Rimutaka Cycle Trail
By Sandra Appleby
The Wellington/Wairarapa region is also home to the Rimutaka Cycle Trail, one of the easiest of the Great Rides, which runs from the head of Wellington Harbour, through the Rimutaka Range to Ocean Beach. For this ride we followed the Rimutaka Trail as far as Lake Wairarapa and then detoured to discover some of the other delights of the region (hint: grapes are involved)!
We started on a breezy but fine Wellington morning, taking the ferry from Queens Wharf across the harbour to Days Bay and a delicious morning tea in the Chocolate Dayz Café. Feeling suitably fuelled for the journey ahead, we set off around the coastline to Lower Hutt and had a peek at The Dowse Art Museum. From there we picked up the pretty (and pretty easygoing) Hutt River Trail to Upper Hutt and our first night’s bed and breakfast accommodation.
Day Two saw us journey along the old Wellington and Wairarapa railway line; it’s a bush-clad route that takes in restored railway bridges, historic tunnels and the engineering ingenuity of the Fell mountain rail system which, back in its day, pulled passengers up the steep slope of the Rimutaka Incline. There are interesting signboards along the route, telling the tales of the railway’s construction and history, like the freak accident that occurred in 1880 when carriages were blown off the line by a gale-force gust of wind.
After descending 6km to the Western Lake Road, we headed southward past Lake Wairarapa for a further 10km to overnight at the Waiorongomai Station, the first sheep station in the Wairarapa. With time to wander around the farm and take in the magnificent views, this was a highlight of the weekend. The station has a well equipped kitchen if you want to cook your own food, or they can cater for riders wanting to travel light. There are also plenty of beds for large groups of friends or families.
Our third day was our longest day of biking. While the Rimutaka Trail continues to follow country roads to Ocean Beach we headed southeast to Cape Palliser. This wild windswept coastline is home to one of New Zealand’s last remaining lighthouses and I thoroughly recommend climbing the 253 steps to the top to enjoy the views.
We were booked into a bach in the fishing village of Ngawi for the night — a spot famous for its bulldozers lined up on the beach (they’re used to haul the boats in and out of the water). With no shops in the area, we’d brought along enough supplies to cook a basic meal, with the expectation we’d enjoy more exquisite dining in Martinborough the following day.
On Day Four we retraced our steps along the undulating Lake Ferry Road, arriving in Martinborough in time for lunch. This was a destination we’d all been looking forward to — partly because it’s packed full of charm but mostly because it’s packed full of vineyards, all within easy cycling distance of the main square! Research had already been carried out and we pedalled a route between three wineries, spending a lazy afternoon sampling amazing food and equally amazing wine.
Our final day gave us plenty of time to linger. We had a slow, mid-morning departure before following the Ruamahanga River to Greytown. With its beautiful Victorian architecture and boutiques, galleries, antique stores, craft shops, cafés and restaurants it’s a great place to end a cycle tour! We enjoyed another long lunch before hopping aboard the 4pm train (with our bikes) to central Wellington.
Quiet roads, gentle gradients and beautiful scenery make the Rimutaka Cycle Trail and the Wairarapa a perfect choice for newbie cyclists or families. For more hardcore riders, longer and more challenging distances can be achieved. There is a fantastic choice of places to stay (including campsites if you want to keep costs down) and numerous cafes, restaurants (and vineyards) to keep hunger at bay. I chose to ride a hardtail 29er mountain bike, since our route covered a variety of terrain.
Discover the Wellington and Wairarapa region with Natural High’s five day guided Wellington Harbour to Greytown tour. Explore the Rimutaka Rail Trail, the wild, rugged coastline of Palliser Bay, the vineyards of Martinborough and the charm (and shops!) of Greytown. Various tour dates are available; more details online.