Christmas Ride: Rimutaka Incline

Steve and Kev cross Big Bend bridge

Kev and Steve cross Big Bend bridge

The Rimutaka Incline, part of the Rimutaka Rail Trail, is something of a rite of passage for recreational cyclists in the Wellington region.

The trail follows the same route as the original train tracks and the area has a lot of historic information provided on noticeboards along the way. The trail itself is usually completed from the Upper Hutt side and is relatively easy going up to the summit with a gentle gradient. The Wairarapa side is a little steeper but nothing too scary. The trail goes through five tunnels and so a torch or strong bike light is essential (although we did cross paths with two riders going the other way without any lights: they travelled slowly through the tunnels).

Looking out at the Wairarapa

Looking out at the Wairarapa

Neither Steve nor I had ridden the Trail, so a fine day between Christmas and New Year provided an ideal opportunity to set that to rights, accompanied by our “guide” Kevin. Our plan was to ride to the summit and through the Summit Tunnel, descending part way down the Wairarapa side to a lookout, before returning to the carpark back along the same route. Cunningly this plan avoided the steepest part of the trail, which is the descent just after the lookout on the Wairarapa side – there are warning signs at the start of this drop recommending that riders walk this section.

An early start meant that when we arrived at the car park at the start of the trail there were few other cars there and we largely had the trail to ourselves on the upward ride.

Exploring the Fell engine graveyard.

Exploring the Fell engine graveyard.

The Wellington side of the trail passes close by the Pakuratahi river, crossing it several times and passing through both the Pakuratahi Forest and native forest. At key places on the climb there are information boards providing comment on the history of the rail trail, and identifying key events or locations. At the summit clearing, just past the rusting Fell engines which were a key part of the original rail service, an information booth provides photos and historic comment on the settlement which was established at that site for the railway workers.

Emerging from Summit Tunnel

Emerging from Summit Tunnel

Riding through the tunnels was a new experience for both Steve and me – although probably not quite on a par with riding the 1.4 kilometer long Spooners’ Tunnel we had missed out on when we completed the Great Taste Trail in late 2016. The longest tunnel is Summit Tunnel, at 576 metres long. Although this is a straight tunnel and the “light at the end . . . ” is always visible, it can be disorientating even with a light, and veering off the straight and narrow is not unusual. The other tunnels on this section of the trail are curved, but relatively short, so having lighting is less critical.

Turning around at the lookout following the Siberia Tunnel we returned along the track, to find just how popular this trail is. Several groups were lunching a the Summit picnic area, and we also passed a number of large groups riding up the trail. These groups included all ages, from those on “mini” bikes to several of “advanced years” on e-bikes. Clearly this is a ride for all ages, as the video from,nz shows below:

Video courtesy of

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