The Paekakariki Escarpment Track is a section hike with views of Kapiti Island and Pukerua Bay.
Opened in 2016, the 10km long track is New Zealand’s version of the Stairway to Heaven and is part of the Te Araroa Trail. Following the Centennial Highway you can start from either the Pukerua Bay or Paekakariki Train Station.
In this post I will:
- talk about the walk & what to expect
- include photos from the hike
- put together an FAQ to help your trip
If you have any questions after reading the post, send me an email, happy to help.
From Paekakariki: Walking to the trailhead
After getting off the train the Paekakariki Station (or the nearby carpark), you head south to the end of the platform. Many suggest walking the ~1km along the highway (SH1), but it’s not exactly my idea of a fun walk. Instead, turn right onto Beach Road past the Paekakariki Village shops, and take the first left (~140 metres) onto Ames Street.
Walk all the way to the end of Ames Street where it joins up to SH1. Turn left, walking over the bridge and as soon as you get to the other side, you’ll see the stairs (see the photo above) that take you under the highway to where the walk Escarpment track starts. It might take a couple of extra minutes to walk this way, but it’s much nicer. You could also check out the Paekak Beach on the way too (keep walking down Beach Road).
Now the walk/hike begins.
The first 2km or so is cruisey. It’s more or less a flat track, the perfect warm up. If you like you could also complete the Kohekohe Loop Track, a walk through a mature kohekohe forest. I didn’t complete the loop, but the signboard said:
- 5 minutes to the first lookout
- 30 minutes to the loop (starts 5 minutes after the lookout)
- 50 minutes to return
- Medium difficulty rating
Carrying on, you’ll start to ascend, with the train tracks and highway on your righthandside. Don’t forget to take a look behind you from time to time, as the ultimate view is looking back towards Kapiti Island.
The trail is clear, you can’t get lost at all. The tricky part is it’s narrow. The track condition is good though and you’ll be fine walking two abreast most of the time. Take your time when are people are passing by, unless you like pushing people down hills?
Soon enough you’ll come across the first set of stairs. They’re all in good condition, but if you’re not fit you will find it tough going. I saw someone mention there was 1500 stairs, but that seems ambitious. 500 would be more accurate.
The highest elevation you reach is about ~220 above sea level, which isn’t so bad, but the track is undulating at times. What I did like was the lack of switchbacks, shout out to the trail designers for that.
There’s no shelter along the way, but you’ll find some wooden benches along the way. It’s important to stay on the tracks at all times, as the farmers could prevent people from accessing the track if people start to ruin everything. Once you reach the summit there are five benches or so before you begin the steep descent.
There are no handrails so it pays to take extra care (though you’ll see trail runners on the track).
When you get back down towards ground level, the track is flat(ish) most of the way as you pass over two swing bridges. The swing bridges are sturdy (5 people max), though in the wind they could get the nerves going. After the bridges you’ll encounter more bush (and some shade!) which is quite a contrast to the start of the hike. If you’re quiet, you may catch sight of birds, including tui’s (no, not the beer) who seem to love the area.
After 8km or so, the trail starts to move away from the coastline and that’s all the epic views completed. You might find one property has a bunch of wooden bees nests in place. They’re 12-15 metres away from the track, and you should be fine, but I thought it’s worth mentioning.
The track finishes at the old Muri Train Station (closed). From here, follow the signs to the Pukerua Bay train station/Te Araroa sign and you’ll be there in ~10 minutes.
Fun Fact: Peter Jackson (LOTR etc.) was born in Pukerua Bay.
I’d recommend getting the next train and getting food in either Paekakariki Village or wherever your accommodation is rather than in Pukerua Bay.
Paekakariki Escarpment Track FAQ etc.
How long does it take to walk the trail?
The guidelines are 3-4 hours, though the faster walkers could get it completed in two hours. I arrived at Paekakariki Station at 11:15 and was at Pukerua Bay Station at about 2 pm, so 2 hours and 45 minutes. That was going at a steady pace, though I probably stopped to take more photos than necessary.
Is there a track map available?
From what I gather, there’s no physical map anywhere, but you won’t get lost. You can see the trail marked at the bottom of this page but you should download the Maps.me app as you can see the trail there (it’s offline maps).
Are dogs &/or bikes allowed on the track?
No, they make it very clear that no bike, dogs, horses, or motorised vehicles are not allowed on the track. The reason being the narrow track, agreements with farmers and Kiwirail, and resource consent.
Is the walk safe?
At both trailheads is a large sign letting you know that the hike is steep, exposed, and on the edge. You can read the other details on the photo above.
A Paekakariki Escarpment Trail death is often mentioned in conversations about the safety of the hike. This wasn’t as a result of the track being dangerous, he collapsed. Of course, if you’re not fit, this could be a big challenge.
Track maintenance is regular. There had been a small slip on the track that cleaned up with a small sign let you know this 10 metres or so before reaching the area.
If the weather is horrible, the wind is howling, and the rain is persistent, you’d be silly to walk the trail.
What is the best direction to walk the Escarpment track?
I walk the trail from north to south, starting from Paekakariki. This was on a good weather day, and I feel like it is the better of the two options (will get around to the other direction eventually). But something to consider is the wind, walking into a chilly southerly doesn’t sound like the best idea to me so you might prefer starting at the Pukerua Bay end. You can’t go wrong either way.
Here’s A Video Of Some Of Some Of The Views.
(video wasn’t made by me).
How to get to the Escarpment Trailhead.
The best starting point, if you’re walking south towards Wellington, is Paekakariki Train Station, and if you’re walking north you start from Pukerua Bay Train Station.
Drive: If you’re driving, there is free parking available at both train stations (at Tilley Road Railway Station car park for Paekakariki & Takutai Road for Pukerua Bay). Park at one of the stations, and when you’ve finished the walk, catch the train back to your starting point (train timetable/fare links below).
Public Transport: For many of you reading, you’ll be staying/living somewhere between Waikanae and Wellington, which makes this walk super easy to reach on the train.
Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay train stations are located on the Kapiti Line (KPL) which is sometimes referred to as the Waikanae line.
Note: If you’re coming from Wellington, you might be better off getting a Day Pass rather than buying individual tickets.
The trains run every half an hour during the week (full timetable) and the cost for an adult is (paying with case):
Wellington to Paekakariki
Wellington to Pukerua Bay
From Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki (and vice-versa)
To figure out how much your fares will be, you can use the Journey Planner.
Best time of the day to walk the track?
The biggest factor is with the sunset. The sun sets on the Kapiti Island side of the walk, so there’s the opportunity of an epic sunset. But I’m not sure if I’d like to be walking back down in the dark. Sunrise would be pretty sweet with the morning light shining over the bay and Kapiti Island. On a hot summer’s day, the lack of shelter would mean avoiding the hottest part of the day is ideal.
Is it worth it?
We’ve all got different reasons for going, but most Escarpment Track reviews are positive with a 4.5/5 rating on both TripAdvisor and Google Maps. It’s hard to find anything bad to say about the track. If anything people find it harder than expected and some people expect 100% epic views 100% of the time.
MORE WALKS AROUND WELLINGTON:
The Paekakariki Escarpment Walkway is a great way to spend an afternoon in Wellington. If you have any questions about the hike, get in touch.