Upper Hutt, NZ to Martinborough, NZ

12.6 mi / 10.7 mph / 198 ft. climbing
Home: Martinborough Top10 Holiday Park

Even though we fast-forwarded ourselves off the South Island by taking the train from Christchurch to Picton, it would still be a tight and stressful effort to ride from Wellington and get to Hobbiton in time. Or more-precisely, getting to Hobbiton on time would require us to ride the most-direct route possible, which 1) wouldn’t be a great route, and 2) we already saw much of on our ride south. Any preferred route that would let us discover new lands and get us on comfortable roads would take too much time. So, we’re going to take another tourist train from Wellington to Otorohanga, two-days’ ride from Hobbiton.

We planned all this out in general, but then when I went to book the train from Wellington, found that there were no reservable bike slots available on our desired date. Or the next day. And the train didn’t run for two days after that. The first train with bike space departed nearly a week after we wanted! Except, is this actually a problem? It still gets us up to Hobbiton in plenty of time, and, there are still things in the Wellington region we’re interested in exploring. That’s why we spent three nights in Upper Hutt, and it’s why we’re now heading even further out from Wellington, on a four night out-and-back to Cape Palliser, the southernmost point of the North Island.

And, we would take another train! The “standard” bike touring route in/out of Wellington (and the route that the Tour Aotearoa uses) is the Remutaka Rail Trail, which takes you over the top of the big mountain range to the east of the Hutt Valley (a subrange of the mountains that generally divide the whole North Island into west and east halves). We rode part of the trail a couple days ago, and redoing that part wasn’t enticing, and we’d need to do much more climbing/gravel-descending after that, including what sounds like a mile of basically unrideable stuff near the end on the other side. Even the people who built the rail line on that route eventually realized that it sucked, and sent the train under the mountain instead (once they got the long-ass tunnel bored), so who are we to question their (eventual) wisdom?

Unlike the long-distance tourist trains, this was a Wellington-region MetLink commuter train, the Wairarapa Line. Though as their one non-electrified line, the bike policy was a similar load-into-the-baggage-car vs. roll-on-yourself. It went smoothly, with the conductor recognizing our bikes on the platform, coming to the baggage car to help load them on (after we again take all the bags off and toss those on the baggage car as well). The MetLink commuter system uses a tap-to-board card scheme like Auckland, but unlike Auckland it didn’t make sense for us to pay NZ$10 each for the cards (a national payment system is in the works!), so the only other option is to pay cash onboard This also worked with no problem, and at NZ$7 (US$4.20) each, felt like a steal even though it was more than we would have paid with a card.

It was fun to ride up into the unpopulated hills right next to the trail we had been on the other day, but then to dive into the dark of the 5.5-mile tunnel (nearly the longest in New Zealand). I felt a little sheepish doing the whole bike load/unload thing while traveling only two stops, but if the conductor was bothered by the extra effort, he gave no sign of it.

Rett looking out into the Wairarapa after crossing under the Remutaka Range on the MetLink train.

With our bikes and all of our bags now having been transported effortlessly to the Featherston train platform on the other side of a mountain range for almost no money, I was feeling quite satisfied with myself. But then a shifty-looking dude who had been in our train car (he started vaping immediately as he got off) came up behind me and in his outstretched arm was…my helmet! Holy shit! I had taken it onto the train car with me (keeping it on my head is the easiest way to carry it), but then put it under my seat and completely forgotten about it! “Thank you!” I blurted out, but he had already turned around and went on his way, leaving his good deed woefully underpaid. I should have run after him and given him $20 or something! Because it would have really sucked to have lost my helmet. The helmet itself would have taken “only” a few days to replace, but the real tragedy would have been the much longer time I would have had to live without my rearview mirror that’s attached to the helmet. How incredibly lucky I was that this guy not only noticed my left-behind helmet, but made the effort to pick it up and find the idiot who left it! Phew.

I’d had a slow leak on my rear tire that had become a faster leak by this morning, so since the bags were already off my bike, I figured this was the most-efficient time and place to fix it. While I did that, Rett rode over the motel in town that we’d booked for a few nights from now, but not yet paid for to secure the booking. Just riding off on her own through an unfamiliar town is not something Rett has ever done, so it was was awesome to see her confident independence. Unfortunately it was a bit of a waste since there was no one in the office to take our payment, but at least I got my tube replaced, and Rett had her confidence validated.

The train line continued north from Featherston, but our goal was east, to Martinborough 11 miles away. Mid-morning traffic on the spur highway was a bit heavier than I expected (maybe a reminder that the North Island is just busier than the South), but still no big deal, especially since there were actual shoulders for much of the distance (which many much-busier highways lack!) Worse was that the rain showers, which had been coming on-and-off ever since we woke up this morning, were continuing past their forecast. More “damping” than “soaking”, but annoying nonetheless, especially in the cool temperatures.

A viewpoint down into the Wairarapa, the name for this region east of greater Wellington. No vineyards yet!

Martinborough is known for its wine (particularly Pinot Noir), so Rett turned into the first winery (Palliser Estate) that appeared on the western edge of town. It was just in time to get us out of a heavier spurt of showers, and into a warm tasting room where Belen, a Bolivian import, did an awesome job of serving and entertaining and informing us. We then ordered up their expensive but worth-it charcuterie platter and ate that with just the two of us in their comforting dining room.

Wine and excellent wine-accompaniment at Palliser Estate.

That “break” passed enough time for us to now be able to check into our campground, where we got properly showered, dried, and warmed up, and then headed back into town on foot.

The Martinborough Top10 Holiday Park put us in one of the most “American”-feeling campsites we’ve had in New Zealand, partly because the fallen oak leaves really gave an American-autumn feeling.
Grape vines ran directly behind our campsite (though these as-yet-unharvested ones were across the street from the campground).
I guess that’s why the Pinot is “Noir”!
Grape themes throughout Martinborough (with the temperatures never rising above mid-50s all day, Rett wasn’t about to pose showing her grape tattoo!)

After a preview run through the fanciest Four Square in New Zealand (usually they’re low-end small-town stores, but this one was nearly Whole Foods), our first real stop was Martinborough Brewery. It was a little disappointing because their actual tap list didn’t have as many Rett-beers as their menu suggested, but worse because their tasting flight cost an insane NZ$32!

Their flights might be stupidly expensive, but I don’t recall seeing a brewery with hops growing right on-site before!

We moved on to Tonic Bistro for dinner, where we had food far more clever and interesting than our experience in other 2000-person New Zealand towns has led us to believe is possible. I didn’t even notice that the proprietor had an American accent until he told us that he was from Utah, originally settling in Wellington, but then moving out here for the relaxed small-town life. That seems to be a bit of a trend, and along with the wineries drawing weekenders out from Wellington, it has imported much more of the capital’s cosmopolitan culture than most small farm towns.

Donut dessert (one of three desserts we ordered!) at Tonic Bistro.
The Martinborough Hotel, one of the grand old buildings on the town square around which the town is laid out.

By the time we were walking back from dinner, it seemed the showers had finally come to an end, some eight hours after they were supposed to. Though, we needed to remind ourselves that they never caused us any actual problems, and that we’re maybe more scared of rain than we should be.

Back in camp at night, when I was making a final run to the bathroom, a meteor fell to earth that was fiery enough to draw my eye to a part of the sky I wasn’t even looking at. It wasn’t nearly a night-into-day fireball that I’ve seen in YouTube videos, but it was the brightest meteor I’ve ever seen!


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2 responses to “Upper Hutt, NZ to Martinborough, NZ”

  1. Jan from Colorado Avatar
    Jan from Colorado

    You need to visit more Oregon breweries Neil, there are LOTS of breweries with hops growing!! Mainly for decoration, but it’s still nice to see.

    1. neil Avatar

      Huh, yeah, I was mostly surprised that I hadn’t seen what in retrospect seems like such a fairly-obvious brewery-decoration before. Maybe these guys had been to those Oregon breweries that I haven’t been to. Good to know that at least some places have beat NZ to the idea!

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