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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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