Featherston, NZ to Waikanae, NZ

26.6 mi / 9.2 mph / 1860 ft. climbing
Home: Russell and Louise’s AirBNB

When we set off to do our four-day Cape Palliser loop, my plan was to use the train to again get us through the Remutaka Mountains and back to Upper Hutt on our 4th evening. But then I realized that rather than stressing ourselves to make sure we got to Featherston before the last afternoon train departed, we could just stay in Featherston, catch whatever train the next morning through the mountains, and then still have plenty of time to ride on.

Great idea Neil, except this 5th day is Saturday! The Wellington commuter train barely runs on Saturday! So we were packed up and at the bakery at its 8am opening to acquire some second-breakfast, and then over to the station to catch the only inbound run of the day. We were far from the only ones, with a group of ten e-bikers being our biggest concern.

Luckily this line has a dedicated baggage car that apparently had plenty of room, and even more amazing, the women bikers immediately took the initiative to load our panniers into the baggage car for us, helping to make the overlong station stop as short as possible.

And then the train ride itself felt very short, as we spent most of the time answering their questions about what the heck we’re doing. I found them just as cool as they did us: a group of women ranging in age from 40s to 70s (though mostly skewed to the higher end) all going out to do an outdoor physical activity together is something I almost never see, so it’s awesome to see how the rise of e-bikes has enabled this new social activity!

The train ride was also short because we went literally one stop (but a hugely beneficial mountain-avoiding stop!) to the Maymorn station partly up the rail trail, so we could ride downhill a bit rather than up from Upper Hutt (the women got off there too, but would be heading uphill over the rail trail to loop back to Featherston). This meant that we crossed the shoulderless bridge on SH2 for the 3rd time, the one that the bike-ferry exists for so rail-trail riders don’t need to “risk it” (the bike-ferry was sitting there again, and we made it across alive again without needing its services).

Taking a train to avoid a mountain range, just to ride over another one.

We’ve now explored the 2-o’clock spoke that extends out from Wellington via the Hutt Valley, but have not yet been on the 1-o’clock spoke that hugs the west coast of the North Island, the Kapiti Coast. I had noticed a minor road on the map that connects the two spokes some 20-30 miles out from their Wellington vertex (there are only two other connections over/through the mountain range, ~3 and ~10 miles from the vertex). I couldn’t find much cyclist commentary about riding Akatarawa Road, but it seemed doable and survivable. With a couple more days free before our long-distance train booking, let’s go!

“Slow Down You Barstards” is an oddly-spelled idea we fully endorse, but it makes me wonder if Bill Tito actually does book repair, miles from anywhere up this narrow mountain road. I’m not sure if “book repair” is even a thing?!
Yes, this is a two-way road. For cars!

It would take 12 miles to climb the 1300 feet to the top, so even when it finally settled into the consistent uphill near the end, the grades never exceeded 7%, and were mostly a comfortable 4-5%. Once we got a few miles in the road became incredibly narrow, barely wide enough for one car in places, much less two trying to pass in opposite directions!

But that’s what I was counting on to make the traffic light: the possibility of every blind curve bringing you face to face with another car, then tumbling down the mountainside, should be a terror that would convince most drivers to take the longer way around, right?

Yes, it mostly seemed to work. The cars coming from behind were plenty wary, and with our slow natural speed, we weren’t surprised by any oncoming cars. Halfway up we passed “Staglands”, apparently a 52-year institution of a restaurant/petting zoo, and that’s where 90% of the cars passing us had been heading on this Saturday. After that we got a sign telling us the road ahead gets narrow and curvy (what the hell has it been so far?!), and “Don’t follow your GPS, turn back now!”

With a tall stand of eucalyptus on the left, and the hillside closing in on the right, this is becoming the road that I’d hoped it would be.
Yes, it’s still a two-way road!
Overall New Zealand is a pretty “clean” country, but occasionally you see weird middle-of-nowhere graffiti like this.

The warning signs must work, because over the next 7 miles that took us over the top of the pass and dropped us back to sea-level on the other side, we were passed by only 9 oncoming vehicles, and a single car from behind. Which means that we were overtaken by twice as many cyclists as cars!

Including those roadies, it was remarkable how much the road reminded me of the road we took over the mountains from Silicon Valley towards the coast and Santa Cruz. Both took us from a valley near a bay to the east, to an ocean coast facing west. Both were twisty and narrow and heavily forested, essentially filtering out non-cyclist users by design. Fewer redwoods on this ride though!

The view down to Waikanae from the top of Akaterawa Road.
Rett spots some sheep on a day where it took us a long time to spot our first ones!

Dropping into Waikanae, we were both immediately impressed with what a suburban garden paradise it was. Plenty of people all over New Zealand take fine care of their yards, but here something undefinable made it feel more like an upscale-but-neighborly American suburb than anywhere else we’ve been. The theme carried through to our side yard standalone AirBNB, one of the most-elegant we’ve ever stayed in.

I went out on my own at sunset for a ride down to the beach. The sunset itself was a bit of a bust (who put that island in the way?!), but the ride itself was incredibly beautiful, and there was just something nostalgically comforting about the quiet, unassuming vibe of this beach community at dusk.

A photo that Rett would independently frame tomorrow night (see below!)
The most-dinosaur-chickeny photo I’ve gotten of a Dinosaur Chicken (aka pukeko) so far.
Waikanae Beach, with Kapiti Island in the foreground, and the mountains of the South Island in the background.
Unusual beach transportation.
The warm glow of a beachside restaurant on a sleepy evening.
The small Four Square grocery store welcoming the few customers who might walk by at this hour.

Day 2

We went to a good Rett-brewery and BBQ place for lunch yesterday, and had a thought to ride out to another Great Notion-like brewery and some Lord of the Rings locations today, but Rett was still fighting her cold so we just did a relaxing recovery day in our wonderful room.

But, she did come out with me for another sunset ride after my raves about last night. I was proud of her for doing a casual ride (she didn’t put on bike shorts), because I’ve had a hard time teaching her that every bike ride doesn’t have to be an athletic endeavor, you can just do a lackadaisical cruise sometimes too. And thus evening was an equally-perfect setting for such a cruise. Though she still was riding too fast!!

Rett riding the sunset bike trail.
She stopped at the middle of this bridge and called back “there’s a great photo from here!” Yep, got it last night when I stopped in the exact same spot. And the photo of someone at that spot ain’t bad either!
Straight into the sun.
I had seen Kapiti Island on the map, but had no idea that it would be a 1500-foot tall mountain that blocks the sunset!
Looking north along Waikanae Beach.
Moon over Waikanae.


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