Today, the Akatarawa Road between Waikanae and the Upper Hutt provides a beautiful scenic route through rugged native forest and forestry country, with views across the valley out to sea [click here to view location]. The road largely follows the Akatarawa River, which joins the Hutt River north of Upper Hutt. However, even today, it is a treacherous stretch of road if not driven slowly and carefully; it is narrow and windy, with frequent slips making it impassable. So it is worth sparing a thought for those who first built the road; and those who used it with horse and cart to haul timber, as shown in the photograph above.
The construction of the Akatarawa Road was a lengthy process, spanning half a century. Construction was first begun in 1876 and initially work proceeded rapidly – on the Upper Hutt side. However, progress was thwarted on the Waikanae side by the issue of Maori land ownership, and it was not until 1890 that the bridle track was gradually developed from Reikorangi. After the World War I, the bridle track was steadily developed into a narrow, unsealed road. The road was important, because not only did it provide a route from the coast to Wellington, it also provided access to extensive areas of native forest for milling. Forestry has been a mainstay of this area since the end of the 19th century, and remains an important industry today – only now, it is plantation (Radiata pine) rather than indigenous forestry.
Akatarawa means ‘trailing vines’, probably referring to the dense supplejack vines that often make these forests almost impenetrable. The large area of native forest to the west of the road was once the last refuge of the now-extinct huia: the last reported sighting in the region (and one of the last in New Zealand) was in 1905 at the western end of Akatarawa Valley, near Reikorangi. Today, wild goats, rather than huia, make their home on precipitous ridges at the top of the valley [see photo right].
Photo top: Horse drawn timber wagons on the Akatarawa road circa 1908-1910. Photograph taken by Sydney Charles Smith. Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, ref. PAColl-3082-04. Centre: Looking down through the valley towards the coast from Akatarawa Road. Above right: A mountain goat and its family was resting on the ledge just below where I took this photo.
Sources/further reading: Wellington Places – Tararua Range, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand; “Waikanae – Past & Present” (1988), by Chris and Joan Maclean.