Friday, 17 February 2017


Since I made a careless statement in my last blog post about possibly riding the whole of the Rimutaka Rail Trail some time, John has been agitating for us to do just that. So the night before last, with a fine day forecast, we agreed to give it a go yesterday (15 February).

What we couldn’t agree on was the direction in which to do it. Part of the reason was the logistics of getting to the start and getting home at the end. The Wairarapa train line is a commuter service, allowing local residents to get into Wellington in the morning and home again at night. So there are very few choices.

One option was to take an early train from Petone to Maymorn, ride the Rimutaka trail, over the top, down the Wairarapa side, bike 12 km to Featherston, and take the late afternoon train back from there. This would mean an easy ride to the top, and a steep one down to Cross Creek. This was my preferred way.

The other option, which John preferred, was to take the early train to Featherston, bike to Cross Creek, ride the trail from the Wairarapa side, with the steep (but shorter) bit first, and then an easy ride back from the Summit, and take the train back from Upper Hutt. This had two advantages: the prevailing wind would be behind us; and we would end up in Upper Hutt, from where we could take a Hutt Valley train, which has services every half hour rather than just a couple at the end of the day. But I balked at the idea of having to do the steep bit, having to walk and push the bikes uphill at Siberia.

In the end we compromised, and scrapped the idea of using the train. We would go on a “recce” (reconnoitre) first. We’d drive to Featherston, and on to Cross Creek, bike up the steep start of the track from there, see how bad Siberia was, and go back. Then we would go to Greytown and ride the easy Woodside trail loop.

But it all panned out quite differently.

After coffee at Featherston’s Everest Café, we headed out towards Cross Creek on Western Lake Road. We noticed that there was a dedicated, unsealed (lime sand?) bike track alongside the road. It had to divert onto the road every time there was a one-lane bridge over a stream, and there were many. But at each bridge there was a warning to the cyclists to “give way to oncoming road traffic”. For the motorists, there were signs well ahead of each bridge, warning them to “Watch for cyclists”. But we didn’t see any cyclists at all.

It is just over 10 km to Cross Creek, but we overshot the turn-off. When we realised that we’d missed the turn-off, we decided to keep going down to the coast, to see what the other end of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail was like. 

It was a long way, 36 km from Cross Creek to Ocean Beach. But the road is good, and some of the scenery is very pretty. Part of it skirts along Lake Wairarapa, which actually does not look very inviting, as it is brown, and surrounded by flat land.

Eventually we got a view of the sea, the road changed to gravel, and we came to a sign saying “Grader working next 5 km”. Down a steep gravel road, Ocean Beach Road, all bumpy corrugations from the grader’s metal caterpillar tracks. Across a bridge – a short bit of sealed road – then onto more gravel road. The grader moved out of the way to let us and another car go past, and along to a rough stony area to park.

It is a beautiful, wild coast, and I just wanted to have a look, maybe go for a short walk, take some photos, then turn around and go back, but John was determined that we should bike some of the Ocean Beach Road. Aargh!

I just wanted to look and take photos, but John was determined to go for a ride

While we were getting the bikes ready, the grader went past and headed down the road. So we had to carefully pick our way on the freshly graded surface. The grader had stirred up the gravel, and left corrugated tracks and strips of gravel and soft sand that you had to negotiate getting across to get from one solid surface to another, if it became too stony. I must admit I didn’t much enjoy it.

The graded surface of the road was not nice to bike on (photo by John)

Luckily we didn’t go very far, as the road went through a stream. Not that it was deep or scary, but that sort of terrain is for young and fit people riding well-sprung bikes with big, fat wheels – not for the grey and clumsy on folding bikes with small wheels. And we preferred to keep our feet dry.

The grader had gone beyond the stream (photo by John)

We stopped short of the stream, and clambered up a narrow track that led to a wooden platform, that seemed to have no other purpose than as a lookout and place to take photos from.

We stopped short of the stream and left the bikes …

… and clambered up a short track

The view was certainly dramatic and expansive. Ahead was Palliser Bay, stretching from Cape Palliser on the left, to the Wainuiomata Coast on the right. Looking inland was the wide, shambling valley of a small stream – the Wharekauhau Stream – with some impressive looking cliffs. John remembers investigating the geology of these cliffs with a School of Earth Sciences student some years ago.

Looking towards Cape Palliser (photo by John)

The Rimutaka Cycle Trail follows this coast towards Wainuiomata (photo by John)

The Wharekauhau Stream has a wide riverbed, but not much water at this time of year
(photo by John)

As we were heading back, and I was crossing from one track into another, I skidded in a patch of soft sand. I could feel my front wheel slipping sideways out from under me, and I went sprawling! Full faceplant! When I managed to pick myself up, I was covered in grey dust, and had gravel embedded in my left knee and elbow, and in the heels of both my hands. I should have worn gloves!

I brushed myself down, after a fashion, and we continued on towards the bridge that we had crossed earlier, and took more photos. This river had more water in it, and also sported some interesting cliffs. On checking the map, we found this was the Wharepapa River.

Impressive cliffs and more water (photo by John)

On the bridge (photo by John)
The mouth of the Wharepapa Rver and view towards Palliser Bay

We came to a junction where the road changed its name. On the photo the sign pointing straight at me, said "To Wharekauhau". This is a very exclusive and expensive luxury retreat, where the likes of Prince William and other rich and famous people get to stay.

The sign to Wharekauhau is pointing straight at us

I thought I should have rocked up there and asked to use one of their bathrooms to clean myself up after my tumble. But that would have seriously lowered the tone of the place, wouldn’t it? So instead, we went back to the car, and I cleaned up my grazes as best I could with tissues and water from my drink bottle.

Clean-up time (photo by John)

Back on the road – in the car – back to Cross Creek. Despite my fall, we decided to check out the track at Cross Creek, since we were here. Somehow, the road back didn’t seem to take as long as it had on the way out. We stopped a few times for more photos.

Looking back towards Wharekauhau

The view down to Lake Onoke, and the bar that separates it from Palliser Bay
(click to enlarge) (photo by John)

We also stopped for a small herd of cattle – young steers, I think – being walked from one paddock to another.

Rural traffic jam (photo by John)

At the Cross Creek carpark, we talked to some people who had just come back from walking (the women) and cycling (the men) the Rimutaka Trail. They’d only gone a short distance, but they said it was very pretty, though quite narrow in places.

Well, we duly set off, and the very start was OK, but then the track became just a very narrow rut with grassy edges. I didn’t feel too comfortable about the drop to the right of us as we progressed, and I worried about John.

The track was narrow and became even narrower (photo by John)

I went ahead of John, and when I came to a spot where the track became very stony and looked like it had been, or was being, repaired, I waited for him to catch up. I wasn’t keen to continue. Having had one fall, I had no wish to take another spill, nor did I want to push my bike over rough ground.

John took a while to catch up – and he was walking! “Let’s call a stop to this”, he said. The narrowness of the track, and the drop to the right in some places were “messing with his balance”. Wearing his eyepatch, he has no peripheral vision to his right, so a drop on the right hand side of a narrow track is particularly scary.

The narrowness of the track was messing with John’s balance

So we returned to the car. He was disappointed, but I was relieved. It looks like we will not now be tackling the entire Rimutaka Rail Trail from either end. What a good thing that we had decided on a “recce” today, instead of trying to do the whole trail. Phew!

In the end, we decided not to ride the Woodside Trail out of Greytown, as originally planned, as we were both feeling a bit the worse for wear. So after a belated lunch in Greytown we headed on home.

So there we have it. We are able to cross two items off our “must-check-out” list: the Rimutaka Rail Trail on the Wairarapa side, and the Rimutaka Cycle Trail along the Wairarapa and Wainuiomata coast. Yay! I hope John has now got them out of his system too.


  1. Thanks for that write up Desiree. I have always been keen to cycle over the top and down the other side too, and my wife has "sort of" wanted to. However, she too is a little bit cautious, and dislikes single tracks and the more difficult paths, especially on our rather long wheel base hybrid bikes. We will learn from your experience, and we will just have to walk it one day instead.

    1. Hi Dave, good to hear my write-ups are useful. Some younger and fitter people may think me a wimp, but it's better to be safe than sorry, especially if you are pushing 70 (or as John would say "embracing 70")