Monday, 19 August 2013

Greytown to Woodside Trail

We had a lovely day in the Wairarapa last week. It was a special day for us, so we decided to make it a special outing. I had looked for easy bike rides in the Wairarapa, and had found two shortish ones that would fit the bill. One was the Featherston Domain track, which skirts the northern shore of Lake Wairarapa. The other was the Greytown Trail.

The plan was that we would first ride the Featherston Domain track – just 2km each way – then go to Greytown and indulge in a special lunch at Saluté, then ride the Greytown Trail – 5km each way – and finish off with “dessert” at Schoc, a specialist chocolate shop.

It panned out a bit differently. The forecast was for strong easterly winds in the Wairarapa, with gales north of Masterton. But we weren’t going as far north as that, so we took a chance, and hoped it wouldn’t be too bad.

Our gamble paid off. It wasn’t too windy to ride. We stopped at the Featherston Information Office, to see it they had any leaflets about cycling in the area. The office is installed in a lovely old house, next to the library, which is also in a beautiful old house.

The Featherston Information Office (photo by John)

Right opposite was a new sculpture, “Windgrass”, consisting of a collection of six-metre-long yellow rods tipped with red, which are designed to catch the wind that gives Featherston its reputation of a windswept sort of place. As we were trying to photograph it, it swayed and rattled in the breeze. It looked a bit like a gigantic bunch of raw spaghetti, and I must say that it is not as visually dramatic as some of the other works by the same artist. It was designed by Konstantin Dimopoulos, who also created “Pacific Grass” at the Wellington Airport roundabout, which I showed in my last blog post.

"Windgrass" (2012), by Konstantin Dimopoulos (photo by John)

We came away from the Information Centre with a big handful of pamphlets (I’m an inveterate leaflet picker-upper) and repaired to one of the local cafés to look through our haul. It was a little café, not much room between tables, and as we were discussing our riding options, occupants at the two neighbouring tables chipped in with their suggestions about cycling in the area.

They raved about the Rimutaka Rail Trail (more about that later), said nice things about the Greytown Trail, and had nothing to say about the Featherston Domain track. So considering the wind, and the likelihood of it being a bit fierce at Lake Wairarapa, and knowing that Greytown has its own pleasant micro-climate, we decided to go for the Greytown Trail first. A wise decision.

The Greytown Trail – turn left at the Challenge petrol station, and left again into Cotter Street – skirts the southern edge of Greytown. The trail uses the former rail corridor of the Greytown to Woodside branch line, which ceased to run in 1953. The cycle trail was opened in late 2011, and I understand from various websites that a further trail is planned to extend it into a loop to the Waiohine River and back to Greytown.

The entrance to the Greytown-Woodside Trail (photo by John)

We parked at a little carpark at the end of a pleasant residential street. The beginning of the trail is marked with an overhead sign and an information board. The track winds prettily between old oak trees on one side, and newly planted flaxes on the other. Then a straight bit runs between two mounds or stopbanks, and is edged by newly planted cherry trees (at least, I think they are cherries or prunus). I expect they will look gorgeous in a few weeks' time when they flower.

The beginning of the Greytown Trail

The young cherry trees on each side will look gorgeous when they flower in a few weeks’ time.

The landscape we rode through is delightful. Looking south, it is completely flat, and could almost be a Dutch landscape, but look east down the track, and you see the dark green bulk of the Tararua ranges in the distance.

Looking south, a flat, almost Dutch, landscape

But looking east, there are the Tararuas … (photo by John)

Some of the time the track runs through or along open paddocks, other times it meanders between rows of beautiful old oak trees. According to the information board, these trees were planted alongside the rails when the railway line was built in 1880, for future use as sleepers. What luck that it never came to that. These trees are too magnificent to be chopped down.

These oak trees were originally destined to become railway sleepers

Along the way some cows were resting in the shade of some pine trees, and as soon as I stopped to take a photo of them, they got up to come and investigate me. Very nosy creatures, these cows… They quite spoiled the peaceful bucolic scene I had wanted to capture!

Cows are really inquisitive!

A bit further along, John tried to make friends with a horse that came leaning over the fence to check us out. John was going to give him a piece of apple, but he was more interested in breathing all over John’s bike-mounted camera. When John moved the bike out of reach, the horse lost interest and, ignoring the proffered apple, he wandered off.

He was more interested in the camera than in the apple pieces

The track had a very slight incline to it. It was so slight that it was imperceptible to the eye. But my legs felt it! I know I am a total wimp when it comes to hills, but this was ridiculous. I thought my quads were sore from a gym class with too much emphasis on squats the day before. Or maybe it was because of the breeze. Or perhaps it was because the surface was not quite solid, having had a relatively recent top-up of lime sand. Whatever the reason, I found the trail more heavy-going than I thought it ought to be. Surely it couldn’t be a slope, it looked quite flat!

Was the track flat, or was it on an incline? (photo by John)

We arrived at the end of the trail, at the Woodside station. A small section of the original railway track with the old sleepers was displayed by the side of the trail. The rails were made in the UK in 1874.

All that’s left of the original railway (photo by John)

Woodside Station is a functioning railway station, serving Greytown on the Wairarapa Line. This line between Wellington and Masterton caters for the many commuters who live in the Wairarapa, but work in Wellington. At this time of day it was deserted. We rode up on the platform and took pictures of the new and old stations. The old station was still there, sitting forlorn and unloved on the other side of the railway line. When the new station was built, the old building was used as a storage shed for some years, but was later abandoned.

Woodside Station – old and new (photo by John)

The old station building was used as a storage shed, before being abandoned (photo by John)

The way back was so much easier on my legs! Now I understood why it had been such hard work on the outward journey. No wonder, I had been climbing up a hill! A pathetic slope, I will concede, but a hill nonetheless. You can clearly see on the photo that we are heading downhill.

We're actually heading downhill! (photo by John)
I had a reminder of my “flatlander-ness” when we stopped at a little bridge over a stream. Looking down the stream, in the flat landscape, I said to John, “That’s what a Dutch "sloot" looks like, only the water would not be flowing” (a "sloot" - pronounced "sloat" - is a water-filled ditch, and Holland is full of them).

Almost like a Dutch "sloot" (photo by John)

Where we had stopped earlier to talk to the horse, we noticed that some of the trees had wonderfully shaped trunks. One had a hole right through it, or perhaps it was actually two trees that had grown together. Another looked just like a rather evil, mocking face. Overhead, in the trees, a murder of magpies were quargling away (yes, a “murder” really is the collective noun for a group of magpies!). I hoped they weren’t going to dive-bomb us.

A tree with a face

John said that the old oaks looked like “whomping trees”, after Harry Potter's “whomping willow”. If you have read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, you’ll know that the whomping willow is an aggressive magic tree that uses its branches to attack anything or anyone foolish enough to go near them.

Is this a “whomping tree”? (photo by John)

When we got back to the beginning of the trail we rode for a little bit on the streets nearby, and resolved to ditch the idea of riding the Featherston Domain track, but to come back here after lunch and ride around some of these pleasant back streets.

But first: lunch. We headed to Saluté, a restaurant that was taking part in the “Wellington on a Plate” food festival, which promotes all the wonderful foods and wines that are grown and produced in the Wellington Region (which includes the Wairarapa). 

We had a delicious lunch, which started with an entrée of cheese fondue. Having spent some years in Switzerland, the original home of cheese fondue, I have eaten many a cheese fondue (fondu is French for melted, fondue – with an e – means a melted mass). A great way of entertaining friends for dinner. It involves a mixture of wine and melted cheese being kept hot over a burner on the table, while diners dip pieces of crusty bread into the hot mixture. Tradition has it that the first person to lose his bit of bread in the goo, has to host the next fondue party. It is an excuse for overeating too, as you’ve got to get to the bottom of the pan: the yummiest morsel is the bit of grilled cheese that is stuck to the bottom of the pot where it was closest to the flame. It is called “le grillon” and it must be shared.

I wondered how the restaurant would serve a small amount of fondue for an entrée. They did it beautifully: a small bowl of hot cheese mixture, accompanied by small cubes of lightly fried bread. The heat of the bowl kept the cheese runny for the time it took to eat all of it. Perfect and delicious!

Cheese fondue for starters (photo by John)

The other courses were delicious too, as was the glass of local Sauvignon Blanc. Well satisfied with our special lunch, we went for a wander around the main street. Greytown has lots of lovely old buildings, and of course John took lots of photos.

A charming cottage on the main road (photo by John)

Emporios Gallery was closed (photo by John)

It was nearly 3pm by the time we had ‘done’ both sides of the main road, and we still wanted to go to “Schoc” for our dessert. I had thought that it might have been a café-style establishment, where we could have had coffee, while sampling a variety of chocolate treats. Instead it was a just a shop. But what a shop!

The top shelves of the glass counter displayed a tantalising array of beautiful fancy chocolates; the lower shelves had a huge range of chocolate slabs, with amazing flavour combinations, such as rose, ginger, chili, paprika, coffee and numerous others. They also had little bags of something they called “Schoccles” which had a most delicious, rich, creamy chocolate centre, and a dusted cocoa exterior. Yum! There were little dishes with tiny morsels and small bamboo tongs, so that people could have a try of this flavour or that.

Schoc chocolates – oh, the tyranny of choice! (photo by John)

When we queried the flavours of the chocolate slabs, the lady behind the counter pulled out little drawers from a cute little drawer cabinet with small pieces for us to try. How can one resist that! We – no, I – ended up buying some of the gorgeous fancy chocolates as well as a couple of slabs, and some schoccles. John wouldn't normally have approved of my buying this much chocolate in one go, but since it was a special day, I was allowed special dispensation …

When we’d spent a good twenty minutes at Schoc, it was getting to be too late to ride around the Greytown backstreets, so we decided to head off home.

But not quite! John had been going on about how, one day, we should really try to ride the Rimutaka Rail Trail, which follows the original train track from Upper Hutt to Featherston, over the Rimutaka Hill. Because trains cannot manage steep inclines, it is supposed to be really easy to ride, i.e. not steep. But to me, “not very steep” translates as “too darn steep for me”. So I have been resisting the idea.

The people at the café, who raved about the Rimutaka Rail Trail and said it was an “easy ride”, when told of my wimpishness about hills, conceded that it was probably an easier ride from the Upper Hutt side, because the Wairarapa side was steeper.

Anyway, since we were here, I agreed to go and have a look at the beginning of the Featherston end of the trail. So we drove a few kilometers south of Featherston to Cross Creek, from where the trail starts. The landscape to get there is uneventful, and Lake Wairarapa on our left looked rather brown and uninviting.

At Cross Creek there is an information board, some old farm yards, and the start of the trail. It looked “easy” enough, but I was still suspicious of the blooming big hill beyond it, and the thought that the trail goes over it is enough to put me off.

John is adamant we will do it one day. I was equally certain I would not be moved! But at least we’ve had a look at it.

The Cross Creek end of the Rimutaka Rail Trail

And so, we headed home, back over the hill, comfortably, by car! When we got to the other side, there it was: the turn-off to the other end of the Rimutaka Trail. “Do you want to check it out?” said John. “OK", I agreed, "we may as well, since we’re here”.

The access road to the beginning of the trail is in shocking condition, broken up asphalt and full of potholes. We drove up to the gate giving access to the trail. It looked quite smooth and not steep at all, quite flat(-ish) in fact. I grumbled “yes, but how far before it starts to climb?”. “All right, let’s find out” replied John.

Well, I didn’t want to be a complete negative wuss, so we did. We pulled out the bikes and set off. To my surprise, and John's "see, I told you", it was easy, and it was not steep. In fact, it seemed to be going downhill slightly. We rode for about a kilometer, but because it was after 4:30pm and getting cold (we were in the shade) we turned around and went back. The gradient was very deceptive, because although it had seemed to go downhill slightly on the way out, it still seemed to go downhill slightly when we were going in the other direction!

The Upper Hutt end of the Rimutaka Rail Trail. Is it going uphill or downhill? (photo by John)

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I will probably give in, and we will go and ride it one day. Even if we do just the Upper Hutt side, to the summit, and back. But we may want to wait a few weeks, until it gets a bit warmer (and maybe I get a bit fitter?).

All up, we had a fabulous day out – a lovely ride in Greytown, a fantastic lunch, a good haul of delicious chocolates to enjoy at home, and the prospect of another interesting ride we can undertake in the not too distant future. Isn’t life great!

1 comment:

  1. 29.08.2018
    Just found this link on my FB page via the Greytown Trails Trust FB page. So glad you have ridden the trail. Bike it quite often in the holidays. I've even made a movie of photos taken every 20 or 30 seconds as I biked back into town.
    I must read more of your blog. We should catch up for a cup of coffee/tea.