Hiking in the Rimutaka Forest Park


251 Days on the Road

So what’s the first thing we do when we get back onto the more civilised North Island? Now that we are back in the capital city?! We have entertainment, art, culture, food and drink all at our finger tips! The possibilities are endless! So we hop in the car and head straight to one of the Wellington region’s forest parks. Whurrrt?!

That’s right, we’re not quite ready to transition back to city life yet. Besides, last time we were in Wellington, we experienced the cosmopolitan life of Wellington by visiting Wellywood, checking out the Te Papa Museum, discovering the tastes and sights of the city, touring the Parliament buildings, and bird-watching in Zealandia. The great thing about Wellington is that when you want a break from the city life, there are plenty of natural experiences to be had within an hour’s drive of the city centre. With this in mind, we check out of Base, hop in the car, and head to Wainuiomata.

The journey to the Catchpool Valley

Wainuiomata, a wee Lower Hutt suburban town, is a focal point for six recreational parks/reserves. Other than that very fact, we don’t have much of a plan when heading there, but when we see heaps of signs to the Rimutaka Forest Park, we figure that must be a good place to go.

Our signpost-following journey takes us on a coastal road on the edge of a forested valley, yet still with the sight of urbanisation. The road eventually takes us into the Catchpool Valley. Yep, we are in the wilderness again. That’s New Zealand: one moment you can be surrounded by civilisation, the next, you see nothing but towering mountains and a long stretch of road ahead of you.

Reading material with our lunch

Rimutaka Forest Park is a recreational haven. We pass various picnicking spots and a campsite along the way until we reach a car park with its very own information shelter and maps. We stuff ourselves with a quick sandwich in the information shelter before picking a track to tackle. From the earthquake activity in the area to the Maori history, there are quite a few things to read about (and some great reading material to go with a sandwich).

Sandwiches eaten and sunscreen applied, we assess the map on display in the car park. There are about 10 different hikes accessed from the car park alone, all very well connected, ranging from 30 minutes to 10 hours! We decide to go for the Five Mile Loop Track and take it from there.

The Five Mile Loop

We cross over a wooden footbridge crossing Graces Stream, a stream that provides swimming holes and serves campgrounds further down and upstream. After passing yet another picnic area, we are suddenly delving into the forest! Thanks to a guided walk we did back in Fiordland National Park in the South Island, we tell from the tiny golden leaves carpeting the floor that we are in a beech forest. Lush green moss lines the edges of the walking track and shallow tree roots create natural steps to gradually climb higher into the hills. We love how rugged this track formation feels with a few things to climb over, some steep hillsides to try and not fall down… It always makes it a bit more fun when it feels more adventurous, don’t you think?

The wild forest of the Rimutaka Forest Park

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Gracing Graces Stream with our presence

As we ascend up this dense forested hill, the sight of Graces Stream comes back into view on the valley floor below. We even take a short side-trip to a rough-and-ready campsite along the stream where we meet a guy collecting wood for his tiny fire. (How can he stand to sit next to a fire in this scorching summer heat?!). Nevertheless, it looks like a true wilderness camping spot (plus, it’s free!)

Switching to the Middle Ridge Track

Once we reach the highest point on the Five Mile Loop Track, we come to a cross roads. We can continue the loop back down to another valley or head back to the car park via the Middle Ridge. We decide to take the latter back so we can enjoy this elevated part of the mountain for a little while longer.

Although we can’t compare the Middle Ridge Track to the other ones we didn’t take (because we didn’t take them), we are pretty happy with our decision. By sticking to the highest part of the mountain, we see a total change in vegetation to the more prickly and rugged – the stuff that can withstand the tougher weather conditions on these hilltops.

Cicada central!

Robin does start complaining that we have hardly seen any birds though. To be fair, we have been completely spoiled lately with wildlife across the water in the Marlborough Sounds. Signs around the forest park, including “kiwi zone” signs, indicate that there is wildlife to be seen in this forest. Even if there are birds chirping away, we wouldn’t be able to hear them over the loud and excessive clicking of cicadas! The forest is full of them! We have to shout at each other to be heard.

Wonderful views, tree dens and the steep way down

One of our senses may be occupied with clicking sounds, but our eyes are now sneaking glances of some awesome views of more bush-clad mountains rolling out into the distance making the hike on the mountain ridge well worth it.

Something we don’t expect along the way is quite an impressive den made out of branches!

Less than an hour later, we realise we are super happy about the way we came up this ridge. Now, we have a steep section to negotiate all the way back down to the car park. We are so glad we are only using this track to go downhill!

Thank you, Rimutaka Forest Park, thank you

As we make our way back to the car, we discuss that although we were sad to be leaving the South Island yesterday, getting straight back into that “wilderness” feel by hiking in the Rimutaka Forest Park has been reassuring. We will without a doubt still get the natural experiences we love so much in the North Island!

Back in the city centre for another couple of days, we check into Nomads Capital, the home of the free pancake breakfast. Last-minute bookings in the busy summer season often means hostel-hopping in the most popular places.

Join us tomorrow when we stay in the city to check out the Botanic Gardens by historic cable cart!

Just catching a glimpse of the view from atop the wild Middle Ridge

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See you tomorrow!


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