October 29, 2013 … a Good Keen Man*

The parking lot at the bottom of the hill should have warned us.

Yesterday was Labour Day in New Zealand, a public holiday. I had suggested to Mary that our next walk should be the Rimutaka Incline. This is a disused rail track that has been popular for years as a walking and cycle track. My lunacy was in forgetting that earlier in the week the track had been incorporated into part of the new national network of cycle paths. The car park was more than full and there were people abusing each other over inconsiderate parking. While they were distracted, we managed to acquire a park that came free and set out to walk the 10 km to the former railway settlement at “Summit”. It was a fine morning and there was a benign forecast so we began at the gate to follow the old railway line.

Start of the track ... the gate from the carpark

Ten steady uphill kilometres to go


This is a grand landscape through which some imaginative engineers managed to carve a track to get steam hauled engines across the Rimutaka range to the Wairarapa on the other side.  By railway  standards, this is a steep track, and required the use of “Fell engines” which gripped a special installed third rail to provide added traction uphill, and braking on the down side. A heavy train could have as many as five Fell locomotives inserted into the consist, to get the load over the hill between Rimutaka station and Cross Creek.  On the day our family arrived in New Zealand (February 4, 1954)  we were on the night train to Auckland and went over that line. Nine months later, it was closed and replaced by the tunnel through the ranges.

Cyclists and walkers of all ages were out on the track, some coming, some going

Many of the more athletic cyclists had been over to Cross Creek and returned (18 km each way)

I said it was steep by railway standards, and so it is, but it is still an easy gradient for walkers and cyclists. I saw family groups with kids of five years or younger pedalling with various degrees of vigour up the hill. There must have been several hundred cyclists on the trail at the same time, yesterday.

Pig hunter with his catch and his two packs of dogs

The lower of the two pigs was secured to the bike by way of sliding the empty abdominal cavity over the saddle

Perhaps the most special image of the day for me, was this “Good Keen Man”*, a hunter of the old school. He was  trudging down the track with his pack of pig dogs and with the corpses of not one, but two substantial wild pigs across his old bicycle. No firearm involved in this hunt, but rather the old-fashioned use of the dogs to corner the pig, and then despatch it with a knife. I am not, and never have been a hunter, and could not do what he did, but I have a certain grudging respect for this kind of skill (no correspondence will be entered into on this topic).

The Rimutaka ranges

Contrary to popular belief, the Rimutakas are not visible from Wellington. The ones we see covered in snow are the Tararuas. The Rimutakas are not particularly high, topping out at 940 metres, but it is a wild and rugged landscape where lives have been lost.

Unlike the bush walk the previous day, this walk requires a more macro-view of the landscape. It is a vast and wonderful range and I’ll say again that a great deal of imagination was required to conceptualize crossing it by rail.

Truss bridge crossing the Pakuratahi River

Considering that quite large locomotives crossed these tracks aided by the powerful little Fell engines, the roadbed turns some very sharp corners

There are viewpoints that afford views over the Pakuratahi River at various points, and there are bridges, tunnels and cuttings to look at., and many rushing streams to cross.

Tumbling waters

This rushing stream joins the Pakuratahi at Ladle Bend

At the top of the climb is the former railway settlement of Summit, a wild, lonely and windswept place where railwaymen and their families lived in the five cottages, and serviced the locomotives, checked the brakes and so on.

Rusting remnants

These relics were once fine locomotives that crossed this difficult landscape, but they are NOT Fell engines.

As on the previous day, birds on was everywhere though the birds were heard more than seen. As before, the most prolific call was that of the grey warbler (Click here to listen to the Department of Conservation’s recording of one), though we caught glimpses of the native pigeon, North Island Robin, fantail, grey warbler, Australasian Harrier, bellbird, and a variety of finches.

Downhill with the rain coming in

This is Ladle Bend with eight blistered agonised kilometres to go. I lost interest in more photographs about here.

After a delightful lunch near the remains of locomotive boilers at the highly manicured rest area at Summit we started the return journey. At the marker where it says the gate is only 9km further on, my feet alerted me to their presence. At eight km, they were howling in chorus, and to complicate matters it started raining. By the five km mark I was in real discomfort, and for the last few km was barely shuffling in the rain which was just made things miserable.

I got there, and am resolved to try some better boots for my next walk. The gravel track is not all that rough, but it is unremitting gravel all the way. I enjoyed the uphill walk and the first few kilometres of the downhill one, but it is not a trail I need to visit again. Today I have been walking around on the balls of my feet trying desperately not to put weight on my injured heels. It must look very comical.

Now to figure out how to get shots today without walking far.

*A Good Keen Man by Barry Crump, 1960


About wysiwygpurple

Retirement suits me well. I spend much of my time out making pictures, or at home organizing and refining my pictures. This blog provides me with a platform from which I can indulge my passion for improving my photography and at the same time analyze my thoughts about what I have seen, where I have been and what is happening in my life. My images set out to be honest, but that does not mean I have not adjusted them. I use software to display what I saw though the viewfinder to best advantage. My preference is for landscape and nature, and is mostly centred around my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand.
This entry was posted in adversity, Birds, Landscapes, mountains, Railway, Upper Hutt, Wairarapa, Wellington. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to October 29, 2013 … a Good Keen Man*

  1. whittyp says:

    Graham, excellent item. If I make one minor amendment though. As I understand it the Fell engines were not actually used on the section of the track that you walked up. They were used from the Summit down to Cross Creek on the Wairarapa side. Once you go through the Siberia tunnel and across the scree slope on the other side the gradient is easily three times that of the track on the Upper Hutt side.

  2. Peter Coleridge says:

    ” the Rimutaka’s are not visible from Wellington “.
    I thought Mt. Matthews was in the Rimutaka range and I remember seeing that.

    • You are right, of course Peter. Mt Matthews is 21 km away and approximately to the ESE (bearing 115 deg) from the city centre and can be seen from the high places in the city across the top of Mt Crawford. I think there is a great deal of geographical confusion surrounding the official identity of the hills to the immediate East of the harbour and the Hutt Valley … sometimes just the Eastern Hills, sometimes the Orongorongos, though I am not sure either is officially sanctioned. My main point though, was that a view of the main body of the Rimutakas is obscured from most places in Wellington city.

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