Rimutaka Rail Trail, Day 3 – Waiorongomai to Cape Palliser and onto Martinborough – Wellington, New Zealand

The SUNGRL really had returned to NZ with a vengeance – another spectacular day greeted us for our ride out to Cape Palliser. Today both Andy and Leona were going to ride with us so they went to Featherston to drop the car and trailer off and come back in the bus with Leo from Rimutaka Shuttles. He was going to provide vehicle support for the day as well as drive us back to Martinborough after we had reached Cape Palliser.

Camp Mother Sue had sorted the Ratanui lodgers out for breakfast so by the time the Burlings crew arrived the path was clear.  Again it was all hands on deck clearing up, doing dishes, packing bags and getting the food supplies packed up for the days adventure.  Everyone headed out on their bikes between 8.30am and 8.45am.  I stayed behind to wait for Andy, Leona and Leo to arrive back with the bus to make sure they collected all our belongings.  Leona and I then left Andy and Leo to the loading and jumped on our bikes to try and catch the group – we caught them at the 11km mark.

We were heading south and then around the bottom of Lake Wairarapa across the East West Access Road to the left. The official Rimutaka Rail Trail goes to the right and past Ocean Beach and around Turakirae Head and back up towards Eastbourne.  Sandra from Natural High had done a reconnoissance of this part of the track but thought it wasn’t up to standard and was a bit remote with no vehicle access.  Probably fine for hard core cyclists but we really are a very social cycling bunch. The scenery was beautiful and the clear blue sky made the colour contrasts that much more spectacular.

It was fairly easy riding to Pirinoa where we stopped for morning tea.  Leo had the table all set out – he was learning fast.  The Pirinoa Dairy did a good trade on pies too : ) After our refreshments we headed out towards Palliser Bay.  We had about 30km to go to get to our lunch stop at the Putangirua Pinnacles.  This part of the ride was more challenging with more ups and downs.  We took the Whatarangi Road to the left and after a few more ups and downs we were rewarded with the most spectacular views of Palliser Bay. We had some great downhill riding just before our lunch spot which was a sight for sore eyes.

Our lunch spot was at the start of the walk to the Putangirua Pinnacles which are some of the most amazing rock formations you will ever see.  Apparently Peter Jackson used them in the Paths of the Dead sequence in the Lord of the Rings; The Return of the King.  The opening sequence for Braindead was filmed there too.  These ‘Hoodoos’ are one of the best examples of eroded earth pillars forming an eerie atmosphere within a tight valley in the Aorangi Ranges, just before Cape Palliser.  Some of the group had discussed walking to see the Pinnacles but it was a one and a half hour round trip and we were already on a tight schedule.  We’ll just have to store it up for next time we are down that way.

Fast learning Leo had the picnic table set up and an array of yummy food was set out. We had a quick bite and got on our way again – we had another 22km to go.  We had covered 50km and some people took the option of getting in the bus to travel the rest of the way out to the Cape.  They had all done very well given the ups and downs and the heat.  We had a few more ups to conquer before the road flattened out.  The large rock cliffs to our left were quite spectacular and were similar in colour and formation to the Pinnacles mentioned above.  Again the blue sky provided a fantastic contrast.









Julie and Cheryl decided to join the others in the bus at the 60km mark – they had done so well.  There were now 10 of us left on our bikes as we ambled towards the Cape.  We got to Ngawi which is a small fishing / holiday town.  Ngawi’s claim to fame is that they have more bulldozers per head of population than anywhere else.  The bulldozers are used to haul the fishing boats into and out of the wear as there is no wharf or other access to the ocean other than the beach, which can be notoriously rough at times.

Ngawi is also famous for a large population of fur seals and sea lions, and is popular not just with commercial fisherman but also with recreational fishermen.  The best fish to catch are Paua (a type of abalone which is prized for its iridescent shell as well as the flesh), crayfish (also known as rock lobster) and cod.

As we approached Ngawi, Karen said to me ‘this is where the 7km of gravel road starts out to the lighthouse’ – what!  I was feeling a bit jaded by this point so this did nothing to lift my spirits.  The wind had also got up a bit so we were battling a bumpy road and a head wind.  I shouldn’t complain really as I am sure the wind can be a hell of a lot worse than what we had and the blue skies and sunshine were still with us – in fact it was still very hot : )






We could see the lighthouse about 5km out and it buoyed us along.  As we got closer to the lighthouse we could see some of the troops going up the stairs – all 273 of them!  Leo had the bus parked in the carpark so we dropped our bikes off and went off to conquer the 273 stairs – we knew on a day like this the views were going to be totally worth it.  We had one showoff amongst us who decided to run up the second half of the stairs but don’t worry we fined him for that aye Andy? And yes the views were totally worth it.  We could see the South Island through the heat haze in the distance. Cape Palliser is the southernmost point of the North Island.  

The lighthouse is owned and operated by Maritime New Zealand.  The lighthouse was built in 1897 and was originally fueled by oil. In 1954 the oil lamp was replaced with an electric one powered by a local diesel generator. This was subsequently replaced by a connection to the mains grid in 1967, although a diesel generator is retained for emergency power. The light was fully automated in 1986 and is now managed from a control room in Wellington.

As mentioned Cape Palliser Lighthouse has 253 steps to reach the base of the lighthouse, replacing an extremely dangerous and steep climb to the top of the bank which could result in injuries and possibly death if the user wasn’t careful. Since the stairs were installed, the lighthouse became more popular around New Zealand and even other parts of the world.  Cape Palliser Lighthouse is one of three New Zealand lighthouses with a distinct striped paint scheme; the other two are Dog Island Lighthouse and Cape Campbell Lighthouse, which both have black and white stripes.

After descending the lighthouse stairs it was all aboard the bus – our bikes were neatly stacked on the bike trailer having a well earned rest as were we.  We decided to stop at one of the beaches we had cycled past for a swim – it was still very hot.  A couple of the team were organised and had their togs at the ready, the others that fancied a dip went in their cycling clothes.  I was one of the latter ones.  The sea was a bit brisk but I felt wonderful after I had been in.  The sand was really hot so you had to be careful not to burn your feet.  Meanwhile back at the bus the non swimmers had put the kettle on and cracked a few beers.  A great finish to a great day.






All aboard again – destination Martinborough.  The trip took just over an hour and we all enjoyed riding in the bus rather than riding on our bikes.  Our accommodation for the night was at The Claremont Motel which is just out of town.  It is really nice and we knew we were going to have a very comfortable night.  After unloading the bus and sorting everything out we had 45 minutes to shower and re convene to walk to town for dinner.  The girls hit the showers first while the boys disappeared into the garden to re hydrate – say no more.  There were a few fishwives shouting from the rooms when they had not reappeared 5 minutes before we were due to walk to town!

Mike had booked us into Pinocchio’s in Martinborough.  We had an inside table which was a bit crazy given it was so hot and we were rather cramped.  We had to keep wandering outside to cool off.  I enjoyed my meal which was accompanied by some local Ata Rangi Rose.  After dinner we sat outside to have our fine session which as always was very entertaining and noisy.  We then walked back to The Claremont.  Due to the lack of light pollution the stars really shone so we spent the walk home admiring them.



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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1 Response to Rimutaka Rail Trail, Day 3 – Waiorongomai to Cape Palliser and onto Martinborough – Wellington, New Zealand

  1. Catherine LAMB says:

    Mad bugas!

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