If you want to get up close and personal with Wellington’s rugged terrain in a civilised fashion and at the same time be rewarded with stunning vistas, moments of peace and beauty in the beautiful town belt and a sprinkling of heritage finds, then the Southern Walkway is for you. Read more
Posts from the ‘Wellington Hill Walks’ Category
After I moved to Wellington 11 years ago I took myself out exploring to get acquainted with the place. One such outing was to Makara Beach, on the south-western coast, for I walk I’d read about – over farmland up to coastal gun emplacements.
It was great – though very belatedly I read a sign which said there was to be no access during lambing season. Guess which season it was? Doh.
I returned to Makara a couple of times in the ensuing years but never ventured beyond the beach. Finally last year it seemed like a good idea to haul Mike and boys out there to repeat the walk.
After a short walk hugging the beach we went inland and fairly quickly headed ‘up’. The up on this walk is a decent one which on this crisp clear autumn day this meant stunning views out to the Tasman.
The gun emplacements are remnants of Fort Opau, a twin 6” battery established as part of our World War II coastal defence system. It became operational in 1942, though as with many such sites in NZ (thankfully), there transpired to be no invading forces to ever fire a shot at.
The walkway can be tackled as a loop though I don’t think I realised that at the time. I’d like to go back and do that but this day we just retraced our earlier steps.
No lambs were harmed in the making of this post.
We strode back down the track to the intersection of Wilkinson and Trig, turning right into the latter. It was more rustic than the earlier path though there was still a vaguely discernible track.
With camera in hand I wandered along much as I had on the way up, gazing out and up more than down. Then I tripped on one of the many exposed tree roots and thought I had better be more attentive.
However the track was damp and slippery from recent rain and best endeavours to be careful and sure-footed still didn’t save me from another couple of trips and falls. (More from good luck than good management my camera and dodgy wrist escaped intact.) Mike it transpires could be part-mountain goat and he almost skipped down the treacherous path.
The brochure compared the Trig track to the other: “Considerably steeper, with narrow, uneven sections.” Pretty accurate really. Later we surmised that it could have been the original track up to the summit.
It was a good call that we didn’t walk up this way.
The track was only 2km long and when the terrain started to even out it was a good clue we were nearing the end. This also boded well for my chances of staying upright.
The kaka was quite happy in his tree but I’ve seen photos of them perched on people. In my last post, another blogger commented that one had bit her lip as it sat on her while she was eating a cracker!
There was enough time before the ferry was due to have a decent walk around. We were keen to find some takahe but they weren’t keen to find us and stayed well hidden. Not to worry, there was plenty of amazing vegetation to take in and the inevitable bird or two of varieties that weren’t playing hard to get.
The ferry arrived and we stepped off Kapiti Island.
As something of a bonus we tracked north along the eastern shore to collect visitors from the North End, which gave us a peek there. The island’s only accommodation is here (on private land that has been looked after by the same family since the 1820s) as are a few other walks. Another day maybe.
A few months ago I notched up my 10th year of living in Wellington and realised I still hadn’t been to Kapiti Island.
One of the region’s best regarded features, Kapiti Island is a beautiful nature reserve managed by the Department of Conservation and is renowned as a bird sanctuary. Its iconic profile is prominent as you drive along State Highway 1.
Why had I been so slack? It’s not like it’s far away, being only a few kms off Paraparaumu Beach on the Kapiti Coast, which on a good day is about 45 mins drive north from Wellington city. But quite often it’s the stuff on your doorstep you don’t get round to doing.
I did try once before, a few years ago. The logistics involve booking a permit, a ferry ride that is quite weather sensitive, and an early start. The sailings were cancelled on the day I booked and I never got round to rescheduling.
What finally spurred me into action was a hefty price increase! With a short time horizon, Mike and I synchronised calendars and booked. But this attempt was another dud as the early morning phone call confirmed the ferry was again cancelled. We were down to just one more compatible day before the price hike.
And finally, a slightly kinder forecast meant that it was on. Early one Sunday in late January we shot off up the coast to find the Kapiti Boating Club.
On account of the looming price rise, the charter company said this was their biggest ever day for passengers. As a result they had to run a second early sailing and we had been put on the second. I wasn’t too happy about that as our return time was unchanged meaning we’d have less time on the island. I wanted to walk up to the highest point and the published times suggested this was going to be pretty tight.
When it was time we all walked across the beach to the boat, still on its trailer at that stage. The launching process was unusual in that regard but soon enough we were making our way across the choppy waters.
There are two destinations on Kapiti Island to choose from. We were going to Rangatira, roughly half way along the eastern shore, where up to 50 people can visit per day. Turns out we were the only two of our sailing getting off here. North End is the other stop where 18 visitors per day are permitted.
With time a bit scarce I was keen to find the track and get going. But first we sat through the talk, which went a bit quicker with just the two of us. She said the previous session was with 40 people.
Which got us thinking. Maybe our later arrival would be to our advantage as we wouldn’t be caught up with the ‘crowds’.
Finally we were released. There are two paths up to the top: the 3.8km Wilkinson Track and the 2km Trig Track. The brochure said they take the same amount of time. We tossed the figurative coin and turned up the longer track.
Later on we’d thank ourselves we did.
It was a beautiful walk. We’d get the occasional peak out across the water but for the most part we were enclosed in some of the most gorgeous native bush you’ll find in NZ. We didn’t make too much effort to find or see birds, that wasn’t really why we were there, so unless they jumped out and waved hello (which they didn’t) we would be oblivious to their presence.
After powering up the hill, pausing numerous times for photos, passing a couple of rowdy family groups, we came to the intersection where both tracks meet and you make the final trudge up to the summit.
We arrived at the summit well inside the two hour guideline, hungry and ready to sit down. Momentarily taken aback at how many people were in the small clearing, we headed on up to the trig lookout. It wasn’t the clearest of days but it was a unique vantage point here at Tuteremoana with views both west out to the Tasman Sea and east back to the mainland.
The lunch break was occupied with chewing and more weka watching.
With an eye on the clock we didn’t stay too long, keen to get back down and explore the flat. Mike suggested we take the Trig Track and yep, that seemed a good idea to me. Of course I didn’t know then what I would soon be finding out.
In the absence of an obvious path down the steep and scrubby hillside, Mike was appointed chief trail blazer. I tagged along behind in slightly more hesitant fashion, clambering with one hand where required due to the other gripping the DSLR. This made the fence crossings especially awkward.
We must have encountered about five fences, some could be climbed through, others over. Lots of potential to do mischief to oneself, but we coped. I like to think my farm upbringing makes me extra qualified to deal with fences.
Eventually, after scrambling uphill and downhill and trudging through bog (tried to use my lightest footsteps to minimise the mud effect, but who am I kidding), we emerged back in civilisation. Though we were initially perturbed by the 10 foot high fenced off complex.
On the other side we joined a paved road for the short walk to Fort Ballance. I’d been there once before and for me it is the most interesting place on Miramar peninsula. The fort was the first in Wellington, constructed in the late 1800s as a result of the Russian war scares. It remained operational during the two world wars before closing in 1959. The second photo on this page shows the fort during its construction years.
I spent a blissful half hour or so tearing around taking photos.
This diagram shows the general layout of Fort Ballance.
Last year it was announced that this area is to become a public reserve which will see the fort restored. It is fantastic that a concerted effort will be made to preserve this local history and make it more accessible. Though I have to say, it does have a certain charm in its current state and isolation.
I’m not actually sure that were allowed to be there – public access may not be openly permitted given some of the potential hazards around the ruins – but any signs instructing otherwise have long since been defaced or removed.
On the same website which I use as a bit of a resource, I was really interested to see some photos from around 1999/2000 of the fort without any graffiti whatsoever. Perhaps access was more robustly controlled then.
Fun though this was, we were still a wee ways from home so it was time to get going. We followed an overgrown track down to Scorching Bay, which was thronging with people (a tad cleaner than us) enjoying the summery day. As has been customary with walks recently, cold treats were procured and we walked and slurped our way home. One more hill was in our way and my legs definitely felt a bit poked after the afternoon’s exertions.
Miramar peninsula is a great place to live and I’ve raved about it plenty before. One part that I rarely venture into is Maupuia, the suburb on the hill as you fly in from the north.
It’s a bit of a funny place. On one hand Maupuia has the hallmarks of exclusivity – fantastic harbour views, loads of sun and upmarket houses. One of our most famous All Blacks used to live in one of the cliff-top mansions. On the other hand, it has a good measure of downmarket houses like any other suburb and the commercial buildings are perched in rather ugly and ungainly fashion on top of the hill, with rears facing out over the edge. Maupuia is also home to Wellington Prison.
A walkway along part of the hilltop has always looked appealing but as is often the case, you never get round to doing the stuff on your doorstep. Until this sunny Sunday rolled around!
One of my ravings about the peninsula has been its military history. In the course of some pre-walk research I came across a site which indicated that the various old inland military roads (many of which are hidden from view) can in fact be walked on. So we had a loose plan to go find some of that too.
Anyway, time to get going…
The walkway is very short, less than a kilometre. It would have been an anticlimax to end our walk there so we carried on to the top of the hill where some of the military roads could be accessed.
One slight complication was whether or not we could actually use the road on account of the prison further up. If the sign is to be believed – and it looked rather official – our entry wasn’t exactly authorised. But our wavering was decided when a couple of cyclists pedalled on through.
The prison is at the top of the hill. It is one of the country’s smallest, housing 120 men, and its future has been called into question. A much bigger prison is based in Upper Hutt. It certainly seemed open for business with flag flying and carpark full. We didn’t loiter, not knowing if we were legitimately OK to be there.
The paths we were after led off from the carpark. We set off down the forested hillside, excited to see what was hidden among the trees.
I had heard they were doing some Hobbit filming on old defence land and well, here it was. We will have to try again later in the year.
We returned to the carpark and found the second path. A little more rustic this one, across paddocks. Off to the side is the site of an old infantry redoubt. We carried on to a lookout point.
While we plotted our next move, we could see down the hill a security office for the filming. Clearly we couldn’t go that way. In the other direction was the remains of one of the peninsula’s forts.
…Easier said than done! To be continued.
Sometimes I really am blonde.
I had long been aware of the old military observation post high on the hill above Wellington Airport, but had always assumed it was on restricted airport land that the public couldn’t access. I was disappointed about this because I love looking around such things. But hey.
Then last Saturday during a walk I glanced up and finally took notice that this bunker-type building was covered in graffiti. Which didn’t necessarily guarantee there was public access but at least that there was a way of getting to it.
Soon after, I noticed someone half-way up what appeared to be a walkway on the side of the hill. A walkway that had probably been there for years.
Feeling dumber by the minute, a short search online when we got home revealed that, sure enough, the area is accessible. And it had been on my back doorstep (so to speak) for the last few years. Doh!! Called Palmer Head Battery, it together with other sites around Wellington, used to form the city’s coastal defence system.
The next day after Mike’s boys came over we went for a walk to have a look close-up.
Palmer Head was the site of three 6” guns. It was built in 1938 and added to over the following years, development hastening when the threat from Japan spiked in 1941. Accordingly, the site was operational during WW2. Its service ended in 1945 when the Japanese surrendered after which time some equipment and buildings were distributed to other local bases. In 1957 the New Zealand Government decreed that the coastal defence sites were no longer needed and they were all dismantled.
Here is a fantastic photo showing the site operating with radar.
Like similar abandoned sites on the peninsula, it has clearly been a magnet over the years for local paint-wielding youth.
We have a book called In Defence Of Our Land which shows a photo of Palmer Head in its heyday, so to speak. It is amazing to relate it to what’s there today. All that remains is the observation post and radar complex, some of the original roads and parade grounds. Underground tunnels and rooms still exist somewhere, though blocked off, and there may still be a gun emplacement that was buried rather than blown up.
At some point I will return again with the book and its aerial photo to have another explore. We continued along to the end of the road.
Back in the day the military road stretched from Strathmore down to Tarakena Bay, where it could link up with roads to other military stations on the Miramar peninsula. In that era those sites would have been Fort Ballance, Fort Dorset, Shelly Bay and Mahanga Bay. I love living in an area where there is so much of this history.
Today the site still serves a key purpose for the city, housing navigational equipment for Wellington airport.
From where we popped out it was a bit of a walk back home but luckily this was all either downhill or flat. And near home there was a dairy that had iceblocks waiting for us.
Wellington is known for many things, its hills being one. There are many hill walks in the region where hard slog is rewarded with fantastic views. I’ve been thinking of making my way around them over the next few months to string together a blog series. A good way to exercise both the creative and physical self at the same time.
Last month Mike and I took his boys over to the suburb of Khandallah to walk up Mt Kaukau (pronounced like cow cow but without the ‘w’). At 445m, Mt Kaukau is the highest point overlooking Wellington Harbour. It’s the most prominent high landmark in Wellington, in part due to the >100m tall television transmitter mast at the top.
I used the opportunity to test taking and editing photos with my iPhone. I adore the versatility of that device and it may well have made my compact camera redundant.
There are two main routes up the hill: more steep and less steep. With the children in mind – honest – we chose the latter.
Anyhoo off we go…
While not being that long a walk, we nonetheless felt very deserving of an ice block so went over to the Khandallah shops. The suburb and many of its streets have names with an Indian flavour. Khandallah, meaning ‘resting place of God’, got its name from the 1880s homestead of an army officer who had been stationed in India. I’m not sure how far the India theme carries through other parts of the suburb but I did like these.