A change of pace – the Remutaka Rail Trail
The Trans-Oceania’s route into Wellington – the last day on New Zealand’s North Island – is a bit different from the rest of the tour. While we have ridden a few short sections of other rail trails and dirt roads, the Remutaka would prove to be the most adventurous off road journey of this tour.
About the trail
The Remutaka Rail Trail runs for 18km between the towns of Featherston and Upper Hutt. It follows the route of the Wairarapa train line’s original alignment, which was in use from 1878 to 1955. That train used the Fell system to climb the steeper than normal incline – a third rail was added in between the usual two for extra traction. The Fell system was used in other places around the world, but most were decommissioned or replaced around the same time as this one. However, the world’s only surviving Fell locomotive is on display here, at the museum in Featherston.
When riders hear that we are heading to a rail trail, they usually like it, as most trains can only climb very mild hills. The Remutaka, however, due to its use of the Fell system, has maximum inclines about twice as steep. The climbing was not the only challenge the riders would encounter along the trail. The route notes also warned of the trail’s entry, a 1 km section of narrow singletrack, several long and unlit tunnels, and one creek crossing where the bridge had been removed, forcing riders to dismount and walk through the water.
Riding the Remutaka
As we had been told, the trail began with 1km of narrow singletrack, with some short steep pitches and a few pretty rough and rocky sections. Many of the riders walked this part of the trail, but all made it through!
At the end of the singletrack, the rail trail begins. It has a pretty good surface. Maybe a bit rougher than your average rail trail, but not too bad. The combination of the loose surface and steeper and longer than normal grade was a challenge!
At the creek crossing, there are two lookout points – one just before the descent to the water, and one just after the climb back up to the trail on the other side. This gave us the opportunity to watch each other struggle on this bit of the trail!
The trail includes four tunnels, ranging in length from 73 to 584 metres long, all of which are unlit. Riders with bright lights were able to ride through them, while those without mostly chose to walk.
After reaching the top of the climb, and emerging from the aptly named Summit Tunnel, riders felt a great sense of accomplishment. The worst (or best?) of the trail was over, with only a smoother, mellow cruise down to Upper Hutt remaining.
Pedaling across southeastern Australia, Tasmania, and both islands of New Zealand the multitude of experiences will be hard to fathom: pleasant wine...