Saturday, 8 June 2013

Western side of the Hutt River - a mosly flat ride

Yesterday was another one of those “you-can’t-beat-Wellington-on-a-good-day” kind of days. Fine, crisp, no wind. What more would a (“flatlander”) cyclist want? A nice, trauma-free ride on a smooth, FLAT track? Yeah, I got that – well, mostly. There were a few ups and downs and a few muddy patches, but nothing to get my knickers in a twist about.

After our last three rides, during which I found myself having to struggle up hills pushing a bike, I declared that our next ride HAD to be on the flat. So we had another go at the Hutt River Valley trail. One of the sections we haven’t yet explored is on the western side of the river. We parked the car near the base of the Ewen Bridge, and headed up the valley on the stopbank.

A flat, smooth track on top, a gravel track below (photo by John)

We had ridden part of this track once before. It is beautifully smooth, and flat. I was happy! On this stretch of the trail there are two tracks: one smooth, tarsealed, on top of the stopbank; and the other gravel, further down, closer to the river. I was puzzled by a long pile of large rocks, stretching for maybe 30 metres. They probably came from the river, but didn’t seem to be part of a water defense system.

What are these rocks for? And what kind of trees are these?

Further up the track, the tarseal ran out and we rode on the gravel track. I was delighted to see two large kereru, NZ’s native woodpigeon, flying from the trees lining the riverbank to some pine trees further up the hill. They are large birds, and have a very lazy “flawp-flawp” way of flying. You can actually hear the flapping of their wings. 

Later, when we were on our way back through a bit of bush, another kereru flew overhead and settled in a tree right near us. He did not seem at all worried by us. We could clearly see his white chest, beautiful green throat, and red beak, feet and beady eyes. Quite special.

The kereru was not worried by our presence at all (photo by John)

Also along this bit of the track we saw dozens of Monarch butterflies, that seemed to have been clinging to the trees, and were disturbed by our riding past. Knowing precious little about butterflies, I would not have known they were Monarchs, but for the fact that I saw some photos taken by Michelle Sullivan on her blog “Christchurch Daily Photo". On 26 May, she posted some photos of Monarchs that are overwintering in Christchurch parks. It would appear that they do the same in the trees by the Hutt River. 

The track went underneath the Avalon Bridge, and we ended up in the Belmont domain, where we rode across a grass track. At the end of the domain we had to go through a gate, and the track became one of those things I have grown to dislike: up a bush-covered hill, narrow, stony and muddy by turns. Fortunately it didn’t last for too long, and soon we were out in the open again.

The gate to the bush track (photo by John)

Somewhere along here the track went quite close to some houses, and we were charmed to see a quirky garden, which, as well as having a vege garden and what looked like a large rabbit hutch or chicken run, had four doors standing up side by side, but not leading anywhere. Was it the beginning of a fence, or children’s play house, or chook run? There were some old cane chairs there too. It looked like a nice place to spend a summer’s afternoon, with a good book.

Puzzling doors in a charming garden (photo by John)

We had to cross a fast-running stream of water, coming from a big culvert on the uphill side of the track, and hurtling down to the river below. There was a little concrete ford, and John rode right through the water. He got wet, as the water splashed up around his bike. I decided to get off my bike and jumped across the narrow stream, leading my bike on the downhill side of me. But on the way back, I had the bike on the uphill side of me, and water splashing around the bike earned me a wet leg and shoe.

The ford where we got wet!

As we neared Manor Park, a sign told us that this was the end of this part of the Hutt River trail. We could pick up the trail again 3.8kms further up, but would have to ride on SH2 to get there, which we didn’t want to do. We did carry on a bit further along a poorly maintained road that was all lumpety-bumpety and full of potholes. There are a couple of tunnel-shaped sheds along here, one of them bright blue, that one can see from SH2, and I’ve often wondered what they were. They house machinery and vehicles. One belongs to a timberyard, the other seems to be a place where they collect – or hopefully recycle – old tyres.

Instead of going to SH2, we turned right, and thought that perhaps we could ride through the Manor Park streets and pick up the track again, without having to go on the highway, but we came to a dead-end at the Manor Park Golf Club. It seems to occupy all the land between the river and SH2 at this point, and that must be why the track petered out. Very selfish of the golfers, I reckon! We didn’t think they would appreciate us trying to ride across the golf course to get to the rest of the track, however, so we turned around. It was pretty much our half-way mark anyway, at nearly 10km from our starting point.

Manor Park Golf Club blocked our way, forcing our U-turn

On our way back, we circumvented the bush track by riding along some quiet suburban roads. Cherry trees in gorgeous autumn colours lined the street, fallen leaves hugged the edge of the footpath, and winter-flowering camellias in bloom towered over garden fences.

Back at the Avalon Bridge, we crossed to the other side of the river, to return along a path that is fast becoming one of my favourite stretches of track. The poplars along here are all bare now, as are the willows. There are some trees that I can’t identify (not that I’m any kind of botanical expert), that still have quite a lot of leaves on them. The trees are tall and straight, and the leaves are narrow and elongated. There are lots of these trees all along the river’s edge. It could be another type of willow perhaps. Can anyone enlighten me?

We got back to the car having ridden 21.5kms in just over two hours. A very pleasant ride, on another gorgeous day.

A crisp and clear winter's day - the shadows are growing longer, and there is snow on the Tararua Ranges in the distance (photo by John)

John tells me I should mention that Wellington does not have glorious weather all the time. Especially now that the winter is here, we do have some very nasty days. We just don't ride on those days. But so far, autumn and winter have been relatively kind to us – better in fact than in some other parts of NZ. Aucklanders especially like to sling off at Wellington, and mock us for our weather, but this year we’ve been better off. Let’s hope it continues.


  1. Great report, Desiree! Makes me want to get a bike and try it for myself. I come to Wellington for about two weeks a year, and enjoy a lot of those trails for walks... sometimes with my dog, when she's with me.

    Monarch butterflies at this time of the year group together and form overwintering clusters. They are the last generation from the "summer" and won't mate and continue the species until they've decided that spring is here. Some of the overwintering clusters are huge!

    We would welcome sightings of any overwintering clusters - or indeed tagged Monarch butterflies - on the special page we've set up for the purpose,

  2. Thank you for your comment Jacqui. I was actually quite thrilled to see these butterflies, I've never seen so many in one place at the same time. I couldn't actually see any clusters on the trees, though I did look for them. They had probably been disturbed as my husband rode past, and were fluttering by the time I got there. I have made a sighting report on your website.