We’ve driven some crazy roads in rental cars during our travels, most notably Cerro de la Muerte in Costa Rica and the remote and deeply rutted mountain pass from Copan Ruinas in Honduras to Guatemala. Our first inkling that we might be in for another one came when we were stopped by a traffic signal on a narrow quiet road through a beautiful gorge. When we finally got the green light we started noticing that the slim outside lane had crumbled away here and there, whether from flooding or landslides we couldn’t tell, but there were a lot of road crews out shoring up the supports on the downhill side. Luckily we were driving on the inside lane so I was spared the horror of staring into the abyss below. As we gained elevation we could see for miles and realized we were heading for a twisty mountain pass.
At the top of the pass a kiosk informed us that we were on the Rimutaka Hill Road, initially laid out in 1843 as a steep and dangerous bridle path that connects more rural areas to bigger markets in Wellington. The road remains a challenge even today because it has its own weather system as the wind from the Wellington side kicks up through the pass. During World War I about 60,000 soldiers made the three day march over the mountains from the training camp in Featherston to Wellington where they mustered for deployment overseas. It was an epic journey they undertook enthusiastically thinking they were embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, but sadly so many of them never returned home. Today the road is memorialized for having played an important role in New Zealand’s history.
It was a beautiful drive and we lingered at the top despite the brisk wind in awe of the minds of people who can envision a way over mountains, and sad for so many young men for whom this was their last expansive view of their gorgeous country.