It doesn't seem as if many attempt this without a car, but it is certainly do-able and makes for a great day’s adventure. Below I'll go into detail about the trek and the track, but if you'd like just the details and no spoilers here’s how it works out.
Minimum time: ~9 hours
Total miles: ~20 miles (give or take how near to Wellington Railway Station you are)
Elevation: ~1,900 feet
Start: Wellington Rail Station, Wellington, New Zealand
Transit: HVL to Upper Hutt Station (end of line), ~45 mins, $8 NZD
Transfer: Bus 112 from Upper Hutt Station to the stop Plateau Road near Te Marua Store, ~25 mins, $3 NZD
Walk: 1.6 mi (2.6 km) up SH2 Highway to Twin Lakes Road and to the start of the Ridge Track (map)
Hike: 4.5 mi (7.2 km) along the Ridge Track (path)
Continue hike: Turn left at Pakuratahi River Walk, right at paved road and arrive at Rivendell.
Rivendell & Swingbridge: Only take a few minutes to see, then turn around and repeat!
Note: The last Bus 112 leaves at 6:30pm though the train runs later.
Note: Carry cash for the bus. You can get trail food and drinks at market in Wellington Station.
This is a tiny station and at the end of the line so it’ll be easy to remember to get off. The buses line up along the front of the station; take bus 112. It may be worth telling the driver your stop, Plateau Road near Te Marua Store, so that they can help you get off at the right spot (there are multiple stops along Plateau Road so make sure to get off at the corner by the store (store is handy if you realize you’ve forgotten something)).
After you exit the bus you’ll be at the intersection of a major highway, the SH2. Looking down it to your right (away from where you’ve just come on the bus) you’ll see a fork in the road with signs not far ahead. The left fork is the way to Twin Lakes Road and Kaitoke Park. This is quite a fast highway (80 km/hr) so you’ll have to skillfully make a dash across and walk along the shoulder of the road (near a golf course).There is just a small section of road without a shoulder. It’s right when the road forks to the left, be careful!
Follow Twin Lakes Road and pass a reservoir to your right and perhaps cattle on your left. There will also be brightly colored parrots and a neat looking black bird. This stretch feels quite remote but continue to follow the signs for Ridge Track. There are restrooms located in a concrete building that looks like part of the set from Lost. Just beyond this you’ll continue left at the next fork where the sign points to Ridge Track. At the end of the road there is a small clearing, signage and the trailhead!
Continue through the meadow, over a wee bridge and into another meadow. You’re getting started, wow! In the the meadow where you can see the power line tower there is a path that goes to the right—it goes over to some bee hives. Unless you want to see them, continue forward on the path, which looks like the image below.
The track is filled with different kinds of plants which change throughout the course. Sometimes you’re covered in a thick canopy of trees and ferns and much of the light is gone, other times you can see up but you can’t see over. Many kinds of mosses, ferns an other groundcover exist like this little leaf-plant, just bein’ a leaf-plant, in the bottom right photo.
Near the bus stop I saw pine trees reminiscent of the Southern Pines I grew up with in Georgia. Along the trail I saw fern-like trees, trees like the one above with amazing trunks, and trees like those below that reached up into the air with their pom pom canopy.
There are two lookouts along the track—they’re gorgeous. One overlooks the valley and part of Upper Hutt that you started from. The other looks out the rest of Kaitoke. In the morning the clouds were low and the air moist, on my return hike the sun was out in full force and the blue sky emerged.
These lookouts are about halfway through the track. The second half of the track is much more root-covered and rocky than the other—mind your ankles!
After the very descent-y descent you’ll come to the official end of the Ridge Track and take a left to continue onto Pakuratahi River Walk. The signs suggest it will take 3 hours one-way, but it took me (and others as I read in reviews) about 2 hours, maybe 10 mins more. I stopped at both the lookouts and stopped often for macro photos of mosses as well.
Pakuratahi River Walk will lead you to a paved road and you’ll see a sign, not far away, for Rivendell. This is where scenes for Rivendell were filmed for the Lord of the Rings. All of the sets are gone however and quite a lot was added on digitally later. But still, Legolas stood here! Across the way from Rivendell is a swingbridge, that is very swingy and fun if you’re into that sort of thing (I am!).
There are picnic tables and restrooms and this is a good spot to take a break. And then go back and do it all over again!
I mean the part of Ridge Track that you have to do-all-over-again to get back, not the entire journey. There isn’t another way out that side of the park (when you’re on foot) so you’ve got to just turn around and go for it. Apparently some people run it. Going back up the ascent at the end was tough. I leaned on many-a-tree. But I was still able to power through the flat areas and even jogged a little during the descents. The trip back over the Ridge Track also took just over 2 hours.
I wore running shoes and loose pants and was fine, but my ankle did move a lot and a walking stick probably would have been handy. So if you happen to have a stick and hiking boots with you in New Zealand, definitely bring them along, but don’t miss out on this just because you don’t!
I caught the 3:38p bus back to Upper Hutt Station and the 4:00p express train that gets back to Wellington in about 30 mins. I walked back to where I was staying and, when all said and done, I clocked in 21 miles and was home at 5:00p. Achievement!
It was exhilarating and I wasn’t as sore as I thought I’d be the next day. I went alone. The quiet time was nice—I knew that would be—but it’s a bit hard to embark on something as unknown as this on my own and I’m really glad I did.