Wellington's famous for sparking casual dining in New Zealand, producing Garage Project beer, some of the best long-standing bands, and creating the mega film-making mecca of Wellywood. It isn't so well known as an outdoorsy place but it should be. Wellington City's easy to walk around because it's squished onto reclaimed land in a harbour, surrounded by verdant hills that a clever counsellor had the foresight to protect from property developers 100 years ago. It's part of a huge region you can also explore on foot, after feasting and dancing your way through the city centre. We've picked out the best hikes in Wellington and the outer region so you don't have to.
Remember, before embarking on any big walk (more than 3 hrs), check the weather, tell someone where you're going, plan the route, know your limits and take gear including water, food, jacket, torch, basic first aid kit and map of where you're walking (we're not kidding, most search and rescues in New Zealand are because somebody get's lost, separated, or doesn't have the right gear).
700 metres, 30 mins return, easy.
About 30 minutes from the town of Masterton, this is a very easy walk that can be completed in no time, although depending on the weather, sometimes the wind can blow and the sea swells can pound the shore so you’ll still want to have your wits about you. Simply walk along the limestone reef shoreline to the lighthouse, an impressive structure that’s been keeping passing ships safe since 1913. Look out for fossils in the limestone, while marvelling at the 162metre high Castle Rock – this is a stunningly beautiful and rugged beach with abundant bird life, seals, a rich geological history and photogenic fishing boats down at the beach. Rug up and bring any provisions you may need, because this is a destination where you’ll be inclined to linger. Probably not as well known as some of New Zealand’s other must visit coastal locations, which is a surprise as most visitors will have their breath taken away when they experience the raw beauty that is Castlepoint. Be sure to check out the Lighthouse webcam before you go.
4.7km, 2.5 hours, easy to moderate fitness required
Starting off from Charles Plimmer Park - you’ll find this green space at the top of Marjoribanks St not far from the famous Embassy Cinema. You can take a Number 20 bus to get there, although it’s pleasant urban walking from anywhere in town if you’re in the mood. Where the pavement ends and the park begins, look for the sign pointing to the Mt Victoria Lookout and the purple trail markers. With choices between a scenic route and a more direct way up to the summit the signage is very helpful so you can decide as you go which path to pick. Whichever way you do go, you’ll get to the top, and be faced with occasional steep patches and easier on the legs places to sit down dotted along the way. And when you reach the Maitairangi, aka Mt Victoria, summit car park, heading to the top is a simple stroll and the views of the city, harbour and surrounding suburbs are outstanding. With helpful signs pointing to all sorts of fascinating items of interest, this really is a marvel on a clear day although do dress for wind as Wellington is famous for its often blustery conditions and you wont be able to enjoy the sights if your teeth are chattering and you’re turning blue. If there’s time, take a detour along the Maitairangi Nature Trail, featuring habitat stations of various flora and fauna, especially popular with younger walkers.
12km, 6-7 hours, good level of fitness required, good shoes essential.
This is a capital way to get to grips with Wellington City, but it is also a hefty sized walk so you might choose to do just a stage or two. Download the map from the Wellington City Council website, and look out for the orange trail markers as you go. Setting off from the heart of central Wellington near The Beehive, (parliament buildings), you’ll be led towards the south coast, 12km away in Island Bay. Along the way you’ll pass areas of historic, architectural and cultural interest so keep your eyes peeled and the map handy. Some of the highlights include The Botanic Gardens, 25 hectares of pastoral loveliness, two historic cemeteries where the headstones tell all sorts of tales and the Wellington Cable Car, the star of millions of picture postcards. A distinct change of flavour marks your entrance to Aro Valley. Here you’ll find turn of the century cottages, plenty of parks, play areas and some very pleasant places to stop to refuel. You’ll also be treated to lush Town Belt tracks, exposed ridges with some wonderful views along the way including the Tararua and Rimutaka Ranges in the North Islands and the Kaikoura Ranges in the south. To complete the entire walk in a single day you will need to be reasonably fit but with plenty of spots to stop and catch your breath if you go at your own pace, this should be within most people’s reach.
Lace up your walking shoes or hop on your bike and visit New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse. This lonely white landmark at the entrance to Wellington Harbour watches over a rough and rocky coastline where ships have been wrecked and lives lost as recently as 1968. Although the lighthouse no longer warns of dangerous waters, it makes for a delightful day trip from Wellington.
Reach Pencarrow Lighthouse by walking or cycling the 8km gravel road from Burden’s Gate in Eastbourne. You can’t drive past this point, but you can enjoy the spectacular coastal scenery and views of busy Wellington Harbour along the way. The unsealed road is mostly flat but rises steeply towards the end along a narrow track up to the lighthouse.
Information panels along the way explain the significance of the lighthouse in New Zealand’s maritime history. The lighthouse is an octagonal tapering cast-iron tower of 11.5 metres. The light system and prefabricated cast iron tower were ordered from England, arriving in 480 packages on the Ambrosire in 1858, and was assembled on site. The lamp was lit for the first time on New Year’s Day 1859 making it the first permanent lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. It beamed its cautionary message for 76 years until it was replaced by an automated light at Baring Head to the east.
New Zealand’s only female lighthouse keeper, Mary Jane Bennett, was the inaugural operator of New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse. She was the wife of the previous keeper, George White Bennett, who had drowned in the harbour in June 1855. Before the lighthouse was built, the Bennetts had operated a light from a bay window in their cottage at Pencarrow Head in response to the loss of a ship, and 30 lives, in 1851. Mary Jane was in charge when the colza oil light first shone and stayed on in this wild and isolated spot, maintaining the lighthouse and raising her children one of whom was born not long after George's death. In 1865, she returned to England with her children.
Because the cliff-top site meant that the light would occasionally be obscured by fog, the low level lighthouse was built in 1906. Although the original lighthouse was discontinued in 1935, the old tower was still used as a day mark. It was offered to the NZHPT in 1966 and restored in 1980.
5.2km one way, an easy two hours one way, thus four hours return.
12 km south of Wainuiomata (where the girls are smarter), this track sets off from Catchpool Valley which means you’ll start by driving along the Coast Road for 10 km till you arrive at the Rimutaka Forest Park entrance, then continue driving along the Catchpool Valley Road for two kilometres until you arrive at the car park to find all the information you need under a little shelter. If it’s been raining and water is covering the ford (bridge) across the stream, park before you cross the ford and use the Nga Toanga Nature Walk instead.
FYI Nga Toanga means Treasures
Possibly the most popular walk in the majestic Rimutaka Forest Park, being relatively easy with good signage and sturdy bridges, this makes for a pretty cruisy day trip and a pleasing tour of the Orongorongo Valley region. At the start, for 90 minutes you’ll be climbing a semi steep section through the mixed podocarp and broadleaf forest, while beside you a stream flows along with lots of lovely native plants, including lilies, and ferns, sprouting up from the forest floor. As you continue to climb up towards Cattle Ridge, the forest will start to change to become more hard beech than bush. At the track’s highest point you’ll find a fabulous stand of towering northern rata trees. These magnificent trees only flower every few years, but when they do you’ll enjoy their rich red blooms. And because you’ll find swimming holes at Turere Stream at the end of the track, this is the a fine place to picnic after the walk on a hot day.
6km, 3-4 hours, reasonable fitness required as there’s some climbing involved.
You’ll find this hearty hike west of Porirua City and, when you make it to the top of this 468 metre maunga (mountain) on a bright day you will be able to take in everything, from the Kaikoura Ranges in the south, to Waikanae to the north and Mt Taranaki in the north-west. And when you look out to sea you’ll be able to spy Kapiti and Mana Islands. With three routes to choose from to take you to the top, a perennial favourite starts out on Broken Hill Road, passing as it goes by Rangituhi/Colonial Knob Scenic Reserve. Admire the man-made lakes that once supplied the water to Porirua Hospital – a story in itself - before continuing on through Kohekohe Forest. Alternatively you can start on Raiha Street and head through the Porirua Scenic Reserve and up to the radio antenna that way. And if you do this walk in the later afternoon, you’ll be able to discover why early Maori named this peak Rangituhi, which means “sky glow” because, viewed at sunset on a balmy night, the hills really do appear to light up as if they were ablaze. For any fans of geology, you’ll be interested to know that the peak is one of several remnants of a peneplain - an eroded landmark that would’ve been around some 30 to 40 million years ago, before it was pushed out of the ground by earthquakes and, following those events, erosion allowed the hills to form. And botanists, don’t feel neglected, as you can focus on the stunning native forest and, despite much of the rimu and rata having been logged, many mature trees survive in the Porirua Scenic Reserve. Take note: as with many of Wellington’s hilly walks, be prepared for all sorts of weather changes and dress (or pack) accordingly.
12km, 5-6 hours, good fitness essential.
This dual use track (mountain bikers can use it too) runs north to south along the pretty ridge between Old Coach Road in Johnsonville and the Makara Saddle in Karori. Follow the signs from the Outer Green Belt onto Mount Kaukau (check out the groovy viewing platform while you’re there), after which you’ll trot along via the Crow’s Nest, Kilmister Tops and Johnston Hill. The views as you pass include everything from rural, city and coastal vistas and, on a cloudless day, you’ll be granted views of the Kaikoura Ranges and Marlborough Sounds in the South Island and, nearer to hand in Wellington City, the harbour and the Tararua and Orongorongo Ranges. You can even spy the Tasman Sea and the Makara Wind Farm if you’re sharp of eye. With many entry and exit points along the way, you can enjoy this walk in stages but you’ll need a decent level of fitness and have food and drink with you, as you will work up an appetite and the path isn’t lined with cafes. Follow the yellow directional markers (often found on metal poles) along the track and you’ll be sorted but be aware, with little protection from the elements, you’re quite exposed most of the way so you’ll want decent sun protection. Although on the plus side, it means if the sky is clear, the views are regularly staggering. And finally, because some of the track passes through private land, remember to always be respectful and close any gates that you may have to open.
4.2km, 3 hour loop, average fitness required.
Starting out at Simla Crescent in Khandallah, this pretty walk takes strollers along the Northern Walkway from the entrance to Khandallah Park to the very peak of Mt Kaukau, (and at 445 metres above sea level this is the easiest to spot highpoint in Wellington’s skyline). Originally named Tarikaka which means ‘resting place of the kaka’ – the beautiful native parrot used to be seen here all the time although sadly, you’d be lucky to spot one now. At the peak, you’ll also find the television transmitter, (adding another 122m to the peak) and a compass pedestal. With views out across to ranges north and south, on a cloudless day you can see all the way to Mt Tapuaeoenuku in the South Island. Along the route you’ll find plenty of opportunities for pleasant picnics with seats provided for weary walkers. At the uppermost point, the path will join the Skyline Walkway before heading back down through a pine forest (the smell can be so wonderfully redolent when it’s been warm or wet), and down a flight of steps behind Khandallah’s historic 1920s swimming pool on Woodmancote Road - so pack your swimming costume when the weather is warmer. With a playground in the park near the walkway to Clark Street this is a popular section of the walk with the younger set. And when you reach the car park at Clark Street, follow the signs back into the bush to make your way back to Simla Crescent where your journey began.
Wellington Botanic Garden is just a short walk from the central city. Enjoy the fantastic views, unique landscape, native and exotic trees, floral displays and intriguing plant collections. And don't forget the playground, duck pond, Begonia House, gift shop and cafe.
Otari-Wilton's Bush is the only public botanic garden in the country devoted entirely to the cultivation, study and preservation of native plants. Wellington Botanic Garden and Otari-Wilton's Bush are both recognised by the New Zealand National Gardens Trust as being of national significance.
2.2km return km, 1-2 hours and pretty easy.
Near the coastal village of Waikanae lies the Hemi Matenga Scenic Reserve, which is made up of 330 hectares of native forest and bush, featuring one of the largest stands of ancient kohekohe trees in the country. In amongst this vast reserve, protected since the early turn of the 20th Century, you’ll find the relatively easy Parata Walking Track which is suitable for people of most ages and fitness levels. Stop at the parking area, accessed via Tui Crescent, and follow the signs that point you over a bridge that crosses a gurgling stream before heading up to the highest point, about 441m about sea level. With flocks of native birds diving and soaring above, the vistas from the top are just delightful, looking down to the coast and the Reikorangi Valley. But of course, because there is a climb, it means you may need to dig a little deeply at times to get to the top. With marker points with names like Pig Flat and Rocky Lookout what’s not to like?
Home to a range of walks that take from 40 minutes to two hours, this is easy, fun, family fare.
Heading away from the coast, Otaki Forks is 19 km from Otaki Township and about 90 minutes drive from Wellington or Palmerston North depending where you’re coming from. Turn off SH1 at Otaki Gorge Road, but do be aware the last five kilometres of the Otaki Gorge Road are unsealed, narrow and windy so you’ll need to be a confident driver.
Waitara Track, 40 minutes return
The simplest of these walks is the Waitara Track, just 40 minutes return from the Waiotauru car park it’ll lead you to the relics of an old sawmill. Promising birdsong and bush, this is a sweet little stroll anyone could manage.
The Arcus Loop, 50 minutes return
The next shortest walk, The Arcus Loop, clocks in at just 50 minutes return and remembers the family who first farmed here from the 1930s. Starting out from Boielle Flat, this fetching little trail crosses the Waiotauru River via a footbridge, then wends its way across river terraces and gullies, climbing as it goes to join the Field Track. With pleasing views of the river, there’s also a campground near here if you fancy staying a while longer.
Fenceline Loop, two hours return.
Still easy but that much longer than the previous two, the third walk at Otaki Forks is the Fenceline Loop and it takes about two hours at a slow pace and leads walkers through regenerating forest above the campground while offering lovely views of the Waiotauru Valley. Do remember to pack food and water whichever walk you choose, as this is not a commercial location.
2 km, allow about one hour return, easy walking.
This undemanding one kilometre one-way walk meets up with the foot of the Gentle Annie Walk and is a delight for bird nerds and tree geeks and everyone who loves nature. Also setting off from the Mt Holdsworth Rd car park and starting by crossing the Atiwhakatu footbridge over the stream of the same name, enjoy some of the finest broadleaf/podocarp forest that the Tararua Ranges have to offer. Featuring simple delights such as a stream and a most pleasant picnic spot at Donnelly Flat itself, this is a short outing for all ages.
3-4 hours return, basic fitness required
An understandably popular walk in this neck of the woods, The Gentle Annie Loop takes walkers to the cosy sounding Mountain House Shelter – although be aware, this is just a shelter and not suitable for overnight stays. Beginning at the Mt Holdsworth car park on Mt Holdsworth Rd, you’ll be walking along well made paths and boardwalks, while admiring impressive native forest and equally impressive views from various lookouts along the way. Rocky Lookout is a jaw-dropper with sights out to Mt Holdsworth and the Atiwhakatu Valley. One especially dreamy segment is the silver beech forest and in good light, the sun rays dapple through the branches making for a mystical experience, so understandably it’s very popular with users of social media. You’ll need sensible clothing for all weather of course, and water and food as there’s little to be found out here aside from nature.
1-2 hour walks, easy to moderate fitness required.
Found on Te Ore Ore Rd, 20 minutes from Masterton before you get to Castlepoint, this is a fine place to walk before or after a visit to the Castlepoint Lighthouse as there’s lots of loveliness to be found in this 334 hectare farm that combines native woods with commercial pine forests and open grassland. The loops that take visitors through the native forest sections known as Richardson Bush are designed to pass by as many of the big trees as possible.
Totara Loop, 1 hour return
Following the red markers, this loop walk takes about an hour from the car park, it’s easy walking all the way although the surface can be rough in places so watch where you put your feet as you’ll often have your attention taken skyward to admire the towering totara, hinau and rewarewa trees that stand sentry along the sides of the track.
Matai Loop, 1 hour 45 minutes return
Following the yellow markers this time, there are steep sections along this walk and it’s more suitable to fitter walkers and, as the walks name suggests you’ll see some sturdy old matai trees along the route. Matai was a popular timber for flooring in New Zealand homes before locals started to realise the importance of preserving these ancient forests, because historically, sadly, so many of these extraordinary trees were felled in the early days of colonisation.
Mt Clyde Trig Track, 2 hours return
This time you’re looking for the blue markers, following old farm tracks, sometimes through open pasture other times through bush, with your intended destination the trig station at the top of Mt Clyde. Bearing in mind you start your journey at the car park at about 200m above sea level, and that the trig station is at 500m you’ll be climbing for a while so you’ll want to be a bit fit. But along the way and at the top, the views of the Wairarapa and surrounding mountains make the puffing and panting worthwhile
3.5km return. Starts from Te Ore Ore Rd, 1-2 hours.
So perhaps you’ve been to the Castlepoint Lighthouse, it wasn’t at all taxing to get there so you decide you want a bit more. And you look out to Castle Rock and think that looks like a bit of you. The perfect companion walk to the lighthouse track, The Deliverance Track will take you up to the top of Castle Rock, named by early European explorer Captain James Cook as he sailed by in 1770 as he thought the rocks resembled a castle’s battlements. Beginning at the car park, walk through the pines that grow above the lagoon and just follow the path up. You’re climbing so you will need a reasonable level of fitness, but going at your own pace, most people can make it. Do stop to admire the many birds, from terns to herons, shags to gull. The walk is pleasant and includes some stairs, the views are wild – keep your eyes peeled for dolphins - and because the wind is often blustery, don’t forget to hold onto your hats. Maori know the area as Rangiwhakaoma which translates as “where the sky runs” referring to the speed at which the clouds scud across the skies. When visitors come here and rate this region, they give Castlepoint and its pounding surf a ten out of ten for beauty.
2-4 hours return, easy
Close to Cape Palliser, and an hour’s drive from Martinborough, the Putangirua Pinnacles can be found in the Aorangi Forest Park on Cape Palliser Rd. Astonishing on account of their geological formations, the finest example of “badlands erosion” you’ll find in New Zealand, visiting this natural wonder will make you feel like you’ve landed on another planet. With sturdy footwear and plenty of food and drinking water, please be aware that it can be very hot here in summer when you come and see why this spot appealed to Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the scenes for the ‘Paths of the Dead’. With three routes leading to the pinnacles your easiest option is walking up the streambed where you’ll be dwarfed by the pinnacles. Otherwise, take the easy bush track that starts about 10minutes from the car park. This trail will take you to the junction of the loop track and up to the lookout above the pinnacles. And for the longest of all the walking options, where you’ll also enjoy views of Lake Onoke and Palliser Bay, continue on after reaching the lookout, turn left and you’ll be led back to the coast, about 300 metres from the Pinnacles Rd entry point. And always look out for rock fall especially after heavy rain and when it’s been windy. And if this looks like your cup of tea, why not camp out here as the Department of Conservation have got a very pleasant and rarely crowded campsite for visitors with tents.
29km of trails, not usually attempted end to end in one day. Mostly flat so not too demanding
The Hutt River trail is a lengthy piece of path, also shared by cyclists, this is surely an easier way to ensure you see both ends but if walking is what you’ve committed to, you can start this epic trek from the Hikoikoi Reserve on pretty Petone’s waterfront Marine Parade. Or alternatively you can enter the trail at many points along the way until you reach the city of Upper Hutt 29km away. Running the entire length of the eastern riverbank, because the Hutt River Trail is largely flat, you’ll find this most excellent for strollers or wheelchairs. And thanks to the several bridges that cross the river, you can use them to make bespoke loops to suit your timetable. As you travel along the trail, look out for two sites where The Lord of the Rings was filmed. Harcourt Park might look familiar to LOTR fans as the scene of Isengard, the ancient Gondorian fortress at the southern end of the Misty Mountains while between Moonshine Bridge and Totara Park you’ll see how the river stood in for the Great River Anduin. Or you can just enjoy the bird life, native planting, and willow trees while enjoying the soothing music of the river as it flows across smooth grey rocks out to sea. Some good ways to edit this track into chunks could be by either doing the section from Totara Park to Moonshine Bridge and back, or from the Block Road car park to Manor Park.
3-4hours, 6km loop, decent fitness required.
The Makara Loop is one of three tracks in the Meridian West Wind Recreation Area where a major feature of the landscape is the visually impressive wind farm. Featuring 62 statuesque wind turbines, these space age windmills are capable of generating enough electricity each year for 62,000 homes – from wind alone! With the track ascending to various vantage points you’ll be faced with some spectacular views from Kapiti Island, the regularly rugged ocean and, on good days, all the way to the South Island with the loop returning walkers to their starting point, the invigorating Makara Beach. As you walk, look for the ancient Ngati Ira pa sites on the promontory where Maori tribes once resided at the western end of Fisherman's Bay and you’ll also find World War II gun emplacements around the cliffs which is where Fort Opau would’ve been when it was occupied by over 100 soldiers during that war. To enjoy this coastal beauty, drive the 16 km from Wellington, it’ll take about half an hour, then park at the end of Makara Road by the beach. And as you enjoy this walk, you’ll find this endearing walk has a couple of swimming beaches that, if you’re lucky will be sheltered from the sometimes brutal southerly winds. Because this area can be besieged by weather and strong winds, with the hills often cloaked in cloud or fog, do check the forecast before you set off and always wear sturdy shoes and wind-proof clothing.