East of the Ranges: Central Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa

August 7, 2020
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Lands east of the Ruahine Forest Park are in Central Hawkes Bay, lands east of the Tararua Forest Park are in the Wairarapa: The Manawatū Gorge / Te Āpiti divides the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges. Background map data ©2020 Google. Names of Hawke Bay, Cape Kidnappers / Te Kauwae-a-Māui, Manawatū Gorge / Te Āpiti, Central Hawkes Bay, The Wairarapa, Lake Wairarapa, Maungaraki, Putangirua Pinnacles and Ngawi have been added for the present post. Haurangi Forest Park is an old name, the correct name is now Aorangi. North at top.

GROWING up in Hastings gave me a very outdoor lifestyle. I probably played about eight sports at secondary school and was always outside and active. My favourite beaches were Ocean Beach and Waimarama. They have golden sand and I remember doing a lot of boogie boarding.

Another place we used to go was Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauwae-a-Māui (‘the jawbone of Māui’), an amazing headland that sticks out a long way into the Pacific at the southern end of Hawke Bay, a bit like Young Nicks Head / Te Kurī only bigger. The Cape has a gannet colony at its tip.

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Cape Kidnappers / Te Kauwae-a-Māui from a point near its tip. Photograph by Nicolas Aub, 10 January 2016, CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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‘Uncaptioned photograph of bird colony, possibly gannets at Cape Kidnappers Archives New Zealand Reference: AEFZ 22625 W5727 2598 /3103/0209’, undated image, CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. For “possibly” read almost certainly. That’s certainly what the colony is like.

We would pile into informal trailers and the 4WD Gannet Safari bus that drove along the beach all the way past the huge cliffs that faced north, all the way out to the tip where the gannets wheeled and dived and thronged in huge numbers.

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Driving to the Cape Kidnappers / Te Kauwae-a-Māui Gannet Colony in December 1968, image pomeroy3000008.jpg from the Hawkes Bay Knowledge Bank via DigitalNZ, CC-BY-NC 4.0

These days, there’s a road to the tip of the headland and nobody drives along the beach to get to the gannet colony anymore, though you can still walk it at low tide if you’re brave enough, as it’s considered too dangerous due to the fact that the cliffs keep falling down.

Here are some of my photos from January 2022, which include stop-offs at Te Awanga and Clifton, the last coastal townships on the way to the gannet colony, before you get to the more distant part of the peninsula where the cliffs keep falling down and you need to take the road inland. The locations of Te Awanga and Clifton are shown on the following billboard.

An information panel showing the location of Te Awanga and Clifton relative to Hastings and other communities nearby

Local road sign pointing to the Te Awanga Motor Camp

The road to the gannet colony, in the Te Awanga/Clifton area where the road still hugs the coast

Some historical information

The beach behind the Te Awanga Motor Camp. Looks like high tide.

At the Cape!

The gannets are there from August to April for the purposes of breeding, but they are absent in late spring and early winter. I should have been able to see them in January 2022, but unfortunately, I couldn't get all the way through to the colony because even the road, built to bypass the beaches at risk of cliff collapse near the tip of the peninsula, had itself been blocked by a landslide! In any case, I've got an old photo that is almost certainly of the colony, above. And I've also got photos of gannets in another colony in a post that went up on the last day of 2021, called Muriwai Beach and the Gannets.

The Māori name Te Kauwae-a-Māui refers to the legend by which the great ancestral hero Māui, of recent movie fame, fished the North Island of New Zealand, Te Ika-a-Māui, ‘the fish of Māui’, out of the ocean using a hook made from his grandmother’s jawbone. The cape is either the hook itself, or the place on the fish where the hook caught.

A column describing the legend of Te Kauwae-a-Māui

The name Cape Kidnappers was bestowed by Captain Cook, whose ship’s cabin boy, a Tahitian named Taiata, was abducted from Cook’s ship The Endeavour in a daring commando-raid by several canoe-loads of Māori warriors. Three of the raiders were shot dead by the ship’s marines, Cook writing that more would have been shot if the marines hadn’t been worried about hitting Taiata. The warriors retreated and the frightened boy was able to swim back to the ship. Local oral history holds that the Māori thought Cook had kidnapped one of their own, since Māori and Tahitians are very closely related. It was just the sort of incident that Tupaia, whose Tahitian language could be understood by the Māori, might have been able to defuse if everything hadn’t happened so quickly.

Central Hawkes Bay

I headed south from Hastings into the area known as Central Hawkes Bay, even though it’s actually to the south of the Bay.

There are at least twenty-one Heritage Trails in Hawkes Bay, most of them in the southern part of Hawkes Bay. In 2021, the Hawkes Bay District Council published a pamphlet briefly describing all twenty-one, with links to more detailed pamphlets on each. You can access it here. There is also a tourism website, which for some reason only lists thirteen of the heritage trails, but perhaps goes into some additional details.

I drove past Te Aute, the famous Māori college where the sons of chiefs and future Māori Members of Parliament have been educated since 1854, and through the towns of Ōtāne and, then, Waipukurau, where they filmed the new movie about an over-zealous cop called This TownHawkes Bay’s trying to attract more interest from film-makers via an organisation called the Eastern Screen Alliance— and on into ‘Central’.

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The cover of a book published in 1970 by the imprint of A H and A W Reed. Now a renamed division of Penguin Books, Reed published a great many illustrated nonfiction books on New Zealand topics, avidly bought by the New Zealand public before the coming of TV. It’s pretty difficult to get anything published in New Zealand these days, even though there are now twice as many of us as when television transmissions first began. Fair use of this small cover image is claimed.

This is a rather dry area of countryside, east of the Ruahine Ranges. In fact all of Hawkes Bay is rather dry by New Zealand standards. In the old days the area was famous for sheep-farming: these days, wine-growing has partly taken over instead.

Names like Ormond, once associated with the local sheep-farming aristocracy, are now brands of wine. There are still a few sheep though, and I took some pictures of them on the way through. It was the lambing season, which I always think is really cute.

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This one seems to have had triplets, which is fairly unusual.

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I carried on down toward the Manawatū Gorge, known as Te Āpiti (‘the gorge’) in Māori. Te Āpiti is also the name of a local website describing the gorge’s history and things to do.

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The Manawatū Gorge / Te Āpiti looking west from the Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge Track, showing State Highway 3 (now closed by rockfalls) on the left and the Palmerston North-to-Gisborne railway line on the right. Public domain image (24 May 2008) by ‘SmokeySteve’, via Wikimedia Commons.

In Te Āpiti, which I’ll also call the Gorge, the Manawatū River rises on the east and flows west through a crack in the ranges, called the Ruahine Range to the north and the Tararua Range to the south. Apparently this sort of thing is very unusual in geology: it means that the river is older than the mountains and has stubbornly cut downwards even as the mountains have risen.

Here, too, the cliffs keep falling down. The government is building a new main highway to the north of the Gorge, after having given up on 150 years of keeping the old route free of rockfalls.

There are massive windfarms to the north and south of the Gorge, where the wind funnels through between the two ranges. The one to the north is called the Te Āpiti Wind Farm and the ones to the south are called the Tararua Wind Farm and the Te Rere Hau Wind Farm, Te Rere Hau meaning ‘wind waterfall’ or ‘wind rapids’. The total capacity of these wind farms is 300.25 megawatts, which is getting up there by wind power standards.

New Zealand has been described as the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind’ , the resource so abundant and continual that the wind farms flanking the Gorge have been built without subsidies: a fact that makes them almost unique in the world. But without government support for the infant wind-power industry, its economics has been volatile. Windflow Technology, the local company that designed and built the turbines for Te Rere Hau, incorporating some patented innovations, won a handful of export orders but then collapsed in 2019 because the retailers it supplied in New Zealand’s rather small home market decided that they could take no more wind power in their mix for the time being. Ironically, Windflow Technologies was awarded a European environmental award two days after its commercial liquidation.

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Tararua Wind Farm looking northward toward the Gorge and Mount Wharite (Ruahine Range), with the Manawatū plains on the left and the southern end of Central Hawkes Bay on the right. Public domain image (21 June 2008) by ‘SmokeySteve’ via Wikimedia Commons

So, the idea that New Zealand is ‘clean and green’ is true up to a point: but only because there is such an abundance of wind and hydro (and sunshine) that local politicians have been able to get away with leaving our response to climate change up to market forces. If coal was cheaper locally New Zealand would be coal-fired, like Australia.

The new road to replace the road through the Gorge will run past the stately turning windmills of the Te Āpiti Wind Farm, a fact that should make up for a route now less scenic than it was before.

Before the turnoff to the Gorge, I passed the Scandinavian settlement of Norsewood and then an other, larger one called Dannevirke. The name Dannevirke means ‘earthwork of the Danes’ and only has one ’n’ in the original Danish: an additional ’n’ was added so that British neighbours would pronounce it correctly.

The original Danevirke is a defensive fortification, a sort of ditch, that the Danes dug hundreds of years ago across the neck of land that separates Denmark from Germany. In 1864 the Danevirke was lost to an expanding and consolidating German empire in a conflict called the Second Schleswig War, and remains inside Germany to the present day.

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Dannevirke Railway Station ca. 1903–1915. Archives New Zealand Reference: ABIN W3337 207 R19600150, CC-BY-2.0 via Archives New Zealand on Flickr.

The station and canopy in the photo above date back to 1903. They were designed by the noted New Zealand Railways Department architect George Troup, who also designed Dunedin’s incredible railway station. The 1903 station building was demolished at some point; today’s much smaller and more utilitarian station building dates back to the 1980s. But the surviving canopy is heritage listed, and there’s talk of reviving Dannevirke as a ‘rail hub’.

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In 1987, the town was visited by Queen Margarethe II of Denmark.

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Carrying on through Woodville and Pahiatua, not turning into the Gorge but carrying on south, I came to the town of Mangatainoka, famous for its historic Tui Brewery.

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Photograph by Shirley Williams, CC-BY-NC 3.0 via Te Ara, the Online Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

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Some parts of this district are quite picturesque.

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I eventually came to Mount Bruce, a pass on the edge of the Tararua Range, with the Tararuas on the right and a range of big hills called Pūkaha / Mt Bruce on the left (710 m). Just before the pass there’s the Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, formerly known as Mount Bruce, a really important science and wildlife-rescue facility founded by a local farmer, Elwyn Welch, in 1960.

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Welch stunned the nation in the 1950s by getting his bantams out the back to raise four chicks of the recently-rediscovered takahē, the giant flightless blue fowl that is now well-established in several sanctuaries but which was incredibly endangered back then. It was part of a secret government operation called Operation Password — I hope the password wasn’t ‘password’ — by which the endangered takahē would be fostered in out-of-the-way places, away from prying eyes and would-be collectors.

When I was there in 2020, I saw their white kiwi, a rare attraction that featured prominently on the Pūkaha website and billboards. Her hatching in 2011 was interpreted as an auspicious omen or tohu, a sign of new beginnings, by elders of the Rangitāne o Wairarapa iwi who gave her the name Manukura, meaning ‘of chiefly status’

She was certainly easier to see in the dim light of the kiwi-house than the usual brown, grey, or spotted ones. Which, of course, is why most kiwi are brown, grey, or spotted and why you don’t see too many white rabbits in the farmers’ fields, either.

Manukura: The late white kiwi in the kiwi house at Pūkaha, under dim red lights that simulate night-time conditions. You can just see her head and left eye to the left of her body, down at ground level, and her right leg. Under these conditions, it would have been much harder to photograph an ordinary kiwi, which bears greyish or brownish camouflage.

Sadly, Manukura died a few days before the end of 2020 after an operation to remove an egg that she was not able to deliver (kiwi lay huge eggs relative to their body size). However, her surviving relatives at Pūkaha are known to contain the genetics for white kiwi, so there will be another tohu before too long.

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The reserve was greatly expanded by the gift of Rangitāne land in 2016 and encompasses a whole lot of remnant native forest from what used to be called the ‘Seventy Mile Bush’. Here’s a photo of a trail through native bush in the area, and a selfie in the bush. There’s more in the video that follows.

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There’s also the historic Kaiproro Anzac Memorial Bridge in this area, itself accessible by a trail through the forest in a nearby spot called the W. A. Miller Scenic Reserve.

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Kaiparoro Anzac Memorial Bridge. Photograph by Russell Street via the New Zealand Department of Conservation, CC-BY-SA 2.0.

It seems to get repainted from time to time. Who knows what the colours will be when you go there.

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Kaiparoro Anzac Memorial Bridge. Photograph by Jock Phillips, Te Ara — The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, CC-BY-NC 3.0

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ANZAC is short for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. The 25th of April is called Anzac Day in New Zealand, and is celebrated as a public holiday. The first Anzac Day celebration was in 1916 at Tīnui, a town nearby.

Oh, and here’s another reason to drop in at Pūkaha / Mount Bruce!

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Somewhere before Mount Bruce, I crossed into a region called the Wairarapa, though it’s not much different to Central Hawkes Bay, just further south. The Wairarapa continues the landscape that’s east of the Tararua Range all the way to Cape Palliser, the southernmost tip of the North Island. The name Wairarapa means ‘glistening waters’ and probably refers to what’s now called Lake Wairarapa, a large but shallow lake near the southern end of the region.

The Tararua Range forms a boundary between local Māori iwi, as many natural features do. In the 1820s a chief named Te Whiwhi negotiated an agreement between Ngāti Toa, who had lately conquered lands to the west of the Tararua Range, that they would not cross the range and make war on the Ngāti Kahungunu in the east, nor vice versa.

This was in the time of the Musket Wars, a period of great upheavals caused by the acquisition of modern firearms by some iwi and not others: upheavals which weakened and disunited Māori society and thus paved the way both for New Zealand’s eventual takeover by the British Empire in 1840 via the Treaty of Waitangi, and the large-scale European settlement that followed.

The Musket Wars led to huge changes in the map of tribal areas and a number of long-distance migrations of whole tribes: and as such, to very messy claims of right and redress right down to the present day. For instance, Ngāti Kahungunu and the Rangitāne iwi, of which the latter at one time claimed authority over lands on both sides of the Tararua Range, are both now claiming compensation for land unjustly taken, subsequently, by Europeans in the Wairarapa, with their areas of claim overlapping almost identically.

It is true that the Ngāti Kahungunu had lately conquered the Rangitāne on the on the eastern side of the Tararua Range at the time the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, thereby making the Wairarapa part of the Ngāti Kahungunu tribal area both by custom and in modern New Zealand law, which is based on the 1840 position more or less. But to what extent should the past exercise of might make right in 2020? And how big a can of worms would be opened if today’s judges were to go further in deciding that it did not?

The Tararua Range isn’t very spectacular by New Zealand standards. All the same, it’s one of the places where the sport of tramping, or hiking in the hills, became established in New Zealand, with huts and well-formed tracks. Tramping really caught on in the 1920s. Before then there had just been the odd hunter or party of climbers in the hills, many parts of which were also out of bounds by custom among the Māori.

Eventually I came to Masterton, the biggest town in the Wairarapa. It’s named after Joseph Masters who signed himself ‘A Working Man’, one of a group of land reformers who wanted to make land accessible for small farmers with little capital. To this day there is an institution called the Masterton Trust Lands Trust which holds land in common for all the people of Masterton.

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The statue of Masters instructing a child bears the inscription ‘A Working Man’

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Utopian social experiments of that sort were quite common in colonial New Zealand, where good land was clearly in short supply and where people were determined from the outset to make sure that it wouldn’t be priced out of the hands of ordinary people.

On the one hand there is the question of lands unjustly taken from Māori and also the issue of the taking of too much land: for, old-time Māori were usually prepared to part with some of their lands in areas favourable to colonisation, just not all of them!

On the other hand, utopian experiments like the one which gave rise to the Masterton Trust Lands Trust are also the more acceptable face of New Zealand history: holding out lessons for a present in which the little people can’t afford houses any more, in ways that would have probably horrified Joseph Masters. He would have thought we’d have all progressed a bit more in the direction of equality, and utopia, by now.

This, too, is history that ought to be remembered.

Here’s another thing. In Masters’s time, in 1848 and again in 1855, this whole region was struck by massive earthquakes, which lifted Wellington out of the sea by some distance and increased the amount of useful land for building: a bit like the Napier earthquake of 1931, but in Wellington. The second of the two earthquakes is estimated to have hit 8.2 on the modern Richter scale. But hardly anyone was killed, because there were still comparatively few buildings and not much in the way of a built up townscape as yet, even in Wellington. Anything like that would be absolutely calamitous today.

In 1942 the region was shaken by another major earthquake called the Masterton Earthquake, which wasn’t as bad as the 1931 Napier quake but still had the effect of causing a tall, ornate Victorian masonry clock towers to be pulled down as a safety hazard, creating a flatter sort of skyline.

All these earthquakes that put our towns at constant peril of being wiped off the map are something of a sobering thought. The Australians refer to New Zealand as the shaky isles, possibly as a means of making it not seem so awful that their country suffers from so many droughts and bushfires.

It’s about fifteen kilometres south-east of Masterton that the site of the pā of Maungaraki is located, near Te Wharau Road: the one that I mentioned previously as having apparently been unlocked to Nukupewapewa by a warrior dropped in by glider during the Musket Wars, 120 years before D-Day. I didn’t head down that road, however. Instead, I went north-east to Castlepoint, the best beach-holiday destination on the Wairarapa coast.

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Castlepoint / Rangiwhakaoma. Land Information New Zealand via, Crown Copyright Reserved. North at top.

Castlepoint is another Captain Cook name. The location is known in Māori as Rangiwhakaoma, ‘where the sky runs’, because it’s rather windy and has lots of rapidly scudding cloud. Not ideal for a beach destination I know, but it’s a beach of the bracing kind, at least.

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The arrow on the road exists to remind tourists to keep left. It’s pretty common on New Zealand roads. Which is kind of a sobering thought.

(Tīnui is on the road to Castlepoint, by the way.)

In any case, the main attraction is not the beach or the sun but rather the incredible rock formations that inspired Cook to give it that name, in the form of a rock called Matira / Castle Rock and an offshore reef that impounds an ever-changing system of sandy lagoons.

It’s a high-energy sort of a place.

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The township

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There’s more sand here

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A selfie in the wind!

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The Castlepoint Lighthouse, which is accessible to walkers via a track

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A campground

A photo of the Castlepoint Lighthouse on top of these rocks is on the landing page of the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s Wairarapa: Places to Go guide.

There’s a track to a place called Deliverance Cove, a name that references an 1843 shipwreck of several of Napier’s worthy missionaries.

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The Deliverance Cove Track, I think

And lots of sea-caves, along with a town that sells the essentials, such as ice-creams. In short, the perfect place for a family holiday.

You can get to Castlepoint by air, as there is an airstrip west of the township. Otherwise, it’s a drive from Masterton. You can’t get to it by just driving down the coast, one of the peculiarities of the Wairarapa is that the coast is mostly fairly inaccessible by land, with sheep-stations extending to the high tide mark.

Continuing on, here's a picture of Greytown.

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At the Pāpāwai Marae near Greytown I saw a monument to Ngāti Kahungunu leader, runholder and newspaper proprietor Hamuera Tamahau Mahupuku, who appears as a man of great distinction in a photograph on this biographical link. His younger female relative Maata Mahupuku was also an interesting character, who led a lifestyle that would have been described as Bohemian in those days. Although those were difficult times for Māori, many were by no means beaten down.

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Some of these stations offer a three-day walking tour called the Tora Coastal Walk.

Another accessible beach resort a little further south is called Riversdale Beach. To get there from Castlepoint you have to go inland a bit, though not all the way back to Masterton.

At the southern end of the region, near Cape Palliser, there’s also White Rock Beach, named after a prominent white rock. To get there you have to inland to a town called Martinborough, which is famous as the hub of a wine-growing district with frequent tastings, and also has the best-stocked i-Site I came across.

Even if you want information on other parts of the country, you might well find it in the Martinborough i-Site, and it also had pamphlets I wasn’t able to get elsewhere, such as the Automobile Assocation’s Must Do booklets.

The inland towns of the Wairarapa are all really charming, including the smaller ones: Martinborough, Carterton, Greytown and Featherston. The last of these, Featherston, is now a noted international Booktown, a bookish sort of a place with book fairs. All these towns might have been just farming towns at one time, but these days a lot of Wellingtonians come to the Wairarapa on their days off, and even commute from the Wairarapa via the 8.8 kilometre Rimutaka Tunnel, which was built in the 1950s and is the longest tunnel in New Zealand with scheduled passenger trains.

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NZ Government souvenir programme

The Rimutaka Tunnel was opened in 1955. It replaced a ‘Fell Engine’ service which went over the Rimutaka Range, a southern continuation of the Tararua Range, to and from Wellington. A Fell Engine, named after its Victorian inventor, is a mountain railway locomotive that grips a central rail with driving wheels that press against the centre rail from both sides, like a nutcracker. This gives extra traction and enables the train to go up steep inclines, and also to come down in safety. Up to five Fell Engines at once would drag each train to and from Wellington over the old route, generally referred to as the Rimutaka Incline, though strictly speaking that expression only referred to the steepest section, where the centre-rail system was used. The last surviving Fell Engine in the whole world, which served on the line, is in the railway museum at Featherston.

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Five Fell Engines powering the last train to go over the Rimutaka Incline, 29 October 1955. Upper Hutt City Library (30th Apr 2014). Rimutaka Incline; the last train; five Fell locomotives. [P1–783–2821]. In Website Upper Hutt City Library. Retrieved 6th Aug 2020 22:11, from

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Today, the route of the old railway is called the Remutaka (with an ‘e’) Rail Trail, popular with mountain bikers. It’s really exposed. One of the spots on the trail is called Siberia, and in the 1880s a train was actually blown off the tracks.

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Featherston’s also long been the site of military camps and prisoner-of-war camps in both World Wars. During World War One, between thirty and thirty-five thousand troops hiked over the Rimutakas from Wellington to camp in Featherston, presumably to help get them fit as they could have caught the train.

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During World War Two this little garrison town also became notorious as the site of the 1943 ‘Featherston Incident’ in which a proportion of the 900 Japanese prisoners held there at the time appeared to attempt a suicidal breakout even though they had no hope of getting away long-term. 48 were shot dead by the New Zealand guards, one of whom was also killed by a richochet. In spite of wartime ill-feeling toward the Japanese the ‘incident’ was viewed as most unfortunate, and various reforms were made

Oh yeah, and there’s the usual Lord of the Rings site.

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While I was looking up the architect George Troup, I was amazed to learn tht one of his old stations is to be reconstructed at Maymorn by the Remutaka Incline Railway, a trust which proposes to restore the old railway line, at least partly.

At the southern tip of the Wairarapa, there are the the Cappadocia-like Putangirua Pinnacles and the isolated, south-facing fishing village of Ngāwī.

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The Putangirua Pinnacles. Photograph by Philip Norton via the New Zealand Department of Conservation, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Ngāwī. Public domain image by David Blackwell, originally uploaded 29 August 2006, via Wikimedia Commons.

They say that at Ngāwī there are more tractors or bulldozers than people, because there’s no jetty and the boats are just dragged in and out of the sea. Ngāwī is at the foot of a really impressive hill which is off to the left of the panorama above, and so it looks a bit like a mini-Cape Town.

The content of this post will soon appear in my forthcoming book, A Maverick New Zealand Way: The North Island. I’ll be presenting even more information about the back country of the Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa in a follow-up book about back country roads of New Zealand!

Short walks can be accessed via links here for Central Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa.

Here are useful local tourism websites for Central Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa, respectively:

Hawkes Bay Tourism:

Destination Wairarapa:

Further notes (25 November 2022): I added some more material describing a January 2022 trip out to Clifton Beach and from there to Cape Kidnappers/Te Kauwae-a-Māui, so that I am not relying so much on purely historical recollection! Information about the Hawkes Bay Heritage Trails and the rare white kiwi at Pūkaha/Mount Bruce was also updated.

If you liked this post, you may be interested in my award-winning book The Neglected North Island: New Zealand’s Other Half.


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