A wild 24 hours from Wellington

March 2022

I wasn’t planning to write about this weekend as it was just a weekend to catch up with friends, but we did so much in a short time I could not miss sharing …

I normally travel on the Friday afternoon, but this weekend had cheaper flights travelling up from Christchurch to Wellington on the Saturday morning so the fun started as soon as I arrived as we headed straight out to Eastbourne, a small seaside suburb on the eastern peninsula of Wellington harbour.  It’s a cute little place with adorable bird mosaics down the main street and it was a great place for a quick coffee and to stock up on some food for lunch before we set off.

Just passed Eastbourne the road for public vehicles ends and we hired e-bikes from Wildfinder – a great little hire place strategically placed just at the end of the road.    We were soon off on the Pencarrow Coastal trail on our bikes, with a vague plan to go to Pencarrow Lighthouse.  There are miles of roads and tracks that you can explore on bike or foot, and we had not really looked in to it too much.  We would reach a junction and make a decision at the time. 

It was beautiful ride, along the rugged coastline with amazing views across to the city and over to South Island.   We soon reached the lower Pencarrow Lighthouse and decided to continue further along the track.  Pausing to look a shipwreck of the SS Paiaka, shipwrecked in 1906.  It now stands as a memorial to everyone lost along this rugged, wild coastline. 

It was here we chatted to another group of riders who recommended we continue further around the track and so we did – it was definitely the right decision when we reach Baring Lighthouse, sitting head on Baring Head.  With an amazing view, and the sun shining it was the perfect spot for lunch. 

Baring Head Lighthouse was first lit in 1935 and served as an approach light for Wellington Harbour from the Cook Straight.  Prior to that, ships were guided by the much older Pencarrow Head lighthouse, the first major lighthouse to be built in New Zealand, in 1859 (and which is no longer in use).

We pushed those e-bikes to their top speeds on the way back and it was so much fun zooming along the gravel roads. 

Back in the car we headed over the Rimataka ranges towards the Wairarapa and Lake Onoke (Lake Ferry) where we were to spend the night – yay for friends with friends with baches by the sea lol.  Lake Ferry is a sleepy little fishing village, but it can get busy in the summer when the camp ground is full of holiday makers – but the rest of the year, it is really only those who have baches or holiday homes in the area, most of whom come over the hill from Wellington for weekends. 

The other great thing about friends with friends with baches at Lake Ferry, is that they also have a beach buggy – not sure that is the correct for it, but it is basically a buggy to drive on the beach … so beach buggy it is.  We had so much fun driving down the beach as the sun was setting – even when I had to take a turn sitting in the tray at the back.  The beach of Palliser Bay is a wild with massive waves crashing down, with the sun going down it was beautiful. 

We had dinner at the only place in ‘town’ – Lake Ferry Hotel, it was so quiet, despite being a Saturday night, but perhaps we were early.  We needed an early night as we were having an early start on Sunday as I had convinced my friends that getting up for sunrise was a great idea!! 

Not only did we have to get up for sunrise, but we had to drive 45 minutes to the Cape Palliser lighthouse – ‘the’ sunrise spot on the south coast of the North Island.  It was definitely worth the effort as the morning was beautiful and we were in time to get up the 250+ stairs to the lighthouse to see the sunrise. 

Cape Palliser lighthouse is a cast iron lighthouse that has stood on this cliff since 1897.  As with all lighthouses, it started off life as an oil burning lamp, being converted to kerosene in 1954, and then mains power in 1967.  Originally there were no stairs (until 1912) and the lighthouse keeper had to carry/drag the oil/kerosene up the steep hill to the lighthouse.  The lighthouse was finally automated 1986 and the lighthouse keeper was withdrawn.

Once light, we could enjoy the drive back along the rugged coastline and our first stop was to see some seals we had seen from the road.  What I did not realise at the time, but Cape Palliser is home to the North Island’s largest fur seal colony and despite being out of season (which is apparently November to January), there were so many pups.  They were everywhere, hiding in and under the bushes and out in the open … some sleeping, some playing, some annoying their mums.    Seals as far as the eye can see – they were so adorable

I also got to do a little bit of bird spotting, seeing kingfisher and a big group of California quail on the road side.  It was hard to believe that I had not even arrived in Wellington 24 hours before and yet we had done so much.

We continued back along the coast, through small fishing villages, past groups of surfers (is there a collective noun for surfers?) and stopped  at the Pūtangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve where we followed the stream bed up towards the pinnacles.  We then headed up the canyon side to the look out over the ‘pinnacles’.    These are apparently one of New Zealand’s best examples of ‘badlands erosion’.  I won’t bore you with the detail of the geological history of the formation of the pinnacles as it is about 8 millions years long, but it is probably important to know that it was a location for some of the Lord of the Rings movies lol!

Walking up the stream bed was an easy walk with fantails flitting around us.  You do have to cross the stream a few times so you may need to be prepared to get your feet wet if it has been raining and the stream is higher.  The walk up the hill to the ridge was not so easy, but worth it for the view (though the lighting wasn’t ideal for photos). 

We followed the the Ridge track back down to the carpark and were grateful we went so early as a large groups of oldies in campvans (‘adventure before dementia’ is the new hashtag lol) had just turned up and were starting the walk as we finished. 

By the time we got back Lake Ferry we were starving and ready for a well earned lunch. And just like that the weekend was drawing to an end and it was time to head back in to Wellington and home to Christchurch.

What a wonderful Wellington and Wairarapa weekend (I do love alliteration)

Wellington walks …

(April 2021)

This was a fairly last minute trip to Wellington to meet up with some old school friends (most of whom I had not seen since I finished school) but of course I could not miss the opportunity to get a little exploring in. 

I was focused on walking and after doing some investigation, I discovered that Wellington has lots of great walks not far from the city.  It seemed fate that my accommodation (a private room in the YHA as I could not face a dorm or the extortionate price of the hotels in the city) looked out at the Mt Victoria lookout, so it seemed only right that as soon as I arrived, I changed and headed out. 

I am grateful to say it appeared more daunting than it was, clearly my weekly hill walks are paying off.   There were a few steep parts but in general it was a fair steady walk up to the lookout for a lovely view over the city.  I went back down another way and ended with a lovely walk along Oriental Parade – along the sea front and little man made beach. 

The next day I had decided to catch a ferry across the harbour to Days Bay.  The area was initially the fortified Maori village of Otuamotoro, before being settled by George Day in 1841.  It soon became a day trip and weekend resort for Wellingtonians and a wharf was built in 1895.

I was already starting to regret the idea as I was sitting waiting for the ferry, coffee in hand as an icy wind blasted around the corner and I was praying the crossing would not be too rough. 🥴 It was a pretty choppy crossing (took around 35 minutes in total) but rugged up in all my layers I was ok as long as I sat outside 🥴.   I should note that it is mandatory now to wear masks on public transport – buses, trains, planes and of course ferries (always a pain for facial recognition on the phone 🥴) but despite that I was one of the few with a mask!

Most of the other passengers on the ferry got off at Matiu/Somes Island, the largest of 3 islands in Wellington Harbour.  It has various walks with a great combination of wildlife, history and views but I didn’t really have time to explore this, and Days Bay so carried on.  The sea got rougher on the last part of the journey, and I was glad to reach Days Bay – a cute little seaside village. 

I had planned what I had thought would be a nice easy walk in the East Harbour Regional Park, part of a network of 5 regional parks established to provide outdoor recreation opportunities.  Of course, the area has been popular with walkers long before the formation of the regional park – right back to the late 1800’s.   It turned out, my easy walk through the mature beech and rata forest was more of a serious hike with some scrambling up the steepest parts and at times I was worried I would not make it back to the wharf in time for my planned ferry!  Thankfully I did but was absolutely shattered and it was worth it for the lovely views from the walk and back towards the city.

Back on the ‘barf’ boat, (my personal name for it) and I was surprised to see that it had a bar on it (remember it was only doing a 35 minute journey) and a group of young people bought a bottle of sparkling wine and planned to drink it out of champagne flutes – they went to the top deck so I have no idea how successful they were in the very choppy seas 🥴 

After a wonderful night catching up with old friends, I could not resist one last walk – this time up to the beautiful Wellington Botanic Gardens – it was a bit of a hike up the hill to start but then lovely walks and views from the gardens themselves.  I loved the way they indicate the tracks with lovely insets in the pathways – I did the kowhai track for the views – past observatory’s old and new and gun emplacements.

I barely made a dent in the 25 hectares of gardens and pathways (some established 150 years ago) before it was time to catch the cable car back down.  Another icon of Wellington dating back to 1902, most people probably would have caught the cable car up, but I am a glutton for punishment these days 😂!  But catching it down meant I was back in the city in 5 minutes 👍🏻

It was great to see Tuis and Kereru in the trees around the gardens.  The nearby native sanctuary of Zealandia has done wonders for the Wellington native bird populations.  What a stunning morning for it.

Now to plan some more walks for my next visit.