Monday, April 09, 2007

I've been walking on the railroad

There always seems to be a battle between those who would use the land for economic development, "progress" they like to call it, and those who struggle to preserve as much of nature as they can. Here in New Zealand, it's often a noisy struggle, particularly as property values increase and the temptation to develop the hell out of the country becomes harder to resist.

While the overriding trend is towards greater development of previously natural land, sometimes things work the other way. Land that once had an industrial use is no longer needed for that purpose, and is reclaimed as recreational land.

This has happened all over the world, particularly on waterfront land. As commercial ports become more efficient, they don't require as much space as they once did. Cities are turning their ugly ports into pleasant waterfront areas. It has happened in Toronto, San Francisco, and even here in Wellington.
One of the other places where this can happen is on disused railway lines. In many places where rail was once the only way to move goods (and people) the roads have improved to the point where it no longer makes sense to use trains. Or in the case of the Rimutaka pass here in Wellington, they replaced a winding, mountain pass with a more direct tunnel under the mountains.

So what was once the only way to get from the Hutt Valley to the Wairarapa over the Rimutaka mountains (from the 1870s to the 1950s), is now a pleasant walking track called the Rimutaka Rail Trail.

G and I took a walk there last weekend, since the weather was almost perfect for walking. We didn't cover the whole trail, because it's a five hour, one-way journey that would have left us on the wrong side of the mountains. Instead we walked from the Hutt side to the summit, and back again. It took six hours for the return journey.

Although it is an uphill walk (for the first half anyway), the gradient is so gradual that you hardly notice. The track is more like a gravel road, and there were more bicycles out than walkers. The remains of the railway history are marked by informational signs here and there, as well as a few physical reminders. There are a couple of tunnels, the summit tunnel is over 500 metres long and awfully dark inside! A restored bridge also retains its original feel, and some engine remains at the summit are rusting away in all their glory.
I can't really classify this as a hike, more like a very long stroll through a park. But it was nice to get outdoors on a beautiful fall day, and take advantage of a bit of Wellington's industrial history returned to its semi-natural splendour.


Determinist said...

Excellent blog Michelle.

I have not been on that track... also called "The Rimutaka Incline" I believe. There is a run there every year - Kris Persson once tried to fanangle Andy Chilton and I into running it.

It sounds like a great walk - maybe with 2 cars one day we can arrange a 1 walk walk.

Andy Chilton said...

Yeah, it didn't sound like a run I wanted to do - but as a walk, it sounds fantastic and one I can't believe I haven't done yet.

You're right, last weekend was excellent and I managed a 3 hour walk in Karori Sanctuary to make the most of it :-)

Maple Kiwi said...

Yeah, we could definitely do a car shuttle some time. I'm up for any excuse to stop for a slice of cake in Featherston! (Guilt-free after a five hour walk I should think.)

Anonymous said...

Something Similar happen in Andalucia. railway track now laid as pathways for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Is what we call "Via Verde" or Greenways as you can see in this post in andalucia travelguide

Maple Kiwi said...

Cool, it's a worldwide phenomenon! There were certainly trails like this back in Ontario too.