Article | WELLINGTON WALKS: PAEKAKARIKI TO PUKERUA BAY TRAIL, KAPITI COAST. The Paekakariki Escarpment section of the Te Araroa trail runs between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay in Kapiti and is also referred to as Stairway to Heaven. It had only just recently opened and my partner and I took the opportunity of a sunny, albeit blustery day to explore the 10 km trail, which climbs to over 200 metres above the Tasman Sea.
We have passed through the scenic Kapiti Coast numerous times on the way to another destination, but frequently think to myself that we must explore the region more. The rugged coastline is simply stunning and reason enough to spend time there.
The opening of the Paekakariki Escarpment trail only 45 km from Wellington presented the perfect opportunity for a day trip. You can start the trail from either end, Paekakariki or Pukerua Bay, and both can be reached via a 35-45 minute train trip or an hour car ride from Wellington City.
Starting the day at Paekakariki
We started off the day with breakfast and coffee at one of the sun drenched cafes in Paekakariki, whilst doing a little last minute research.
A friend had walked the trail on the previous weekend and it took him 3 hours, while online it suggested up to 4 hours, so we stocked up on water and snacks accordingly at the dairy, double checked our gear (warm layers and a rain coat, just in case the weather changed along the way) before heading south on Ames Street to find the start of the trail.
We passed a sign to the beach and after 5 minutes another sign introduced the Paekakariki Escarpment trail. Eager, we continued onward, following the ocean and sand dunes until we reached the Fisherman’s Table restaurant… and realised we had gone the wrong way.
We head back and after a few minutes arrive at the welcome sign once again and follow the instructions down to State Highway 1 and via the subway find the starting point of the trail. A quick time check and off we go.
Commencing the Trail
The trail commences parallel to the railway tracks and the highway, heading south. I don’t usually like the idea of a highway so close by, however as we climb the hills of the Akatarawa Ranges, moving further away from the traffic, the blustery wind becomes the dominant sound and the views of the coast become the focal point.
We make our way up the narrow tracks which cling to the hillside and we forget about the traffic below, becoming engrossed in our surroundings, whether it’s a plant, a bird, a sheep or the views… the Tasman Sea stretching as far as the eye can see and Kapiti Island.
On the Trail
We stop frequently to take photos of the views and to examine the coastal native plants. Occasionally, the trail delves into Kohekohe forest, providing a little relief from the wind, where the Kohekohe trees are bearing fruit in their unique manner, before the trail leads us back to the more exposed hill edge.
We see around 30+ other people on the trail with the majority of them smiling and happy. People are in high spirits exploring the new trail, you can see it on their faces. A few individuals have a concerned look which I can only assume is due to the height and narrowness of the trail in places.
I must admit that at times I did think to myself “we are really quite high”, usually whilst scaling a section of steps with a steep drop off or tackling a narrow section of the trail where you get a view of the ground 200 plus metres below. However, I focus my eyes firmly on the trail or the steps and continue onward and upward, my vertigo worries fading.
There are numerous information plaques throughout the trail providing information on fauna and historical events. There are markers every kilometre in both directions to keep you up to date on progress.
There are also two 40 metre swing bridges to tackle in the notorious Wellington wind. We venture across them and I choose to skip a photo stop until my feet are on firmer ground.
Finishing the Trail
Pukerua Bay is visible in the distance, the trail quickly reduces in altitude and we are soon walking alongside the railway tracks once again, arriving at Pukerua Bay railway station via a housing estate and skate park.
We arrive at the station and have 15 minutes to stretch the legs and refuel on mandarins and Jelly Tip chocolate before a train arrives for the short 10 minute return trip back to Paekakariki.
The Paekakariki Escarpment trail provides an excellent opportunity to explore the stunning Kapiti Coast, whilst getting a decent workout. It’s a great addition to the vast number of trails that Wellington has to offer, easily accessible and offers a good challenge, taking us just under 2.5 hours to complete. The views of the Tasman Sea and Kapiti Island will no doubt ensure this trail becomes a Wellington favourite.
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Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, freelance travel content creator living, working and supporting tourism in Timor Leste, South East Asia.
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