horses and steam were the only recognised means of vehicle power, the sight of cable cars climbing the steep hills without visible means of power was awe-inspiring. The cables were laid in tunnels beneath the road.
Although Dunedin had the first electrics, Auckland was the first to go for a complete electric system and the novelty of the horseless tramcars attracted 15,000 passengers at twopence a ride on its first day in service. Being cheaper and quicker than the horse-drawn trams, Auckland became a community of tram-riders.
Wellington's first electric tram was a single track, double decker tram which ran for the first time from the Newtown tram sheds to Kent Terrace on 30 June 1904. Brilliantly lit, the tram came slowly and steadily down the track accompanied by frequent flashes of electricity - the spectacle was unique and fascinated the population.
Depicted on this stamp is a 1905 Christchurch tram towing a trailer from Cathedral Square. Early trams incorporated large spring loaded steel fenders mounted front and rear to protect cyclists and pedestrians. Electric heaters were installed under each seat and winter travellers were often reluctant to leave their warm haven. Yet unlike the Wellington system, seats were uncushioned, management considering cushioned seats unhygienic.