Tour Aotearoa Day 13 – Masterton to Wellington – Dramatic Finish to the North Island

Before leaving Masterton, I dropped my bike into a shop to have the worn disk brakes changed, and then for the sake of efficiency, stopped for a tasty café breakfast. Collecting my bike, I met the mechanic, Alex, who was originally from Stoke so our shared British sense of humour made it a great laugh. Today, I’ll be heading to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. Or to give it its nickname, ‘Windy Wellington’. Thankfully the winds were behind me and tailwinds boosted me along the paved 49 kilometres to Martinborough in record time. From here, the rest of the day would mostly continue on traffic-free cycle trails.

Cross Creek was once called New Zealand’s ‘most legendary railway settlement’, and it was from here that I joined the Remutaka Cycle Trail. In 1871, the government had wanted to improve transport links between Wellington and the agricultural hinterlands, and the outcome was an audacious railway line that crossed the rugged hills of the Remutaka Ranges.

I continued along the leafy trail, loving the views and the smooth cycling. Eventually, I reached the start of a climb that simply led to the ‘Summit’. When this was a train line, ideally a railway tunnel would have been constructed through the hills, however, this was too expensive, so instead modern (for 1878) technology was used to climb up the 300-metre hill on a steep 1 in 15 gradient. The sharp curves and challenging incline made it an exhilarating train ride, and an equally spectacular cycle ride nearly 150 years later. A quirk of the railway was that because it placed such a toll on the train engines, each train driver used his own personal engine; it was hoped their familiarity with the engine, recognising its peculiar jolts and creaks, would allow them to diagnose any issues earlier. I feel similarly attuned to my bike; I listened to the rattle of the chain and its occasional creaky pedal stroke and was pleased everything seemed in order.

Topping out at the Summit offered a breathtaking view down the old engine route to Cross Creek, and across the glittering sapphire expanse of Lake Wairarapa behind. The Remutaka rail tunnel eventually opened in 1955 and made the incline obsolete. The cycle trail also continued through several long and unlit tunnels, up to half a kilometre long. The mouth of the tunnels offered absolute darkness and seemed to swallow all the light (and any cyclists) that dared to enter. I pedalled in the bubble of my headtorch, waiting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

From the Te Marua Dairy, which offered the last resupply before Wellington, I joined the Hutt River Trail which would whisk me the final 44 kilometres through the charming Hutt Valley. The gravel was compact and easy to ride, the route was flat but tended downwards, heading for the coast. I watched the river skulking slowly beside me. Just like me, it was bound for the Wellington Harbour, and then out into the Cook Strait. I gazed beyond the river to the forested Remutaka Ranges. Cycling the North Island has been a fantastic experience, challenging, rewarding and memorable. I cycled into Wellington at 21:00, the sun was just setting, and the capital was quieting, but my heart was racing with a child-like excitement. But I was also tired, and couldn’t stop to rest for long; I had my dinner, and then headed to the harbour and boarded a boat that would depart at 02:00 for the 92-kilometre crossing to the South Island. Every end is a new beginning.