If there’s one thing Kiwis love, it’s a good tramp. Now if, like me, you’re British, you may be slightly confused, but here in New Zealand tramping has nothing to do with sleeping on park benches and everything to do with enjoying the great outdoors. Tramping, hiking, yomping, or just plain walking: whatever you call it, there are truly spectacular tracks to be tramped all over the country. Despite what you may assume, Wellington is no exception. You might not have time to tackle some of NZ’s most iconic hiking routes, but you can get your tramp on without even leaving the city. Here are some of the best walks Wellington has to offer.
From the bush to the bay, the five top tramps below are all accessible by public transport from central Wellington. They suit a range of abilities and can be enjoyed without the need for top-of-the-range kit. Whether you’ve got an hour or a whole day, lace up those trainers and get out there!
1. Mount Victoria Lookout
1hr; moderate; some steep sections
Climbing to the top of Mount Victoria is a Wellington must-do! Rising almost 200m above Evans Bay, on a clear day you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled 360-degree views of the city, Cook Strait and beyond. The lookout is easily accessible from the city centre and there are several different routes up, most of which take you through the beautiful pine forest that makes up the Town Belt. Make like a local and pack a picnic to enjoy as the sun goes down.
Starting from Courtenay Place, cross Cambridge Terrace and Kent Terrace then into Majoribanks Street. At the end of the street you should see a sign for the Southern Walkway; follow these until you see signs for Summit Walkway, then up you go!
Alternatively, take the slightly more scenic route via Oriental Bay. Head past the Te Papa Museum and along the waterfront until you reach Oriental Parade. You’ll see a sign for the Southern Walkway on the right-hand side (if you reach Evans Bay Parade, you’ve gone too far!). Follow the signs through the residential area, into the Town Belt and up to the lookout.
Tramp tip: Some parts can be steep, so wear trainers or sports shoes. The lookout is also accessible by car or a number of bus routes.
2. Otari-Wilton’s Bush
from 1hr; moderate; some steep or slippery stretches
In just 15 minutes you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city and find yourself in the middle of untouched ancient forest. Otari-Wilton’s Bush is a 100-hectare nature reserve and plant sanctuary just north of Wellington, easily accessible from the CBD on the number 14 bus. It’s entirely dedicated to native New Zealand species, some of which can only be found here. Best of all, entry is free!
There are a variety of tracks to choose from, none of which take longer than two hours, so it’s up to you how long you spend exploring. If you’ve only got time for one walk, the Blue Track (1 hour 30 mins) will take you past the reserve’s star attraction: a native Rimu tree thought to be around 800 years old. Keep your eyes peeled for tui, kereru, kaka, fantails and other bird species.
Some sections can be steep and the tracks and boardwalks could get muddy and slippery in bad weather. Check the forecast before you go and leave the jandals at home!
Tramp tips: There are toilets and water fountains available at the visitors centre and picnic area. Bring food with you.
3. Red Rocks
2hrs, easy, flat throughout
This stroll along Wellington’s windswept Southern coast is named for the striking rusty-coloured rocky outcrops, formed by ancient volcanic lava 200 years ago. From May to October this stretch of coastline is also home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals. On a clear day you’ll even be able to see the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps across the Cook Strait – truly epic.
Catch the number 1 bus from the CBD to Island Bay and get off at the last stop (Reef Street). It’s a 2km walk from here to the Red Rocks track: alternatively, buses 4 or 29 will drop you closer to the starting point on weekdays.
Turn right and follow the road around Island Bay and neighbouring Owhiro Bay, exploring the rockpools of the Taputeranga Marine Reserve on the way. You might also see see scuba divers investigating the shallows.
Continue past the popular Beach House Café to the car park at the end, and through the gates on to the stony track. This will take you around Sinclair Head, where you’ll see the rocks and, hopefully, the seals! You might want to go on a Sunday, when the track is closed to vehicles otherwise it can get busy with 4WD’s ferrying seal-spotters out to the colony.
Tramp tips: There are toilets in the car park at the start of the walk. Take food and water with you. Seals can feel threatened by humans, so keep a reasonable distance at all times and never get between them and the sea.
4. Matiu / Somes Island
2-3hrs (plus sailing time); easy; flat
Get a different perspective on Wellington harbour and the city skyline with a brisk and breezy trip over the water to Somes Island.
Nestled slap-bang in the middle of the harbour, the island has had many uses over the years. From an early Maori settlement to an animal quarantine station to a wartime detention centre. Today it’s an important wildlife sanctuary and a great place to spot some of NZ’s beautiful native bird species.
Take the East by West Ferry from Queen’s Wharf – check the timetable for daily sailing times. The island is completely predator-free and, understandably, they’re keen to keep it that way. Visitor numbers are limited in the busy summer months. You’ll need to factor in time for a 20-minute biosecurity inspection when you arrive and depart.
You can walk around the island in 2 to 3 hours. Take in some of its colourful history at the Visitor Centre and don’t miss the view from the Southern Lookout.
Tramp tips: The ferry costs $25 return. Sailings may be cancelled in rough weather. There are toilets at the visitor’s centre but no catering facilities: bring your own food and water (and take your rubbish with you!). Don’t take your bike, you can’t take it with you to the island.
5. Stairway to Heaven
around 4hrs; challenging; steep stairs and exposed pathways
After a bit of a challenge? The Paekakariki Escarpment Track, also known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is a more adventurous tramp, but worth it if you’ve got a day to spare!
This newly-opened track is located on the Kapiti Coast, a half-hour drive or 45-minute train journey from Wellington. It forms part of the 3000km Te Araroa Trail, which runs from the very top of the North Island at Cape Reinga, to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.
The track’s nickname comes from – you guessed it – the many, many stairs you’ll climb up, or down, depending on which end you start from. You can get off the train at either Paekakariki or Pukerua Bay; it’s a slightly longer walk from the station at Paekakariki (around 10 minutes) but if you start at that end, you’ll go down more stairs than up.
You’ll get a bit of everything on this walk, as the 10km route winds through coastal bush and farmland and zig-zags up and down hills. But be warned: it includes some very steep sections, stairs and swing bridges, and is on a fairly exposed stretch of cliff which can be dangerous in high winds. Make sure you are well prepared, with plenty of water, sun cream, decent footwear and suitable clothing.
Tramp tip: Check the weather forecast before you set off and don’t attempt the track in bad weather. This track is not suitable for people with vertigo or heart conditions. Take food and water with you. Train travel costs around $20.
Author: Sally has been to 27 countries in the same pair of flip-flops, and can currently be found in Wellington, New Zealand. Follow her travels, tips and eats in and around the world’s “coolest little capital” at whatsallydidnextblog.wordpress.com and @cdfcoffeecrawl on Instagram.