When we make the effort and take the time to go on a family biking adventure like riding The Remutaka Cycle Trail, we want it to be an enjoyable experience. To have a ‘great’ multi-day biking adventure it comes down to planning and preparation.

In this story I am going to introduce you to the John family (Mum, Dad, 14 year old boy and 12 year old girl) and their experience of riding a variation of the Remutaka Cycle Trail.  Maymorn (Upper Hutt) to Eastbourne via the Remutaka (Rimutaka) Incline in January 2020.

The Remutaka Cycle Trail is part of the NZ Cycle Trail Network making up one of the 22 great rides. It is located in the lower North Island starting in Petone and finishing in Oronogorongo.  It is graded from easy to advanced by the NZ Cycle Trail. We did a variation on this ride:

We traveled from Central Wellington to Maymorn on the train (located just past Upper Hutt). Biked from Maymorn over the Rimutaka Incline to the Waiarapa and down to the south coast (Ocean Beach). Along the coast (wild coast ride) and around to Days Bay where we caught the ferry back to Central Wellington. This trip is approximately 100km and we completed it over 2 days.

Is it doable?

How far is the biking journey? Approximately 98km.  We choose to do this ride over 2 days, staying a night near Lake Waiarapa. To complete this journey your family needs to be able to ride between 40-60km per day. Given the variable weather conditions that you can encounter in this part of New Zealand if you have any doubts then I suggest you either;

  1. Finish at Oronogorongo (there are shuttle pick ups available) or
  2. Stay an additional night at Orongorongo (Riverstone Cottage) making this a 3 day journey
DAY ONE – Maymorn to Ocean Beach = 58 km – is it doable?

Section 1: Maymorn to Cross Creek – 25km… it is 17km to the summit of the Rimutaka Incline

The day starts with you making your way along a gravel and sealed road to the start of the Rimutaka Incline. Once on the incline it is a nice gradual climb on compacted gravel up to the summit. This very family friendly section has lots of points of interest and fun to keep all the family inspired and smiling.

  • The regular information posts make for a lot of interest and nice regular breaks as well as regular opportunity for the family to regather.
  • The are 3 tunnels to enjoy on your journey up the Remutaka Incline: Mangaroa Tunnel, Pakuratahi Tunnel and Summit Tunnel… so carry a torch!
  • We found a spot under one of the bridges for a refreshing dip in Pukuratahi River.

Section 2 : Cross Creek to Ocean Beach 33km. (The South Coast of the North Island)

This section is traveling towards the coast on a sealed rural road – Western Lake Road down to Ocean Beach.

Where to stay:

The best place to stay if choosing this 2 day itinerary is Te Rakau Birding that has a couple of converted railway cabins (located near Ocean Beach)

If choosing to do the ride over three days then Karaka Cottage on Waiorongomai Station located 13km along Western Lake Road from Cross Creek offer a better balanced ride for km/day. Karaka Cottage also offer catering options. Combine this with staying at Riverstone Cottage at Orongorongo or you can finish up here.

If you have the ability to carry gear then camping at the basic DOC campground at Corner Creek just beyond Ocean Beach on the south coast may be an option.

Maymourn station

Off the train at Maymorn Station and ready to start the trail

gates on Rimutaka Incline goRide

These gates are at regular intervals on the Rimutaka Incline… please consider ease to get through them if using a kids bike seat or trailer

Information board Rimutaka Cycle Trail goRide

Infromartion posts that provide interesting history at regular intervals along the Rimutaka Incline

DAY TWO – Ocean Beach to Days Bay = 39 km – is it doable?

Section 1: Ocean Beach to Orongorongo 17km

This section along the Wild Coast is exposed and rugged. You are riding on course sand which can provide challenges for traction and also gravel and rock sections. There are a few places along the way that require you to walk your bike to get over the rock. See photos.

Don’t be put off though, 90-95% along here was ride-able for our family and getting off didn’t cause any issues at all.  The key is to allow time as this on/off type riding and the terrain means that the distance you can travel is a lot slower.

Section 2: Orongorongo to Days Bay 21km

From Orongorongo you need to bike approximately 2km up the valley on the sealed road to a bridge so you can cross the Wainuiomata River. Once across the bridge you have a bit of a steep climb up the sealed/gravel road – up and over Baring Head and then down – back to the coast. Turn right and continue to make your way around the coast continuing past Pencarrow Lighthouse. Yes, its worth a stop.  It can be busy with day trippers so carrying a lightweight lock to lock the bikes together so you know they will be safe as you do the short walk up to the old lighthouse.

Continue to ride the coast to Eastbourne along the Eastbourne Esplanade to Days Bay…where you can catch the ferry to Wellington (bikes travel free).

Ocean Beach goRide

Reached Ocean Beach

Rocky sections Rimutaka Cycle trail goRide

An example of the rocky sections of the trail that require you to dismount your bike and walk

South Coast Rimutaka Cycle trail sandy track goRide

Beautiful views along the south coast on the Remutaka Cycle Trail

What skills will you need to do this ride? This track is graded as an easy to intermediate track. The track is a combination of sealed road, compacted gravel, course sand and rock (which will require you to dismount your bike and walk across). The technical riding comes from being comfortable riding on sand and small rocks and being comfortable getting on and off your bike.

What level of fitness will you need to do this ride? You will need moderate levels of fitness. The Rimutaka Incline is well graded trail but at other times along the way you will need to do some short climbs. You will need endurance to complete the ride – although there are many options and variations of the number of days and your start and finish points. Simply, you can tailor the ride to suit your families capabilities.

How could the weather effect the success of your journey?  The location of the track, in the Wellington region, and being a very exposed track means that weather can play a large part in the success of your journey. This is a challenge to manage as a family as you obviously cannot control the weather. Some things to help – keep your days shorter (so maybe complete over 3 days).  Have some flexibility on the days you can choose to ride.

Is this ride possible with kids attached or towed? The ruggedness of this ride as well as the daily distance means it is not an ideal ride for kids attached. We carried a  Tow Whee tow rope  with us and we used it.  It is easy and light to carry and it assisted my 12 year old girl at the end of day 2 when struggling against a very good Wellington wind.  Also up and over Baring Head.

Tow Rope Rimutaka Cycle Trail goRide

Towards the end of day 2 – a tired Hollie and a good Wellington head wind – required the tow rope we were carrying to be attached and we continued our journey with SMILES still on the kids faces.

South Coast Rimutaka Cycle trail goRide

We were blessed with a beautiful day… but the weather can certainly be more rugged on this exposed part of the trail.

Feeling Comfortable

To have an enjoyable experience riding the Remutaka Cycle Trail you need to make sure you are comfortable in the weather conditions while riding your bike.  You also need to be comfortable carrying gear. The gear you carry will depend on the support you choose (where you stay, self catering versus catered) at minimum you will need to at least carry gear for the day – additional clothing as well as food and water.

Comfortable in the weather conditions

You will be riding for a number of hours each day so clothing choice needs to not restrict any movement. It also needs to protect and regulate temperature. The Remutaka Cycle Ride is an exposed trail so you need to be prepared for all types of weather conditions.  The gear required will vary a little depending on the time of year doing the trail.

Comfortable on the bike

The right type of bike.  You are going to be riding on varied terrain but the rocky sections along the coast mean that mountain bikes are ideal. Though a gravel bike can be an option.

Comfortable at the contact points on the bike.  You are on the bike for a number of hours each day, for 2 plus consecutive days.  The surface is bumpy, being comfortable on the bike is a MUST.

  1. Your bottom on the seat.  A comfortable saddle – a women’s specific saddle that is set up correctly. Bike seat adjustment.   Shop Padded Bike Pants and Women’s Bike Saddles.
  2. Hands on the handlebars.  Bike gloves and  bike brake levers set up correctly.  Shop bike gloves
  3. Feet on the pedals.  Merino socks and footwear for on and off the bike.

We will be working on riding in a relaxed and efficient riding position. Chi Riding (Chi Riding – Tip 1 – Riding Position, Tip 2 – Core control, Tip 4- Breathing).

Comfortable carrying gear

You are riding in a reasonably remote area – you need to be comfortable carrying gear – first aid kit,  wet weather/warm clothing  as well as food and water for the day.

To help with balance and control of our bikes on the terrain, we carried our gear within the confines of the bike in a small backpack, frame bags, handle bar bags, seat bags, and a rear carrier with a dry bag.

Access to water & food…We need to carry food and water for each day of riding. There are some water options along the way. On the Rimutaka Incline and also Cross Creek Campground.

Being Safe

There is a lot of crossover between feeling comfortable and being safe – being comfortable will also support your safety. The main thing is we need you to consider both comfort and safety.

Your bike and safety

Clean and prepare the bike and the chain. Do you need to do any maintenance work? Change the brake pads? Check the tyres for tread and any wear. Our family carries tools, split between us, to help ensure that we can fix most problems or challenges along the way.

What tools will you need to take and carry? Check out our tool kit suggestions for a multi day mountain bike ride.

Before you head out on the trail each day you will need to do a pre-ride bike safety check – is it safe?  A checklist to complete pre-ride so that you know your bike is in working order, and then you can prevent and/or solve any issues before you start the day.

You and safety

You are in the backcountry so you need to tell someone when and where you are going, how long you are going for and when you expect to be back. Carrying a cellphone is always a good idea but there any many areas of the New Zealand backcountry that do not have cell phone coverage. If you are in a remote area it is suggested that you carry a personal locator beacon. PLB.

You have checked your bike now we need to know that YOU are safe. See Am I safe to Bike Tour? A checklist to complete that ensures you are safe to goRide.

Safety in the environment

Carry a Map – Over the Rimutaka Incline the track is very well signposted at every kilometre so it is very hard to go wrong. Once leaving the Incline it is important to understand your route. A map is useful to know exactly where you are and how much further you need to go etc. The kids often enjoy this understanding and enjoy helping with planning and motivation along the way.

Carry a First Aid Kit – Accidents can and will happen. We are prepared with a compact first aid kit for mountain bikers to help us deal with minor injuries  See First Aid Kit for Bike Touring.

Carry a personal locator beacon. Make sure the whole family know who is carrying it and where it is located.

Having Fun

Riding the Rimutaka Cycle Ride and experiencing this part of New Zealand on a bike is very rewarding. There is great variation over the ride…lots for all ages of the family to enjoy. The Rimutaka Incline has great history and the information boards are full of interesting information.  The tunnels, and the Siberia Swing Bridge… fun fun fun. On the southern coast there is wildlife to enjoy… we saw a large pod of dolphins and there is a seal colony at Turakirae Head. The Pencarrow Lighthouse makes for another destination to get to along the way.  Finishing in Eastbourne/Days Bay which has plenty of cafes to enjoy and if the weather allows a dip in the sea before you head back to Wellington on the ferry. 

For our family holiday we decided to link up the Timber Trail with a trip to Rotorua to enjoy its cultural diversity as well as spending time on the mountain biking trails.

Tunnel Rimutaka Incline goRide

Bring a torch…there are tunnels to go through and the summit tunnel incline is long

new bridge Rimutaka Incline goRide

Siberia swing bridge…super fun to ride…maybe we went back for a second go. It can get windy here so a little caution if it is blowing

Does it fit?

If you are keen to experience a multi-day, 100km, bike ride starting with a train ride and finishing with a boat ride then this track is a good option for your family. Just make sure you are prepared for what the weather may throw at you!

get Inspired and goRide – The Remutaka Cycle Trail NZ (variation of)

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Related Resources:

How to have a great multi-day mountain bike adventure

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