Conquering the Paekakariki Escarpment Track: All You Need to Know!
New Zealand is popular amongst outdoor enthusiasts for its extreme sports like water rafting, bungee jumping and insane hiking tracks. We’ve all heard of Roys Peak, The Hooker Valley Track and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. However, the Paekakariki Escarpment Track is still undiscovered amongst most travellers and backpackers who visit Wellington. The Paekakariki Escarpment track is one of the best hikes we enjoyed in New Zealand. It’s exhilarating, challenging but ever so rewarding. With magnificent views over Kapiti Island and Pukerua Bay, this strenuous hike is well worth the effort. If you’re looking for things to do on the North Island of New Zealand in particular around Wellington then I recommend checking this hike out and, you’ll find out all you need to know in this post.
Paekakariki Escarpment Track: Facts
- Distance: 10 Kilometres/6.2 miles one way
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time: 4 hours one way
- Elevation: 220 metres above sea level
- Track Condition: Marked tramping track with narrow footpaths throughout
- Considerations: Lots of stairs, 1500 to be exact, steep inclines and track follows the cliff edge throughout
- Not Suitable for Children – cliff edges and uneven surfaces
- No water, toilets or amenities on the track
- Parking can be found at Paekakariki railway station
Where is the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
The Paekakariki Escarpment track is located 44 km north of Wellington. Driving it takes about 45 minutes in good traffic but the track can also be reached via train. The start of the hike begins at either Pukerua Bay or Paekakariki both of which have train links to and from Wellington. See the map below for driving instructions from the city.
The drive out to the track is beautiful in itself. As you leave the city behind you drive through the gorgeous Porirua. Rolling hills out of one window and the calm ocean bays on the other. On a clear day, the refections of Porirua on the lake are magnificently dreamy. As you pass through Porirua you eventually meet the Kapiti coastline which is even more beautiful. The drive out to Paekakariki reminded me of the Great Ocean Road in Australia winding in and out of the coast with nothing but the ocean on the horizon. If you aren’t a big hiker than it’s worth a drive out to Paekakariki just for the views and phenomenal sunset!
Where Does the Paekakariki Escarpment Track Start?
This 10 km hike can start at either Paekakariki or Pukerua Bay. The most common route to take is Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay but you can do either. We completed the hike from Paekakariki and then got the train back from Pukerua Bay. After tackling the hike in this direction I can safely say that’s the way I recommend. The opposite way will be a lot more strenuous with more stairs to climb and steeper inclines to navigate. You also miss out on the wonderful views of Pukerua Bay Peninsula because it’ll be behind you!
A Few Things to Know Before You Go!
The Paekakariki Escarpment track is 10 kilometres one way in and not for the faint-hearted. The track climbs up to 220 metres above sea level with 1500 steps to negotiate on the way! I would say that a good level of fitness is required to complete this walk with plenty of supplies. There are no amenities, sheltered seating or water throughout the hike so make sure you come prepared especially with water.
The Paekakariki escarpment track is also extremely exposed and not recommended in bad weather. Although we completed the hike in winter we had a beautifully clear and calm day. The whole track is exposed at the edge of the cliffs with a sheer drop and I can imagine how dangerous it could get it windy/slippery due to rain. Check the weather before going and make an informed choice on how safe it is! Weather in Wellington can be crazy so pay close attention to the forecast. It’s also good to note that the only way back from Pukerua Bay is by train or your feet so make sure you check the trains are running before you go.
Getting to Start of the Track
Starting in Paekakariki the Escarpment track is well sign-posted. If arriving by car then you can park in the railway station carpark or the bays next to the tennis court. Make sure you don’t park on the high street as parking is only permitted there for one hour. The railway station carpark is a short 5-minute walk from the start of the track and free. Once you’ve parked up follow the round back onto the high street. Paekakariki is only small but there are two coffee shops and a backpackers if you do need to stay overnight. The cafes both looked busy and smelt delicious!
To get to the start of the track cross over the railway and turn right onto the pavement. Continue walking along the road until you turn off the pavement to your right. The track is well signposted throughout starting with blue markers leading off the road. This first part of the walk takes you through coastal bush with wonderful trees lining the road – you’d have no idea you were right next to a highway! Follow this path until you reach the underpass. Please do not try to cross State Highway One, it’s busy with speed limits up to 80 km so just don’t do it. Besides you won’t find the start of the Escarpment track that way anyway so just stick to the path/route.
Once underneath the road, you’ll see the start of the hike and a last-minute ‘warning’ sign before you start. You will need to make sure you have some essentials for this hike which I’ll list at the end!
Let the Fun Begin
Start to climb the Paekakariki Escarpment track through bushland and enjoy the slight incline as the road starts to disappear and views of the ocean come into play. This part of the walk is beautiful and on a clear day, gorgeous views of Kapiti Island come into view from the very beginning! Enjoy a slow pace before the real climbing starts very shortly after.
After the first 2 km, the track starts climbing and doesn’t stop for another 3 km. As you accent the cliffs the track explores both stairs and inclines in the footpath. This part of the hike is the hardest but keep going because the views are worth it! Be cautious whilst climbing up as the path is extremely close to the edge with a straight drop off. There is plenty of stop-off points along the way to enjoy the views and take a rest along with some educational signage about New Zealand.
After breaking a sweat and reaching the top of the cliffs you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the Kapiti Coast beneath you. In the distance, you can see Pukerua Bay and those mountains you see in the distance? Well, they belong to the South Island of New Zealand! It’s unbelievable how close it looks from up here! If you have time to be fussy then a clear day is the best to enjoy this hike in all its glory! The lookout is a great place to stop for lunch.
For those not wanting to do the full 10 km the lookout is a popular place to turn around and head back to Paekakariki.
Swing Bridges on The Paekakariki Escarpment Track
I have to admit other than the views the two swing bridges on the Paekakariki Escarpment track were my favourite! After the lookout, the rest of the hikes is pretty much downhill – compared to the first 5 km anyway! Follow the track for another kilometre past the lookout and you’ll reach the first of 2 swing bridges! At 40 metres above sea level, they are pretty incredible but a little scary too! Follow the signs and make sure only five people are on the bridge at once.
As we crossed I had the sudden urge to scream ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Here’ fellow English folk will know I’m talking about there – I didn’t because the nature is just too awesome to ruin with my dreadful screeching Yorkshire accent! As you finish the first bridge you will be greeted with more uphill stairs but not for long before the second swing bridge, a great place to take a few photographs!
By the time you reach the end of the second swing bridge and about 8 km in if you’re like me your feet will start to hurt! Luckily the rest of track is mainly downhill and follows the railway line into Pukerua Bay. The hike actually finishes right on the railway so it’s perfect for getting the train back to Paekakariki.
Getting Back to the car after Hiking the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
The hike finishes at Pukerua railway station as mentioned above so simply wait for the next train. You want to be waiting for the train on the farthest platform but it’s signposted clearly. In terms of getting a ticket, be aware that you can only pay on the train in cash not card. There isn’t a ticket station at Pukerua Bay and the one at Paekakariki closes before 4 pm. Make sure you either buy your ticket at Paekakariki before starting the escarpment track or bring some cash. A one-way ticket from Pukerua Bay back is $4 the journey taking around 12 minutes.
Essentials to Take on The Paekakariki Escarpment Track
- Plenty of Water – with steep hills to climb you’re going to need it!
- Sun cream in the summer months
- Food – always bring to much
- Another layer of clothing – the weather can change very quickly on the track
- Hiking Boots – I recommend wearing hiking shoes/opposed to trainers.Some of the terrain is uneven and a wrong foot or roll of the ankle could see you tumbling off the edge!
- Head Torch – just in case!
- Cash – for the train!
Best Time of Year to Visit
This could depend on who you ask. We did the track in winter and to I think it was a perfect time! As a pretty fit individual (I think) I don’t know how well I would’ve coped with those steps and steep inclines on a hot summers day! Honestly, I may have collapsed in a heap. The track in summer also worries me. The hike is so beautiful that I imagine it gets a lot of traffic come summertime and the track is so narrow that if it gets busy it could get dangerous. Of course, I could just be being a total wimp but I love exploring places when they’re quieter and off-season! I think you get a much more absolute representation of the place. A bunch of tourists or locals taking photographs at every turn? Were all guilty but it kind off puts you off a little don’t you think?
Freedom Camping Near The Paekakariki Escarpment Track
Freedom camping is one of the most popular ways to travel around New Zealand. Hence why this little section is making it into the post! If you do want to stay overnight in Paekakariki then as I mentioned before there is a backpackers which I’ll link here.
But if you are freedom camping then there are plenty of spots nearby. Motukaraka Point Reserve is a wonderful little spot on the way back into Wellington. There is plenty of space for camper vans. The toilets stay open all night and are fairly decent. If you are heading north then make sure you download Wiki Camps which will be a total life save in finding sweet free and paid camping spots during your trip!
The Paekakariki Escarpment Track has certainly been one of the best hikes in Wellington we’ve done so far. I would recommend it to anybody looking for things to do out of the city. There is so much to do in Wellington and I’ve found backpackers to rush through this curious capital in search of those epic mountains and vast New Zealand landscape. But Wellington is definitely worth hanging around for! Check out my post on what to do in Wellington in winter here – featuring another mega walk where you can see Fur Seals in their natural habitat! Wellington to me is the city that just keeps on giving!
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Happy and Healthy Travels,