Rimutaka Cycle Trail & the Mukamukas

By: Jill Malcolm


Rimutaka Cycle Trail & the Mukamukas Rimutaka Cycle Trail & the Mukamukas
Rimutaka Cycle Trail & the Mukamukas Rimutaka Cycle Trail & the Mukamukas
Rimutaka Cycle Trail & the Mukamukas Rimutaka Cycle Trail & the Mukamukas

No matter how many times I revisit a place it can still surprise me. In the Wairarapa I recently learnt of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail.

I’d thankfully left my bike at home because the trail starts in Petone and is 115km-long, which wouldn’t suit me at all. But a lot of people find the last leg from Ocean Beach to Orongorongo along the south coast of Palliser Bay an exhilarating ride.

Bill and I drove to Ocean Beach and parked. The cycle/four-wheel drive track continues along the ridged and stony coastline that eventually connects Palliser Bay to the Wellington Harbour. But the track itself ends at Orongorongo Bay and most people get picked up from there. My intent was to walk as far as the notorious Mukamuka Rocks, about halfway along this part of the trail, but I ran out of puff before I got there.

Well, a rock is a rock, but I was curious because of an incident that happened there many years ago. The Mukamukas once formed a barrier as formidable as the Rimutakas to pastoral development in the Wairarpapa.

Farming pioneers were convinced that sheep would not survive the rough terrain over the Rimutakas and the only way to get the stock from Wellington to the Wairarapa Valley was by coast along the stony, wind-battered beaches.

We were there in March. The sea was unusually calm and we could see the peaks of the Kaikoura ranges against the translucent sky. In March 1843, the scene would have been quite different for the ambitious settler, Charles Bidwell, who chose that month to drive the first flock of merinos on a hazardous journey from Wellington along the coast to the lush looking pastures in the Wairarapa.

At the Mukamukas the rocky barrier almost defeated them. The only solution was to pick up each sheep and hand it down to a man waiting in the surf, who then piggy-backed it for half a kilometre to the beach beyond the obstruction. Not one sheep was lost.

That hurdle having been laboriously overcome, the mob was again blocked by the flooding at Lake Onoke where, lashed by a furious southerly, flood waters were roaring in over the narrow strip of land that separates the lake from the sea. The hapless sheep had to be transported across the water in a small canoe, three or four at a time and trussed by the feet – an ignominious arrival in the area that eventually saw some of the finest sheep studs in the country.

Settlement in the valley is still relatively sparse and sprinkled with fine homesteads, small farmhouses and very large woolsheds. For me that’s one of one the Wairarapa’s attractions – wide open countryside that is slung between broad-shouldered mountain ranges where human presence seems temporary and inconsequential. Great biking country if you have good legs.

Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.

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