Ten of the Best Walks in and Around Wellington for 2023
Wellington is a city which is best explored on foot.
Wellington is a city which is best explored on foot and one whose charm cannot be fully grasped from the window of a passing car. You need to get out into the streets, roam under the trees which make up the town belt or along those sharp ridge lines which enfold the city. The Wellington City Council has over past years done major work to ensure there are plenty of walks of a variety of lengths available to showcase Wellington as the cultural, historical and beautiful city it is.
WELLINGTON BOTANIC GARDEN
First stop on the list of great walks would have to be Wellington Botanic Garden. The sprawling gardens have something for everyone, and there are a myriad of walks signposted within the grounds which can be as long or as short as you like. The Botans are also a great way to get a taste of native New Zealand forests without going miles away from civilisation. The gardens are also dog friendly (provided they're on a lead and you clean up after them). Playgrounds for the kids and numerous picnic spots makes the gardens the perfect destination for a Saturday in the sun. Check out the Cable Car Museum if you've got spare time. To get there, catch the Cable Car up from Lambton Quay, or alternatively make your way to the main entrance on Glenmore Street, where there is parking available too.
RED ROCKS/PARIWHERO RESERVE
The beautiful but rugged Red Rocks is a great day trip to experience what the New Zealand coastline has on offer. The walk only takes about two hours return and showcases amazing geographical features, beautiful flora and unique fauna. In the winter it is not uncommon to see fur seals which is a bit of a thrill for folks of all ages. The trail is also used by four-wheel drive enthusiasts though, so watch out behind you if you hear a horn blaring. For those who don't like sharing, on Sundays the track is open only to walkers. Going at low tide gives you the option to explore around the rock pools (great news if you have little kids tagging along). Be sure to keep your distance from the seals if you do encounter them as they can get a bit ticked off if they are interrupted while having a nap. Head to the Owhiro Quarry where the Wellington walk starts — you'll also find toilets and parking.
MOUNT VICTORIA LOOP
Part of what makes Wellington so beautiful is the Town Belt, the wooded hills which encircle the city. The Mount Victoria Loop Track is a great way to explore a small part of it. The 4.7-kilometre loop track takes around about two and a half hours to complete and can be quite steep in places, but the tracks are usually well maintained by the council. The walk is great for a stroll but is also used by runners and mountain bikers so keep an eye out for other people using the trail. Dogs are permitted if on leads, and obviously you are expected to clean up after them. For the film buffs, keep your eyes peeled for the spot where Sir Peter Jackson filmed the scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where the hobbits hide from the Nazgul after finding a patch of mushrooms. Start from the flat field at Charles Plimmer Park at the top of Majoribanks Street. There is parking available and as it's a loop track you will end up where you begin provided you follow the signs along the way.
You may have seen the Brooklyn Hill wind turbine and wondered, how to get there. Just take a short detour off of the Polhill Reserve Loop Track. The 5.6-kilometre track takes about two hours to complete, and follows the Zealandia fence line -—such close proximity ensures you'll be able to see a variety of native birds while you're out walking. The walk is signposted and affords great views of the city and harbour. Being a loop track means you end up right where you started (again, provided you follow the signs). Polhill Reserve is a great short walk for people of medium fitness. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes though. For those amateur birdwatchers out there it is a great chance to spy some kaka, stitchbirds and native robins. The walk starts at the small grassy area on Aro Street just before Holloway Road. Look for the track signs. There is parking available.
THE SKYLINE WALKWAY
Perhaps one of the more perilous walks, the Skyline Walkway is nonetheless one of the most worthwhile. The 12-kilometre walk will take you around five hours to complete on a good day but the weather can play a major factor in how fast you can complete it. You will be very exposed to the elements up on the ridges, but the height is what makes this walk so rewarding. On a good day you will be able to view the Kaikoura ranges, the Marlborough Sounds, Wellington City and harbour, and the Tararua and Orongorongo ranges. The weather plays a big part in how successful your walk along the skyline will be, so plan accordingly. Be prepared with warm clothes and good, strong footwear. If you are completing the whole trail be sure to bring food and water as there are no facilities along the walkway. Pick up a brochure highlighting the points of interest along the way from the City Council information centre or download it from their website.
THE CITY TO SEA WALKWAY
Perhaps the walk that best showcases everything Wellington has on offer, the City to Sea Walkway is not to be missed — though it can be a bit daunting. The 12-kilometre walk will take around six to seven hours to complete and, as the name suggests, will have you venturing through Wellington City all the way to the sea at Island Bay, traversing some steep hills in between. As such, if you intend to walk the entirety of the trail then you need to have a strong level of fitness, though it can be walked in stages. The walk will take you through two historic cemeteries, native bush, along ridges and through small communities composed of turn of the century cottages. Though there are signs along the way, the City to Sea Walkway is best undertaken with a map which can be picked up from the Wellington City Council info site or downloaded online. The map also has all the information on the history and significance of the places visited.
TE ARA O NGA TUPUNA HERITAGE TRAIL
Wellington has been a major New Zealand settlement long before Cook sighted the Land of the Long White Cloud. Te Ara o Nga Tupuna Heritage Trail is a great way to learn more about the Maori settlements in Wellington which flourished in a time before colonialists began to change the way of life in New Zealand. The walk begins at the Pipitea Marae and goes through to Waitangi Park. The second half of the heritage trail which ends up at Owhiro Bay is recommended to be completed in a car but can be walked by people with a good level of fitness. There are signposts along the way highlighting points of interest but to get the most out of the walk we advise you get a brochure from the City Council information centre or from their website.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN/PAEKAKARIKI ESCARPMENT
Set aside at least three to four hours for this ten-kilometre walk. Part of New Zealand's nationwide Te Araroa Trail, the walk makes its way from Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay, running high above State Highway 1 and the railway. It's not called the Stairway to Heaven for nothing; there are more than 400 steps to conquer before reaching the peak at 220 metres above sea level. With that height gain, the trail requires a decent level of fitness — you also be treated to expansive views of the ocean and Kāpiti Island. Further highlights of the track include two swing bridges and stretches of native forest. Dress for the elements — the track is exposed to the wind.
Starting from Eastbourne, it's a four-hour return walk to reach New Zealand's first permanent lighthouse, or 1.5 hours on a bike. Follow the easy, flat gravel road out before making the short ascent to the 1906 lighthouse. The rugged stretch of coastline offers spectacular views over Wellington Harbour, but given its location, the weather can certainly be unpredictable. Be sure to check the weather forecast before your visit Pencarrow Lighthouse and dress for the conditions. The lighthouse lies within East Harbour Regional Park, with additional loop tracks to the Parangarahu Lakes.
This seven-kilometre loop is the place to go if you're after a rugged yet scenic day out. About a 45-minute drive from the city, the advanced walk climbs from the rocky west coast beach to vantage points with spectacular views, including Cook Strait and the Kaikōura Ranges, wind turbines and WWII gun emplacements. An ancient Ngāti Ira pā also sits at the western end of Fisherman's Bay. Parking is available at Makara Beach, making the Makara Walkway fairly easy to access.
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