A rail route established in 1878 between the Hutt Valley and Featherston carried passengers up the steep incline from the Remutaka summit to Featherston until the opening of the Remutaka rail tunnel in 1955. The innovative Fell mountain railway system pulled trains up the steep slope of the Remutaka Incline.
The rail trail is a gently graded 18 km walk or mountain bike ride. A bike ride from Kaitoke to the Summit takes about an hour.
This makes it an ideal trip for families with children. The trail is also popular with dog walkers.
Interpretation panels telling the colourful stories associated with the former rail line have been installed along the trail which also features restored railway bridges and historic tunnels (take a torch).
There are plenty of photo opportunities along the trail, and a viewing platform located between the Summit and Siberia Tunnels offers a panoramic view of the old Fell engine route coming up from Cross Creek to the Summit.
Enjoy swimming and fishing in the nearby Pakuratahi River and picnic or camp in the pleasant surrounds of Ladle Bend and Summit.
DOC and the Wellington Regional Council now jointly manage the incline as the Remutaka Rail Trail.
Remutaka Rail Trail (Greater Wellington Regional Council) has more information about distances and points of interest.
Greater Wellington Regional Council offers camping at Ladle Bend and the Summit along the Remutaka Rail Trail.
There is also a basic campsite with a pit toilet at Cross Creek.
Access is from either Remutaka Forest Park from Featherston, or Pakuratahi Forest from Upper Hutt.
From Upper Hutt: Turn off SH 2, 9 km north of Upper Hutt. The turn off is signposted to Pakuratahi Forest. The carpark is 1 km along a metal road.
From Featherston: Remutaka Forest Park is about 1 hr 15 minutes drive from Wellington across the Rimutaka Hill Road. In Featherston, turn onto Moore St, continue into Western Lake Rd, and turn right onto Cross Creek Road.
For 77 years specially built Fell engines climbed the Remutaka Incline connecting Wellington and the Wairarapa.
The Remutaka Railway was built as part of an ambitious 1871 Government policy to construct a national railway network to attract immigrants and to help improve New Zealand’s economic base. The aim was to link agricultural hinterlands with major ports like Wellington.
Building this railway across the rugged Remutaka Ranges threw up a technological challenge much greater than found anywhere else in New Zealand. A tunnel was the preferred option but could not be afforded. So the 'temporary' solution was a steep mountain railway.
In the 1870s mountain railways were experimental. In 1863, the English engineer John Fell had patented the first drive friction system, and it had worked on Mt Cenis in the European Alps. New Zealand chose Fell's system to traverse the 4.8 km Remutaka Incline. This was an extremely innovative and bold engineering solution. It involved a centre rail – elevated above the running rail – gripped by a series of horizontal wheels fitted to the specially designed engines, and brake vans which took trains up and down the incline.
The Remutaka Incline was the third and last Fell system to be built. Railway technology continued to evolve swiftly, and within a few decades the innovative Fell system became old technology. Little updating was done on this 'temporary solution’, because a replacement tunnel would be built. Two world wars and a depression delayed this until 1955.
The railway captured the attention of the community as a scenic mountain journey – until sparks from the locomotives caused fires and burnt off all the bush. In the meanwhile traffic steadily grew and the incline operation, once a marvel, became a slow and expensive bottleneck.
"The Rimutaka Incline was an interesting experience for travellers, and before the hills were denuded of forest, the trip provided a picturesque and awe-inspiring experience. It is now a dull and wearisome journey." Evening Post, 9 May 1936
Today, the incline is regarded as a special part of New Zealand's historic heritage and one of the 10 most significant railway heritage sites in the world. It has made its mark in the following ways.-
Visit the Fell Locomotive Museum in Featherston.
Auckland and parts of the Waikato are at Level 3. DOC huts and campsites are closed in these regions. The rest of New Zealand is at Level 2.