The Red Rocks Walkway is a popular weekend walk on Wellington’s southern coastline. This post is about the coastal walkway to the Red Rocks and Sinclair Head where the seal colonies hang out. In total it’s about an 8 km return walk.
This post will include:
- My Red Rocks Coastal Walkway experience
- Short video of scenes from Red Rocks
- Plenty of photos
- FAQ with useful information
At one point during University I lived 5km from the Red Rocks visitor center. It’s a little bit embarrassing that the first time I went was in October 2018 (I’ll blame the beer).
Before getting into the post, this video is a compilation of video clips that might be of interest to you from the Red Rocks walk.
Note: I was getting confused with two trails with a similar name before the walk. There’s the Red Rocks Walkway and the Red Rocks Track. At the visitor centre there was a sign talking about the Red Rocks Track being a 400-meter elevation change which I didn’t do. This post is talking about the Red Rocks Walkway/Red Rocks Coastal Walk which has minimal elevation change and follows the coast. The Red Rocks Track is a 4.5km-one way inland hike (hence the elevation) that starts between the Red Rocks and Devil’s Gate.
When you arrive at the visitor centre it’s worth having a look inside and reading about the area (there’s a fresh water tap/toilets there too).
The walk begins at the far end of the carpark, you can’t miss it as the track it’s the same track the cars use (pedestrian access only on Sundays). The only obstacle is the small stream soon after the gate. It’s tiny and there are rocks you can walk over to avoid wet shoes. If you’re wondering why you shouldn’t drive to the rocks, well the walk is nice with epic views of various bays. The waters crash onto the rocks on one side, and the steep hillside watches over you on the other. But most of all, you need a 4WD for the tracks. It’s not exactly a tough drive, but I did see one 4WD get stuck and needed to be winched out of the pebbles/sand.
Wholly though, the wind can be crazy and it’s not fun when the wind picks up the sand and dust and throws it into your face. It’s impressive that despite the rough seas, the Interislander goes across the strait most days.
The walk to the Red Rocks is 2.7km, and while there’s no sign, you’ll definitely know when you reach them. They are actually red! I was thinking this might have been some kind of nickname, but it’s not. There’s a ~30 metre stretch along the water’s edge where the majority of the rocks are red. It’s quite the fun gimmick. They aren’t exactly interactive, so you won’t need to be there long but it’s cool as. You’ll remember visiting them for a few years.
Another 1.3km along the walkway is Sinclair Head which you can see from the Red Rocks thanks to Devil’s Gate. The walk here is much the same, but it’s worth it as it’s home to a seal colony. Speaking to one of the guides from Seal Coast Safari she said that you’ll see seals here all year round, but the numbers vary. From May to August is the peak season when the males come to chill out. If you make it to Devil’s Gate and don’t see any, walk another 100 metres and you should see some hanging out on the rock. They are camouflaged on the rocks, but once you see one, you’ll start to see more. In October 2018 I spotted around a dozen. Depending on your level of interest, you could be there for two minutes, but if you saw them when they were more active don’t be surprised to see yourself there for an hour or so (you’ll have to provide your own David Attenborough commentary).
After you reach this point, you could keep walking all the way around the coast, but for 97% of people, this will be the turn around point.
On your way back there are two baches (Kiwi beach houses) between Devil’s Gate and the Red Rocks. Between the baches is a narrow path that climbs the hill to the remnants of bunkers from World War 2. I couldn’t see the walking track though (didn’t look hard) but it looks like a fun adventure. There’s a signpost with a map of all the surrounding walking tracks that’ll give you an idea of where to go (by the Red Rocks Track entrance).
When you started your walk, you may have noticed a couple of tracks heading inland on your right-hand side. These paths are no longer maintained by the council, but you can go up to them. The one that climbs up is steep and a wee bit sketchy but after 10 minutes or so, you’ll get some cool views which I’ll pop below. The other track follows the stream. I turned around after 10 minutes, not wanting to end up there injured overnight on my own!
The FAQ begins after the photos.
Red Rocks Walkway FAQ etc.
How do I get to the Mount Kaukau trailhead?
You have two options. You can drive to the start of the walkway or catch public transport as close as you can and walk the rest of the way.
Drive: There’s a car park at the end of Owhiro Bay Parade with lots of parking spaces available. The carpark is at the Te Kopahou Visitor Center.
Public Transport: It’s a bit of a pain to get to with public transport. It’ll depend on where you’re staying in Wellington, but for most the best option will be to catch the #1 bus to Island Bay and get of at the Reef Street opposite Shortland Street. From here, you walk through the park to the coastline and turn right. Proceed to carry on walking along the coast until you reach the Visitor Center which is the entrance to the walkway. Total walking time is 25-30 minutes.
Are dogs &/or bikes allowed on the track?
Yes too both. Dog’s must be on a leash at all time.
How long does it take to walk the trail?
The wind is the biggest influence on this. The distance from the visitor centre to Sinclair Head is 8.8km return, which should be no more than 2-2.5 hours walking time, 3 at most. Add time for watching the seals and checking out the red rocks as desired.
Is the walk safe?
Yup, but there’s a couple of things to be wary of:
- Cars: The walking path is shared with 4WD’s & Motorbikes. Be sure to move to the side of the road when they’re coming.
- Seals: Out of courtesy to the seals, don’t go within 20 metres of them. Let them be!
- Sand: THE SANDMAN MIGHT GET YOU! Not really, but on a windy day, the sand and dust get picked up and it kind of does hurt in an annoying way when it whips your skin. Bring your sunglasses, it wouldn’t be fun to get a bunch in your eye.
Best time of the day to walk?
Mid-morning to early afternoon. In the late afternoon, the sun starts to drift behind the hills so to maximise the sunshine (it’s flat so you aren’t working too hard) aim for the middle of the day.
Is there a place for food or drink nearby?
Not in the immediate area, althought there is a freshwater tap attached to the eastern side of the visitor centre. The nearest cafe is The Beach House and Kiosk with meals ranging from $15-$25. They also got some win and beer on the menu.
Is freedom camping available at Red Rocks?
Yup, it is for no more than 4 days/month if your vehicle is self-contained. There’s a part of the carpark where campers need to park, so be sure to read the sign and park in the right spot. Clean up after yourself and follow the rules, and nobody will bother you.
Is it worth it?
If you don’t have a car, it’s a bit of a pain to get too. If you’re only here for a couple days then you can skip it and go do other things in the city. Here for three or more days? It’s a nice walk and if you haven’t a seal in the wild before, here’s your chance.
Enjoy your walk to the Red Rocks! As always, happy to help with any questions you may have.
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