Bikepacking Wellington to Martinborough – The Coastal Route

Visiting family in the area was a big reason for having a rest week in Wellington following my Kiwi Brevet effort/ordeal. I soon realised that both Martinborough and Waikanae are not really that far from the capital and there was no point in taking a car on the inter-island ferry – I could just take my bike and ride to visit my uncle and aunts and save more than two hundred dollars in doing so.

First port of call was David and Antoinette in Martinborough – who I hadn’t seen since my cousin Sasha’s (their daughter) wedding in Tuscany in 2008 (thinking about it, that wedding and the resulting trip may be the biggest reason for this website). I’d thought that I’d have to ride the Rimutaka Cycle Trail both ways from & to Wellington – but a quick bit of research showed a coastal route may be possible. Always keen for a bit of variety, I set out on that route on a glorious Wellington day – at a shade under a hundred kilometres and with a ferry ride across the harbour, I was fit and recovered enough from the brevet to attempt it.

Near the end of the morning peak, I rolled down the hills from Karori to Queens Wharf to catch the ferry to Days Bay.

I had to wait a while for the end of the morning rush to pass – the ferry approaches the berth.

Crossing the harbour, the swells were a lot kinder than my Cook Strait crossing three days beforehand.

The crossing was pleasant, short and uncrowded – as this early on a weekday morning most are heading into Wellington for the day, not out of Wellington for a day of fantastic biking. The Days Bay ferry, while small, easily takes bikes (for free) – but at the Days Bay end be warned that the gangway is from the upper deck; it’s difficult to get a loaded bike up the stairs at the stern of the vessel.

From the wharf at Days Bay.

Riding through Eastbourne the road very quickly ended and I was left to follow the coastal path – really just gravelled double-track. At times the path passed through private land, but the signage was rather ambiguous. In the end I decided that as walking or cycling was not expressly prohibited, it must be OK if you kept to the trail – but motorised vehicles were not welcome.

Quickly, I came across the Pencarrow Lighthouses – which are rather small. The views back across the harbour to Wellington were just grand and off in the distance I could see the South Island. The day was strangely calm so far, so that was enjoyable while it lasted.

While one could look back and see Wellington only ten or so kilometres away, I was surprised at how remote the area felt – there was the odd cyclist or walker, but not for long. I was excited to again be out exploring a place I’d never been  so soon after the brevet and generally loving life and a relatively unloaded bike (with no camping gear, I had such luxuries as normal clothes to change into – jeans!).

That hill directly above the stake in the ground was about the only climbing for the first half of the day – the going was pretty easy and very beautiful.

Looking back to the city from that little hill.

Suddenly, I was on a sealed road for a brief interlude to the bottom of the peninsula – even that looked good.

As the road ended, the Rimutaka Cycle Trail started, or ended – I was on the right track.  I rounded a corner and suddenly I was looking across Palliser Bay to Cape Palliser – the southern-most point of the North Island.  Also about that time I found that I had in fact been sheltered from a stiff nor-easter so far and the trail condition started to deteriorate – that was no bad thing as it slowed me down and I had a stunning vista to admire.

There were quite a few times when I had to get off and walk my bike – particularly when crossing shingle fans. That is where all the rocks washed down from the hills have really spread out creating said fan. The only people I saw for some hours were in two large 4WDs and they had a really tough job crossing all the rocks – I was happy to walk.

It was feeling rather remote, rugged and windswept around here.

Occasionally, the trail climbed to skirt some hills – often with signs of the side of the trail having crumbled into the sea. The trail was living up to its name – Wild Coast Trail.

At last, there were signs of a settlement with a collection of baches (a bach is a traditional NZ holiday home – usually rather simple affairs, cobbled together with whatever was available and near a beach of some sort). Judging by the cradles that these fishing boats were on and the tractor units used to move them it must be a long, rough beach.

Dozers, really? Who uses ancient dozers to launch boats?

And I’ve seldom seen such large tyres on boat cradles or such a long drawbar.

A few baches – the word is thought to originate from bachelor, as in bachelor pad. At least, that’s how I remember it.

I joined the road west of Lake Ferry and continued inland, north-east (into the wind). Stopping for lunch on the roadside, I finally had the can of tuna and finished the box of crackers I’d been carrying since Arthurs Pass – before the halfway point of the brevet, not that well thought out that.

Leaving the Rimutaka Cycle Trail as it continued north, I loosely followed the Ruamahanga River on sealed road all the way to Martinborough passing the site of the first sheep station in the country and numerous vineyards. Not quite as exciting as the coast, it was all very nice and I’d had a great day’s outing. But the fun wasn’t over as I visited David and Antoinette’s house for the first time in probably a decade – there were many adventures, holidays (past & present) and family news in general to catch up on over a barbecue dinner and a few drinks on the sun-soaked verandah.

I thoroughly recommend the route around the coast from Eastbourne to Lake Ferry – it would be easy to link it with the rest of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail to make a big day of it.  The only qualifier I’d put on that, is make sure you chose a day of not-awful weather.

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