Wow! What a treat it was to host Jonathan Kennett at our monthly Cycle Action meeting last night! He led us, drooling, through alluring photos of every NZ Cycle Trail, describing their highlights and special features. If you missed out last night – you’re lucky – Jolisa will be blogging soon, so you can catch up!
It seems like a dream, but this time last week I had just finished riding one of those gorgeous Trails! I had 3 days of bliss, riding the Rimutaka Rail Trail. Here’s the NZ Cycle Trail map. We had time only for the Hutt River and Rimutaka parts of the trail – these signs point to the part we had to leave for a later date.
We’ll be returning, and are happy to start again from the beginning so we can revisit the terrific cafes, 19th century rail heritage, historic villages and vineyards we discovered in our travels this time.
Our adventure began at Britomart Station where I loaded my old faithful all-purpose hybrid bike onto the Auckland to Wellington train, accompanied by clever friend in Cycle Action, Kirsten Shouler. It’s a wonder Kirsten rides with me, as she has a new carbon fibre mountain bike which weighs nothing and attracted admiring comments from every male we met on our holiday.
The 681km train trip takes all day, and is a constant diet of wonderful panoramic views of backblock NZ with rural and bush scenes, the volcanic plateau, dramatic cliffs carved by wide rivers, and of course those exciting viaducts, viewed from huge train windows or, if you’re up for it, the windswept drama of the open carriage behind the engine. Fully recommend the trip!
After a night in Wellington we boarded the Day’s Bay ferry with our bikes, and landed to a peaceful scene and on-road waterfront ride to Petone. A short diversion took us to La Bella Italia delicatessen and cafe for wonderful coffee and cake. If only I wasn’t at the beginning of our trip, I would have stocked up on the huge range of delicatessen items.
We returned to the Petone Wharf to check the official map of the Trail for the official start of the Trail. This part of the Trail began its life as the Hutt River Trail – we found these trail signs were placed exactly where you need them and have helpful maps plotting your progress. In contrast, the NZCT symbols are random and easily missed.
I don’t know the Wellington region well, and I reckon the Hutt River must be one of its best kept secrets. The trail follows the river on reserves and stop banks, passing from suburban areas to quieter surroundings with vistas of bush. Birdsong and the bubbling sound of the river in bridled stony beds reminded us of the South Island. It’s a treasure! By the end of the day, we were totally charmed by the rural character of the ride. It’s no surprise to learn the river has tempting swimming holes and a good stock of trout.
I recommend that before setting out you consult the Rimutaka Rail Trail section of Jonathan Kennett’s hugely popular NZ Cycle Trail book, because it will prepare you for the delights revealed as you make your way along the route. The trail is wonderfully documented by trailside interpretation signs, along the way, but it’s very useful to have a sense of what to expect.
You’ll learn it’s a ride of two halves following a former rail route, with a fascinating history, existing tunnels, cuttings and a bridge dating from the 1870s.
The Hutt half is almost level riding past mature bush and river beds in the Pakuratahi Forest. We had barely begun before we came across the Tuesday Treadlers from Golden Bay, one of those happy casual cycling groups aged in their 60-80s. They were doing this trip as an entree for a fortnight exploring North Island trails, including the Pureora Timber Trail. I want to be doing this in my 80s too!
We stopped with our new found friends when we reached the summit – a large flat expanse, with rusty remnants of the Fell Locomotives used originally on the Wairarapa side of the track. Imagine how it would have been in the winter snow and mist, living in one of the handful of cottages that occupied the summit to house the signalman’s family and a few other railway staff!
The Wairaparapa side of the track is steep, rocky and hardly needed a turn of the bike pedals. It ends at Cross Creek which has more intriguing remnants from the time when the Fell Locomotives and other steam trains used this area for shunting and replacing equipment worn out with the steep descent from the summit.
After riding the 2km track to the carpark (used by shuttles for people doing one day rides and walks of the Rimutaka Trail), we left the trail route to ride to stop for coffees and lunch at another memorable and highly recommended cafe, Featherston’s Everest Cafe. (Don’t miss their smoked fishcakes!). This fuelled us for a ‘must do’ visit to the Fell Locomotive Museum. It’s one of those regional gems that leaves you fired up to return next time you visit the area. Children and parents will be won over by the magic of a 1940s video of the return trip to the Summit on a Fell Loco.
As Aucklanders, we tend to forget how easy it is exploring the plains areas of rural New Zealand on a bike. We spent the next 2 days doing exactly that around Greytown and Martinborough, returning at night to our cosy rented Froggy Cottage which was like a home away from home for us in Greytown.
Our adventure of magic days of calm, sunny blue skies, memorable food, wine, sights, history and cycling came to an end as we rode the 5km volunteer-built cycle trail to Greytown’s Woodside station to catch the train back to Wellington on the Wairarapa train line.
What an incredible taste of a beautiful part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail. Come spring, we’ll be back for the full Rimutaka Trail and another Wairarapa stopover.