Starting on the edge of Wellington Harbour, this diverse trail winds up the leafy Hutt Valley before climbing gently over the forested Remutaka Ranges and skirting around the rugged coast back towards the capital.
Multiple access points and a variety of terrain means there’s something for everyone – from short and sweet outings, to more challenging multi-day rides. There’s plenty to see and do along the way, too, whether you’re into scenery, history, galleries and cafes, or fancy a detour into Wairarapa wine country.
The trail traverses Petone, Lower Hutt city, Upper Hutt city, Remutaka Ranges, South Wairarapa and the south-east coast. It can be ridden in either direction, but is commonly started in Petone and takes 2–3 days to complete.
- historic ‘Incline’ railway bridges & tunnels
- Wairarapa’s world-class wineries
- leisurely Hutt River Trail
- remote, wild coastline
- Petone’s beach & boutique Jackson Street
- fascinating geological landforms
- native forest, wetland & rural landscapes
- Hutt Valley – Wellington’s ‘big backyard’
- capital city attractions
The Remutaka Cycle Trail’s four sections can be completed pleasurably in 2–3 days. Petone is the natural starting point, although Maymorn in Upper Hutt and Featherston in the Wairarapa are also popular. All can be reached on the Wellington to Wairarapa train service that stops at various other stations close the trail.
Shuttle pick-ups are available from the Orongorongo end, but it is also possible to close the loop with some extra riding.
35km, Grade 2/easy, 3–5 hours
The trail starts on Petone Foreshore, a significant settlement site of both Māori and Pākehā peoples, and home to the neat little Settlers Museum that will inform your onward journey. A short detour one block inland, historic Jackson Street has stacks of interesting cafes and delis, and is therefore a good place to stock up on supplies.
Having skirted the foreshore, the trail winds along the Hutt River Trail, a wide and largely flat pathway offering open views of the valley as you progress.
Referred to as Wellington’s ‘big backyard’, the Hutt’s bush-clad hills and expansive green spaces offer recreation aplenty for local and visitor alike. Riverside reserves, parks and playgrounds may well beckon you off the bike, as may major Hutt Valley attractions a short detour off the trail, including Lower Hutt city’s Dowse Art Museum & Brewtown in Upper Hutt.
Beyond Upper Hutt city in the foothills of the Remutaka Ranges, the leafy suburb of Maymorn is the end of this section and the start of something wild.
25km, Grade 2–3/easy–intermediate, 3–4 hours
It’s a short ride from the streets of Maymorn to Tunnel Gully Recreation Area, where riders leave suburbia and head through a series of bushy trails, quiet roads and the historic 221m Maymorn tunnel to reach the historic Remutaka Rail Trail – a highlight of the entire cycle trail and an ever-popular day ride for locals. Bring a torch for the various tunnels en route.
Tracing the old railway, this lovely trail winds gently up through a mix of exotic and regenerating forest, with storyboards pinpointing railway relics and retelling colourful tales. The gentle climb finishes at ‘Summit’, a pretty recreation area with shelter and toilets, and therefore the perfect spot for a rest.
Just beyond Summit is a particularly impressive tunnel, followed by a platform with views of the valley leading down to the Wairarapa Plains.
The trail is narrower and a bit more rugged on this side. It also has more tunnels and a scramble over Siberia Gully (a bridge is due for completion by late 2019).
Views of expansive Wairarapa Moana (Lake Wairarapa) open up as riders emerge from the Remutaka Ranges at Cross Creek. Allow time to wander around the site of the old railway settlement before hitting the last little stretch of singletrack.
The Cross Creek car park is the logical pick-up point if you’re detouring into wine country for a day or two; Martinborough is less than 30 minutes’ drive away.
From Cross Creek, it’s also just 10km to Featherston where there’s accommodation along with several places to eat and some neat little shops. You can also catch a train back to Wellington from there.
Cross Creek—Ocean Beach
36km, Grade 3/intermediate, 2–3 hours
This mainly on-road section of trail takes riders through quiet farm country, along the shores of Lake Wairarapa and Lake Onoke to reach the shores of Palliser Bay. Lush pasture stretches out to the water’s edge. Shorebirds peck at paddocks. Sheep snuggle close in their flocks. Wind-bitten trees, including lone tī kōuka (Cabbage Tree), add striking silhouettes to the scene.
A handful of accommodation options are not only a good place to break the multi-day journey, but also offer a chance to dig down into the area’s fascinating history. Some of New Zealand’s earliest sheep stations were established around here; the cottage accommodation at historic Wairongomai Homestead offers window into this past.
This stretch is also a treat for bird-lovers, with the lakes, wetlands and ocean supporting populations of more than one hundred species, including rare ones such as Caspian Tern and Banded Dotterel. It’s worth considering a walk on to Onoke Spit, which you pass along the trail. But if you want to see more birds and learn more about them, check out Te Rakau Birding & Cabins who offer accommodation and tours.
Whether you’ve stayed overnight around here, or detoured into Wairarapa wine country, the next leg of the Remutaka Cycle Trail starts in earnest at Ocean Beach, a rugged stretch of shingle on the edge of the Cook Strait.
Be sure to check the forecast before you start prepping for the next section. From here things can get pretty wild.
Ocean Beach—Orongorongo River
18km, Grade 3–4/ intermediate–advanced, 3–4 hours
The last section of trail is arguably the most scenic. But it’s also the most challenging, being fully exposed to southerlies whipping off the ocean, and northerlies barreling over hilltops and funneling down gullies. What’s more, heavy rains in previous days can make some streams impassable. The trail surface is often rocky and sandy. There are no shops or services, and virtually no cellphone coverage. Check the forecast and current trail conditions, make sure your bike is in good order, and pack food and clothing for all eventualities.
On a good day, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. Stark and rugged this place may be, but it is truly a sight to behold with its mountains plunging dramatically into the ocean.
Indeed, this coastline is riven with geological oddities, created by immense geological forces that raise the beaches out of the water with every big quake. Big weather, meanwhile, breaks the landmass down into rocks and scree. The largest rockslide you come across is named the Kotumu Fan – you’ll know it when you see it!
There’s plenty more to see along the way, from horses, birds and weird, windswept vegetation, to long-range views of South Island’s Kaikoura Ranges.
The southernmost point of the trail is Turakirae Head, home to hundreds of kekeno (NZ fur seals). (Please respect them by keeping at least 20m away.)
The trail ends at the Orongorongo River mouth, where a pre-booked shuttle can take the sting out of the 30km road-ride back to Petone.
Easy access points along the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa sections make it easy to tailor a shorter ride for individual abilities and interests. Some can be reached via public transport; others will require self-driving or shuttles provided by cycle tour companies on both sides of the Remutaka Hill.
Remutaka Rail Trail
up to 25km, easy, 2–4 hours
This is one of Wellington’s most popular and achievable day rides. It is most easily ridden with your own bikes and transport, parking at Kaitoke car park, but it’s also possible to hire bikes from the Top 10 Holiday Park in near Petone and catch the train to Maymorn. For easiest ride logistics, ride the Rail Trail to ‘Summit’ and back down again, or venture a little further over the hill to take in the tunnel and viewing platform. To see both sides, head down to Cross Creek from where you’ll need a pick-up, or ride the extra 10km to Featherston where you can catch the train back to Wellington.
Hutt River Trail
up to 28km, easy, 3–4 hours
Stretching from Petone all the way to Upper Hutt, this leisurely 29km trail can be split into short rides of any length, with plenty to see and do off the bike. For a terrific taste, ride from Petone Station (where there’s bike hire) and explore historic Jackson Street before riding along the foreshore to meet the Hutt River Trail. From there it’s 3.5km to Lower Hutt city, home to shops, cafes and the Dowse Art Museum – a must-see for lovers of contemporary art.
Need to Know
FITNESS & SKILLS
This is a trail with mixed terrain. The Hutt Valley Trail and Remutaka Rail Trail as far as the summit is largely easy (grade 2) riding along wide, smooth sealed or gravel pathways, with a few short on-road sections where riders need to take extra care.
From the Remutaka summit, the trail is faster and more gravelly (grade 3) through to Cross Creek. Competent riders (including children over 12) should, however, be able to handle the challenge.
The section from Cross Creek to Ocean Beach involves a gentle descent to the coast, but is rated intermediate (grade 3) due to the requirement to ride on the road. (More trail will be routed off-road in the coming years.)
The ‘wild coast’ section from Ocean Beach to Orongorongo ramps up intermediate/advanced (grade 3–4), and should only be attempted by fit, experienced cyclists.
TYPE OF BIKE
A hybrid or touring bike will suffice on the Hutt River, Remutaka Rail Trail (Hutt side) and Western Lake Road, a ship-shape mountain bike is required for the Wairarapa side of the Rail Trail and the ride around the coast. The coast’s remoteness and rugged terrain make basic mechanical skills essential – punctures are all-too-common around these parts.
E-bikes are welcome on all the trails, although note that the New Zealand Cycle Trail advises particular caution for e-biking riding on trails graded 4 and above, so this includes the coastal section from Ocean Beach to Orongorongo.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
Although the trail is well signposted, carrying a map will guarantee against taking a wrong turn, help with riding timing, and identify landmarks of interest.
WEATHER & RIDING SEASON
Wellington and the Wairarapa are blessed with mild climates, making this an enjoyable year-round experience in good weather.
That said, the wind can be pretty cold and ferocious around these parts, especially when blowing from the south. Wind and rain can make the coastal section more of a pain than a pleasure. Visitor should check the forecast and track conditions before they set off, and take warm clothing and wet-weather gear regardless of the forecast.
FOOD & WATER
The Hutt Valley section is never far from cafes and shops. Beyond Upper Hutt, however, the trail heads into remote, unpopulated terrain without any shops whatsoever (although detours to Wairarapa wine country will more than make up for that). Plan ahead and pack plenty of food and water for each day’s ride. Public facilities along the way offer reliable water supplies.
Coverage is reliable throughout the Hutt Valley and in Wairarapa towns. There is some coverage beyond that – including around the coastal section – but it patchy and should not be relied upon.
There are toilets at convenient intervals, although they are few and far between once you’re out of the Hutt Valley so use them when you see them.
Plan Your Trip
The Wellington and Wairarapa regions are well served by transport, accommodation and other operators. The Remutaka Cycle Trail, however, heads through suburban and remote areas where such services get thin on the ground. Advance planning and booking is therefore essential.
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Wellington is the major gateway to the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa regions. It is well serviced by Wellington International Airport, around 30–45 minutes’ drive from the trail’s start point in Petone.
Petone and many destinations along the trail (including Maymorn, and Featherston which is 10km off the trail) can also be reached by regional Metlink trains; nationwide Intercity buses also provide links to destiantions throughout the North Island.
Smaller shuttle operators provide local services, including connections to Martinborough and other Wairarapa towns.
BIKE HIRE, TRANSPORT & TOURS
Bike hire depots are located in Petone (at the Top 10 Holiday Park) and Upper Hutt, but also in Martinborough which is the primary hub for Wairarapa cycle tours. Shuttles and luggage transfers are offered by operators on both sides of the Remutaka Hill.
Fluctuating seasonal demand and the remoteness of pick-up/drop-off points makes it essential to shuttles and tours in advance.
Find bike hire, transport & tours
There’s a range of accommodation in Wellington and the Hutt Valley, and near the trail on the Wairarapa side of the hill including half a dozen options right on the trail on Western Lake Road. Featherston is also a great overnight stop, particularly as it enables a visit to the Fell Locomotive Museum to see the train that plied the rail trail. There’s also cycle-friendly accommodation further away in Martinborough.
Advance booking is recommended regardless of the time of year.
Basic camping is available at along the Remutaka Rail Trail at Ladle Bend and Summit recreation area, and at Corner Creek near the start of the coastal section of trail.