Get to know the wild side of Wellington and the Wairarapa on this ride around the Rimutaka Ranges and Pacific Ocean coast.
A rewarding way to explore the capital’s rich natural environment, this readily accessible trail begins on Wellington harbour and heads up the Hutt River though green, city fringes. On reaching the forested Rimutaka Ranges, it climbs gently over the mountains on an old railway line to reach the rural Wairarapa. Riders can easily detour to see its sights – including wineries and pretty villages – before skirting around the rugged coast back towards Wellington city.
This trail starts 15 minutes’ car or train journey from downtown Wellington, and can be ridden in 2–3 days or broken into sections using public transport or shuttles, and accommodation near the trail. It is commonly started at Petone in Wellington harbour, although it can be ridden in either direction.
From Petone foreshore it winds along the Hutt River Trail, a leisurely pathway through leafy urban areas and riverside reserves. The city sights of Lower and Upper Hutt are just a short detour away.
Maymorn marks the 35km mark, from where the trail heads into bushy mountain foothills and follows the old Rimutaka Rail Trail up to a spooky 576m tunnel and other historic relics near the summit. The trail whizzes down to Cross Creek in the Wairarapa, Wellington’s rural neighbour, where eager riders can detour to Featherston or Martinborough for a taste of wine-country by bike or pre-arranged shuttle.
Arguably the trail’s most enjoyable section, the Rimutaka Rail Trail can easily be completed as a day trip by hiring a bike and catching a train from downtown Wellington to Maymorn, cycling the Rail Trail to Featherston, then boarding a train back to the capital.
From Cross Creek to Ocean Beach, the trail follows a quiet road through verdant farmland and along the shores of Lake Wairarapa and then Lake Onoke, a haven for birds.
The last section to the Orongorongo River clings to the rugged south coast with epic views of the Cook Strait, and the South Island’s Kaikoura Ranges on fine days. The trail finishes at the Wainuiomata Coast Road, the pick-up point for pre-arranged shuttle services.
The trail is predominantly easy (grade 2), being wide and smooth with gentle climbs and descents. The road section between Cross Creek and Ocean Beach is normally quiet but traffic sense is required. A hybrid bike with knobbly tyres will suffice for most of the trail, although the coastal section’s rocky and sandy grade 3 (intermediate) terrain is more suited to a mountain bike.
From Maymorn the journey is off-the-beaten track, so riders should let someone know their intentions before they set off, and carry sufficient food although it’s possible to re-stock in Featherston or Martinborough if detouring. There are no shops between Cross Creek and the Orongorongo River. The trail is well signposted throughout, but riders should carry a map and cellphone, although coverage will be non-existent in many places.
The coastal section is very exposed and should be avoided if a strong southerly is predicted. Warm clothing and wet weather gear are essential regardless of the weather forecast. Farm animals may be encountered especially on the coastal section; just stop and the farmer will assist you to pass the stock.
View trail map here.
Specialising in the Rimutaka Cycle Trail, Green Jersey Cycle Tours offer a variety of single or multi-day tours, as well as providing bike hire, shuttles and luggage transfers. Bikes can also be hired in Wellington, with local train services an option for getting around, as are the folks at Rimutaka Shuttles.
In the future, the pleasant trail around Pencarrow Head at the entrance to Wellington Harbour may be added to the Rimutaka Cycle Trail to extend it from Orongorongo River (and thus form a loop back to Petone). In the meantime, it’s possible to enjoy a half-day return ride around Pencarrow and up to its lighthouse by hiring a bike from Days Bay Boat Shed in Eastbourne.
Wellington, the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa offer ample accommodation options between them, ranging from luxury hotels to farmstays. Accommodation providers partnered with the trail are listed on the Rimutaka Cycle Trail website.
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