Sat 23 – 25 January – Day 71-73
I bid farewell to the Smiths this morning with the promise to return soon. Kelly drops me to the train station at Paraparaumu where I catch the 8:36am train into Wellington. It’s an uneventful and quick trip into the capital. Sadly the train I was to take to the Wairarapa has been replaced by a bus. It’s disappointing as I had wanted to experience the rail journey to see what it offers. The only other time I have travelled on this line was returning from Toast Martinborough, an all day wine event. Needless to say I don’t remember much from that occasion. We duly boarded the motor coach which was full to the brim and set off for the Hutt valley then over the Remutaka hill to Wairarapa. Fortunately there was just the one stop enroute at Upper Hutt so the original train schedule wasn’t too far off. Mark collected me from Featherston Station and we were soon at their maison bleu where I had two wonderful nights with Danielle and Mark. We were also to enjoy the company of Kylie and Dave on the Sunday night.
Monday is Wellington Anniversary public holiday and I’ve arranged to walk the Remutaka rail trail with friend and walking aficionado Hayley. The rail trail is a small part of the Remutaka Cycle network that starts in Petone and loops around the Remutaka range to the south coast and will eventually form a continuous cycle and walking trail. The use of the spelling Rimutaka is incorrect and should be Remutaka, with an e. Many of the signs still use the previous spelling with an i however I guess these will be corrected over time. The Remutaka railway was built in 1878 and operated until the tunnel was completed in 1955. Six Fell engines were designed for use on the line. The locomotives climbed gradients as steep as 1 in 13 (7.7%) on the 4.8km railway between the settlements of Cross Creek, near Featherston, and Summit at the top of the Remutaka Ranges, in the Wairarapa. The Fell method of four grip wheels on a raised centre rail was used for added traction, with the centre rail also used for braking. Not much remains of the Cross Creek station and settlement apart from the concrete of a tennis court and the turntable plus a basic railway shelter. Information boards are prolific and provide interesting narrative on the railway. We have a chat with a couple of (unsuccessful) hunters before departing up the wide track that was once the railway line. The steepness of the incline was immediately obvious, when even walking provided a good workout. It was certainly a testament to the train driver’s skill and ability that they were able to operate the trains safely up and down the incline. We walk through tunnels and across the suspension bridge at Siberia, the wind providing enough swing to make it exciting but without the bitterness of its namesake. Through one final tunnel we emerge at Summit. This was the terminus of the incline which originally had a small settlement and station. The Fell system stopped here and through to Wellington was by way of traditional railway. Maybe typical of the era, the unique but unwanted locomotives were left to the elements when the railway closed and now lie broken and rusting, no more useful than something to lean your bicycle against. The next 10km follows the Pakuratahi river winding gracefully between the pine forested hills. On this sunny anniversary day there are loads of people using the trail whether on bike or on foot. At the car park end Hayley and I part. Mark and Danielle have kindly transferred her car from Cross Creek so she can continue home. For me it’s a walk out to SH2 where I follow the trails through the Tunnel Gully recreation area. Cyclists walkers and horse riders can all enjoy these tracks which are a continuation of the old railway line including the long disused tunnel. The current railway tunnel runs somewhere below us. Apparently you can feel the rumble of trains as they pass underneath. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going but follow the road to Maymorn and a little way later emerge north of Upper Hutt. Remutaka cycle trail signage reappears, skirting the Hutt river and by sticking to this I end up at the holiday park where I will camp tonight. Once I have set up camp there is enough daylight to explore Harcourt Park which is right next door. The park was used for a number of LOTR scenes including Gandalf galloping through the gate of Isengard. The gate was not created using CGI but rather a small-scale model which was set up on location. The mountainous background, shot in New Zealand’s South Island, was superimposed during post-production. The park was selected because at the time it was out of the way and quiet.
Tomorrow – following the Hutt River to Moera