Sunday, 2 June 2013

Upper Hutt

I had not planned to go cycling at all today. It was fine-ish, but quite windy. At lunchtime, John said, “according to the online weather report it is not very windy in Upper Hutt. Let’s go to Harcourt Park and ride the loop from there”.

About three weeks ago we got as far as Harcourt Park on the Hutt Valley Trail, and turned left after crossing the footbridge. So this time, having left the car at Harcourt Park, we turned right. Nice wide gravel track, a sign post with a map of the track: “Oh yes, we can go here, and then across the bridge and come back along here”. Looking good!

The footbridge and map of the track (photo by John)

Yeah right! The track goes round a bend, and what do you know? It deteriorates into a skinny, STEEP!, rocky track, through bush. Ever so pretty – that’s if you like climbing and pushing a bike uphill, which I don’t!

So far, so good. But a nasty surprise is just around the corner! (photo by John)

We climbed for a while, with me puffing and panting and cussing. I was all ready to turn around right there and then. “It’s not far, look, it’s starting to even out over there” said John. Yep, it went downhill OK, but still very narrow, and on gravel. My riding is not very steady in places like that, and it was hard on my hands trying to keep to the track.

Whew, I heaved a sigh of relief when the track ended at a suburban back road, Bridge Road. Much more pleasant riding. Time to enjoy the autumn colours on the trees. The Hutt Valley has more deciduous trees and autumn colours than Wellington. The notorious Wellington wind tends to rip the leaves off before they get a chance to colour. Now that there have been a few very cold days and nights, especially in Upper Hutt, the colours have really intensified, and the golds, oranges and reds are quite gorgeous.

We rode along Bridge Road, till we got to the bridge over the Akatarawa River, close to where it joins the Hutt River. Looking up valley from the bridge, the dark greens of the bush, and the gathering clouds, made for a somewhat sombre view. The valley is quite rugged, and its main claim to fame is the Staglands Wildlife Reserve. We haven’t been to Staglands for years, not since our children were small in fact. Back then, it was a great place to go to with kids. It probably still is, but with a better café.

The Akatarawa River

After the bridge we turned right. John checked out the “track”, but it looked like it was going over a rough-surfaced stopbank, and he thought it would be better not to take that option (in view of my grizzling, no doubt). So we rode down Gemstone Drive, which runs parallel to the riverside track, but a street away from it.

All the side streets along here are named after gemstones, and in alphabetical order too – Amber, Beryl, Crystal, Garnet, Jasper, Ruby, Sapphire and Topaz. There even is a subdivision called Emerald Hill. Very cute. And I really like the Upper Hutt street signs, which are green and white, and all have a picture of a fantail on them. The fantail, a delightful New Zealand native bird, is the symbol for Upper Hutt.

This street ended up at the main road, SH2. We had to go north to rejoin the track, but we had to ride a little distance on the main road, which worried me, because it is a very busy road. But before long we were able to get onto a little track which was separated from the road by a low barrier. A little safer, but a HORRIBLE track! As it moved away from the road, the track skirted the river again, but there was a drop down to the water's edge.

Moss-covered rocks along the bush track

It was slippery gravel, and narrow, and I found it very hard to keep my balance. As mentioned before, my riding is not very steady on such surfaces, and my front wheel would want to veer off the track, while my body would try to regain its balance, and my hands, which were already quite sore, would desperately try to keep a good grip on the handlebar and especially the brakes.

John’s very sympathetic comment was “Well, at least there’s plenty of blackberry to catch you before you fall down the bank”. Nice! Blackberry is another one of those noxious weeds, that are full of vicious thorns.

"Plenty of blackberry to catch you" (photo by John)

Several times I had anxious moments which triggered a paranoid panic reaction — a remnant of traumatic childhood experiences. My breath catches, and my heart lurches, and my voice wants to shriek “No!”.

When I was quite young, we would go and visit my grandparents in the Netherlands. They lived on a road that had “sloten” on each side, and the house would be reached by a little bridge across the “sloot” (pronounced "sloat"). I know of no adequate English translation of “sloot” – it is a waterway, somewhere between a water-filled ditch and a narrow canal, and Holland is full of them. Well, as we arrived at my Oma and Opa’s place, my mother would insist on doing a three-point turn (or maybe more) on this narrow little road between two ditches, so as to point the car in the right direction for the return journey. Our car was a little Hillman (I think) with jerky gears that would make the car jump forward. My sister and I would be terrified of ending up in the ditch, and would screech in panic. We never did end up in the ditch, but the panic stayed. I still, after nearly sixty years, have these feelings of panic whenever I go too close to a ditch in a vehicle, and now on a bike. Pathetic and totally irrational, I know, but still very real to me.

My grandparents' house in winter (1950s), seen from the frozen canal. The road runs on top of the stopbank in front of the house, and there was another ditch between the road and the hedge. The house had "sloten" all around it, a little island in fact.

Eventually the track went down through an underpass under the main road, onto a nice bit of road, and over another little bridge across a stream. Unfortunately this was only a short loop off the main road, and we were soon back on SH2. John checked the way ahead, but decided it was too hazardous, so we turned around and went back the way we had come.

Cute little bridge

Back along Gemstone Drive, and left onto Akatarawa Road. Then, yay! A dairy, with a big Tip Top sign! Tip Top means icecream cones, so we stopped to have one. Hokey-pokey, of course. I reckon I had deserved that!

Your typical New Zealand dairy

It wasn’t far from there to Harcourt Park, where we arrived back at the car, just as it started to drizzle. Nicely timed.

Gorgeous autumn colours in Harcourt Park (photo by John)

Maybe I’m a total wuss, but our next ride will have to be on the FLAT and predictable! I simply do not understand how mountain bikers can do what they seem to enjoy so much – throwing themselves off steep, slippery, bumpy, hazardous tracks, risking life and limb, just for the thrill of it! Am I showing my age here?


  1. I've enjoyed your latest New Plymouth cycling - you are a creative couple with words and photos combined.