Monday, October 7, 2019

In praise of the Remutaka Hill

(First published in The Dominion Post and on, October 3.)

There’s a man named Graeme Farr who’s standing for the mayoralty of all three Wairarapa councils. He’s using his candidacy primarily to promote a road tunnel under the Remutaka Hill.

I can’t see a tunnel happening, because the economics don’t stack up. But I have a sneaking suspicion my wife voted for Farr, contravening my strict instructions. She’s Polish, and genetically programmed to disregard orders.

No doubt there are others living in the Wairarapa who, like her, don’t much care for that steep, winding road over the hill, and many more who believe that a tunnel would unlock (to use a vogueish word) the region’s untapped potential.

But as for me, I want a Remutaka road tunnel about as much as I want a third nostril.

I like the hill. I like the sense of geographical separation from Wellington and the Hutt Valley. When I go to Wellington, it’s always a pleasure to get into the car at the end of the day and point it in the direction of home.

I especially relish the drive back over the hill, which has the almost mystical sensation of passing into a different realm. There’s a point about halfway down the northern side where the Wairarapa valley suddenly comes into glorious view.

It’s always bathed in golden sunshine, no matter how foul the weather on the Wellington side. (Okay, perhaps not always, in fact very rarely at nighttime, but often enough to make me feel smug.)

John Hayes, a former Wairarapa MP, once tried to whip up public interest in a tunnel and approached me for support in the tragic misapprehension that, as a columnist, I might wield some influence.

I politely told him to bugger off. I didn’t want the Wairarapa being invaded by the masses then, and I still don’t. No offence to my friends in Wellington, but I love the fact that there’s a big, formidable barrier to deter interlopers.

I’ve seen what happened to the Kapiti Coast when it morphed from being a pleasant and sleepy seaside retreat to a choked, claustrophobic extension of suburbia.

We lived at Raumati Beach in the 1980s and I knew the rot was setting in when the council insisted on laying a footpath along our street, which had previously had the charming feel of a country lane. We sold up just before they built a housing subdivision in the paddock where our kids used to play.

Since then I’ve watched Kapiti’s infrastructure vainly struggling to catch up with its burgeoning population. It can only get worse when Transmission Gully kicks in.

There’s a lot of growth here in the Wairarapa too, but there's room for it, and it’s manageable.

New subdivisions are going up all over the place and the traffic has intensified to the point where, in what passes for rush hour, you can get stuck at a roundabout for … oh, maybe 20 seconds.

But the Wairarapa still has the distinction of having no traffic lights. How long would that remain the case with traffic pouring through a tunnel?

We can tolerate weekend visitors, with their convoys of motorbikes and classic cars streaming across the hill in search of wide blue skies, open roads, rural pubs and charming rustic scenery, just as long as they head back home at the end of the day.  

We’re okay too with those refined, affluent types from Wadestown and Kelburn who buy weekend retreats in Greytown and then decide it’s so nice that they can do without their house in Wellington. That’s the sort of place Greytown is.  But who knows what impact a tunnel might have on the town where I live?

One of Masterton’s charms is that it’s still a traditional farming town. I like the fact that when you drive into town, you run a gauntlet of agriculture machinery dealers.

I love hearing topdressing planes flying out at first light from Hood aerodrome and returning home at dusk, and I like the tractors and stock trucks that constantly rumble past our place.

I like the friendly and obliging shopkeepers and tradies, and I like the fact that when I ring a plumber he’s pulling up outside before I hang up the phone. (Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration too.)

I don’t want any of this put at risk by intensified urbanisation and more people, which would be the inevitable result of a tunnel. So my message to Graeme Farr is the same as it was to John Hayes.

On the other hand, if Farr promised to lobby for a high-speed bypass around Carterton, which is surely the world's most boring town to drive through (though only by a slim margin over Dannevirke), he might get my vote in 2022. A flyover would be better still.


Vaughan said...

As one who was raised in Masterton (but now lives too far away), I support you 100 percent in your opposition to a road tunnel, and for the reasons you put.

I biked from Masterton up the the Hill when it had an "i" where there is now an "e".

When Dad drove our family to Wellington in the Wyvern to see the All Blacks at Athletic Park (and to see our relations), we always stopped at the summit shop for Tip Top ice creams. Dad would chant: "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream".

Even my sisters, who vomited every time we drove up the hill, would have a double cone of hokey pokey.

The Wairarapa is a special place, only for pilgrims who earn the right to visit.

Greytown used to be a rather humble place where we earned money picking berries of all kinds. Carterton was the home of our rugby rivals, and a handy place to bike to. Martinborough was hardly heard of, and Featherston was the border town.

But best of all is the "metropolis" of Masterton (never quite a city), bordered by rivers of eels, trout and crawlies, with rapids and deep pools. The whole area is guarded by the mighty snow-capped Tararuas,and the Remutaka Hill, and long may it stay that way.

Daz said...

I’ve only just read your blog bio, despite years of reading your work. Hope you still find the time to practise your musical talents. Lovely article.

rowang said...

The Remutaka Hill is the Wairarapa wall. Gotta keep those Mexicans out.

Richard said...

Things I love about Masterton.

1. Never had a parking ticket. Yes there are some meters but only one parking officer and he is normally busy chatting to passers by
2. Tip attendant tells you when it is cheaper to pay by weight and not load.
3. Tradies tell you who is best for the job
4. For the DIYer and life styler, services are better, faster and handier than anywhere else, period.
5. People call you by your first name
6. You can practise marksmanship skills from your kitchen window on innumerable hares and rabbits and possums and no one complains.
7. Mastertonians are the world's best at using roundabouts.

I could go on but 'nuff said...

pdm said...

When did the Rimutaka Hill become Remutaka and does that apply to the whole range??

We went over it (both ways) about 3 weeks ago and I did not notice but, read something last week possibly on Stuff.

Karl du Fresne said...

The New Zealand Geographic Board decided some time ago that Rimutaka was a misspelling that made no sense in Maori. According to local Maori lore, Remutaka, meaning "a place to sit down and rest", was bestowed by a Maori chief when he reached the summit. The revised spelling also applies to the range.

pdm said...

Karl - I live and learn every day.

Thank you.

Doug Longmire said...

(Sigh....Those memories)
Thanks Karl.
Like you I grew up in Raumati South, back in the late 60's and went to Kapiti College. Back in those days we ran free after school, at the beach, in the bush in back of the local farm. Houses did not have locks, big crime was a burglary in Wellington City.
The major scandal was that Mr X of Wellington Road was actually a homosexual is disguise !!!! Quel Horreur !!!
Very different down there now, and the beach has gone !!! Also the local pc council has just about ruined it all.
Thanks again.
P.S. Yes we love the Wairarapa. Only a brief trip over the track from Palmy.

Doug Longmire