Rimutaka Rail Trail, Day 2 – Wallaceville to Waiorongomai – Wellington, New Zealand

Another stunning day greeted us on Day 2. I must say I was pleasantly surprised – Wellington is not known for it’s weather. We turned left out of the Wallaceville House driveway and headed uphill. After about a kilometre we had some great views back to the Hutt Valley. We then descended down into Whitemans Valley where we saw a helicopter flying very low doing some aerial spraying. The landscapes were very pretty and the riding was lovely.

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We all convened near Maymorn to have a piece of fruit or some home baking thanks to Karen & Sue. We then headed up to join the gravel cycle trail via Tunnel Gully – we passed through the disused Mangaroa Tunnel and followed the old railway line towards Incline Road. Incline Road runs parallel to State Highway 2 and takes you to the entrance of the official Rimutaka Rail Trail.  Leona had parked the car and trailer up so she could ride up to the official start point as there was potential for some wrong turns to be taken especially when the Rimutaka Rail Trail sign pointed two ways in the one spot.  The official start of the Rail Trail is about 240 feet or 75 metres above sea level.

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This part of the Rimutaka Rail Trail is fantastic – the trails are gravel and are surrounded by beautiful native bush. There are restored railway bridges crossing the Pakuratahi River and old tunnels, one of which is 584 metres long. The signs at the start of the tunnels tell you to dismount but generally you could see a light at the end of the tunnel – removing your sunglasses also helped! We definitely needed a torch in the 584 metre long tunnel though.

Along the way there are signboards which detail the railways history with stories of it’s construction, life along the railway and a freak accident that occurred in 1880 when carriages were blown off the line by a gale force gust of wind. The only freak accident we had was Karen taking a small spill when her cleats wouldn’t unclip – never fear Dr Andy was there.

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The railway across the Rimutaka Range was built between 1874 and 1878 as part of a line linking the port of Wellington with the fertile Wairarapa district.  Conventional locomotives hauled trains between Wellington, Upper Hutt, Kaitoke and Summit, where passenger and goods traffic was taken over by Fell locomotives for the descent of the Rimutaka Incline to Cross Creek.  The Incline was the steepest section of main-line railway constructed in New Zealand, and operated from 1878 to 1955.

The Fell system was the first third-rail system for railways that were too steep to be worked by adhesion on the two running rails alone. It uses a raised centre rail between the two running rails to provide extra traction and braking, or braking alone. Trains are propelled by wheels or braked by shoes pressed horizontally onto the centre rail, as well as by the normal running wheels. Extra brake shoes are fitted to specially designed or adapted Fell locomotives and brake vans, and for traction the locomotive has an auxiliary engine powering horizontal wheels which clamp onto the third rail. The Fell system was developed in the 1860s and was soon superseded by various types of rack railway for new lines, but some Fell systems remained in use into the 1960s.

The Fell system was designed, developed and patented by British engineer John Barraclough Fell. The first test application was alongside the Cromford and High Peak Railway’s cable-hauled incline at Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, England, in 1863 and 1864.

These tests attracted the attention of the French Government, which conducted its own tests on the slopes of Mont Cenis in 1865. As a result, the Mont Cenis Pass Railway was built as a temporary connection between France and Italy whilst the tunnel under the Alpine pass was being built.  The Fell system was used in Brazil, Italy, France and the Isle of man.  Of these, the only one still in operation is the electrified Snaefell Mountain Railway on the Isle of Man, which occasionally uses the centre rail for braking only – the cars are all now equipped with rheostatic braking, which meets all normal braking needs. The only surviving Fell locomotive, New Zealand Railways H 199, is preserved at the Fell Engine Museum, Featherston, New Zealand, near the site of the Rimutaka Incline.

Places in New Zealand that used the Fell system:
1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
The Rewanui Incline on the West Coast of the South Island used a Fell rail for braking from its opening in 1914 to 1966. It closed in 1985.
The Rimutaka Incline on the Wairarapa Line near Featherston in the North Island opened in 1878 and closed in 1955. It was replaced by the long Rimutaka tunnel.
The Roa Incline on the West Coast of the South Island used a Fell rail for braking from its opening in 1909. It closed in 1960.
The Kaikorai Cable Car which ran from Dunedin to the Kaikorai Valley used an off-centre fell rail for braking.
1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) Funicular railway
The Wellington Cable Car used a Fell rail for emergency braking from its opening in 1902 until 1978, when it was upgraded.
Unknown Gauages
Several bush tramways used Fell rails for braking.

Labour shortages, difficult access, severe weather and the gruelling nature of the work delayed the construction of the line.  For the hundreds of ‘pick and shovel’ workers conditions were harsh with most living in tents.  Camp stores were limited to basic supplies, such as flour, sugar, tobacco and tea.  Hunting Kereru (native pigeon) and wild cattle added interest at the end of the day and variety on the menu.  The closest hotel, the Golden Fleece at Pakuratahi was a five hour walk from Summit.

Work on the Pakuratahi Tunnel commenced in 1876 with the tunnel’s two headings meeting only three months later.  Bricks to line the tunnel could not be transported to the site, as the rails had not yet been laid.  The resourceful contractor instead made blocks on site from pressed sand and cement.  Workers pressed 13,500 concrete blocks, which now line the arch of the 73 metre tunnel.  Built on a 100 metre radius curve the tunnel is believed to be the first concrete structure in New Zealand.

The naming of the Rimutaka Range is attributed to the ancestor Haunui-a-nanaia.  Maori oral history records that Haunui travelled around the lower North Island naming many of the rivers, mountains and other natural features.  When he scaled this particular mountain range he stopped near the summit to rest and declared the entire range the ‘Remutaka’, which loosely translated means ‘to sit down’.  We now know the range as the Rimutaka.

We were riding along a piece of New Zealand history and the signboards can make it a very informative ride if you stop to read them.  After about 11km we reached Summit.  The railway settlement of Summit existed here from 1878 until 1955.  Five houses for railway workers and their families, along with an engine shed and a signal box, were the only significant buildings at this remote outpost.  The railway yard was extended in 1903 to handle increased traffic and a turntable was installed for larger locomotives in 1943.  The main purpose of Summit was to shunt trains and change engines for the journey on the Rimutaka Incline.

“There was no road access, no electricity, or public telephones.  Travel was by rail and the Railways Department’s internal telephone system provided a limited link with the outside world” Lionel Stevens, child of Summit 1949 – 1951

Summit sits at 1,141 feet above sea level or about 375 metres.  There were a few remnants of the settlement to be seen while we prepared ourselves for the descent.  It was very hot and a lot of us were running out of water.  Luckily we were about to descend the Rimutaka Incline to Cross Creek.  This part was good fun although I did find myself holding onto the brake levers to make sure I didn’t go hurtling into the bush.

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We got to a part of the Incline that they call Siberia – we dismounted to walk our bikes down the steep gully and up the other side.  Known as Horseshoe Gully while the railway was being built, this site earned the name Siberia by railway workers because of the severe winds that blasted through here.  The only fatal train accident ever to occur on the Rimutaka Incline happened at Siberia.  On 11 September 1880, a gust of wind hit a train broadside, pitching three carriages over the embankment.  Four children died as a result of the accident, and several other passengers were injured.

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The scenery coming down the Incline was stunning.  You could see Lake Wairarapa in the distance.  According to Maori mythology, the demigod Maui pulled a large fish (ika) from the depths of the ocean.  The fish, Te Ika a Maui or the fish of Maui, is New Zealand’s North Island.  As part of the legend, Lake Wairarapa is considered Te Karu o te Ika a Maui or the eye of the fish of Maui.

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We got to the Cross Creek station which is 272 feet above sea level or 83 metres.  We had descended about 300 metres.  We then turned right onto the track to the carpark which was single lane most of the way.  I followed Glynis down and we took it nice and slowly.  Cheryl followed Andy down and she had the ride of her life : )  It was great fun but you wouldn’t want to meet anyone coming the other way.

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Leona had now rejoined the group with the car and trailer in the carpark.  She set up an awesome picnic lunch so we refuelled and re hydrated before we headed to Waiorongomai Station, our home for the night.  According to the trip notes it was about 10km along the side of lake Wairarapa.  It turned out to be 13km – it was all on the road and mostly downhill.  We were all eagerly looking out for the sign to Waiorongomai Station which some people found but then discovered we should have been looking for the sign that said Ratanui and Burlings – the name of the guest accommodation at Waiorongomai Station.  Of course the Waiorongomai Station sign was past the Ratanui and Burlings sign so additional cycling was also done on Day 2.  Don’t worry Andy was fined for this oversight!

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Ratanui Cottage and Burlings Batch were two old farm cottages that had been done up nicely for guest accommodation – they slept 9 and 8 people respectively.  The setting was amazing – clear blue skies and gently rolling hills.  Tonight’s dinner was a BBQ using beef from Waiorongomai Station.  Leona prepared some salads and Andy, Cheryl and Sue took control of the potatoes and corn.  Steve was charged with cooking the meat. Andy also made a deconstructed cheesecake for dessert with the help of his trusty assistants Hilary & Di.

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While we were waiting to tuck into this feast Charlie Matthews the farm manager came to speak to us about the Station.

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European settlement in the Wairarapa began in the early 1840’s, initially on large grazing runs leased from Maori, then through formal settlement from the 1850’s.  No pioneer New Zealand family has lived and farmed their land longer than the Matthews of ‘Waiorongomai’. Their story, shaped by the land itself, is an important part of the history of Aotearoa. The Matthews of Waiorongomai begins with the arrival of Charles and Elizabeth Matthews in 1842. They settled first in Wellington but, drawn by the pull of the land, moved to Wairarapa and purchased the first acres their descendants still farm today. Seven generations have lived on ‘Waiorongomai’. It is the story of a family devoted to its farming, the development of one of the country’s leading Romney sheep studs and the passing on of a love of the land from one generation to the next.

Charles and Elizabeth Matthews started farming Waiorongoami in 1850 and accumulated 9,312 hectares (23,000 acres).  The Matthews family continues to farm Waiorongomai which has now been consolidated to 3,011 hectares (7,500 acres).

The children of Alfred and Hannah Matthews built a church on the land in 1927 as a memorial to their parents.  It was Alfred Matthew’s desire to have an ecumenical church as a place for the whole community to use and to serve as a memorial to the pioneers of the district and to all the families who have worked on Waiorongomai.  The headstones of Charles and Elizabeth Matthews are to the right of the main drive in front of the church.

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“In the history of New Zealand, Waiorongomai and the Matthews family are as one; one entity; lives and land locked together as the professional caretakers of a farm that has responded to their care and commitment.  …there is a responsibility to preserve Waiorongomai in a way that honours all the hard work of earlier generations.  It’s a legacy to be passed on.”  Linda Thornton. author of Waiorongomai: The Land and the People.  2011

Charlie was very interesting and everyone had a few questions for him.  They farm Romney sheep and also run beef.  They were supplying beef to the local supermarket in Greytown but after about 10 months the supermarket weren’t prepared to pay a premium for a premium product so it wasn’t worth their while.  Charlie said that when the sheep or beef leave the property to be killed they don’t know where the meat ends up which is a shame.

Speaking of beef, it was now time to tuck into our dinner.  Everything was delicious – you really appreciate the beautiful fresh meat and produce that we have available to us.  The dessert was also delicious.  Brian took over as chief dishwasher with some of the other boys drying.  What a great team effort.

We then sat outside until it got dark before retiring to our little corners of the cottages to get a good nights sleep as our biggest kilometre day of the trip waited to greet us the next morning.  Today had been the best one day cycle I had done – the tracks, the history, the scenery and the weather were just amazing.  Not to mention the company which is always top notch on our bike trips : )

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About SUNGRL

This blog was originally set up to share our 9 month adventure around Europe and the USA with friends and family in 2014. On returning to NZ in January 2015 I decided to carry it on so I could continue to share any future travel adventures - it has become my electronic travel diary. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to visit some of the wonderful places we have visited.
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One Response to Rimutaka Rail Trail, Day 2 – Wallaceville to Waiorongomai – Wellington, New Zealand

  1. Margaret Pepper says:

    Hey photos did not come out. Do I need to do something special ???

    Margaret Pepper| Director
    Chester Grey Chartered Accountants Limited

    Level 2, 652 Great South Road, Manukau | Level 2, 65 Upper Queen Street, Auckland
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