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Just a short drive from the centre of Wellington, the Paekakariki Escarpment track is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. The track travels along the Kāpiti coastline from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay. Along the walk you will be treated to spectacular views of the coastline as well as Kāpiti Island which is visible for the majority of the walk.
This day walk is an extremely popular local attraction amongst walkers, hikers and trail runners in the area. The track is part of the Te Araroa trail which is a 3000km walking track that starts in Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island and ends in Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. Don’t worry though, this section of the track will only have you walking 9.1km.
In this guide you will learn all that you need to know to successfully walk, hike or run the track for yourself, so let’s dive straight in.
- Key Details
- Paekakariki Escarpment Track Difficulty, Distance and Elevation
- How to Get to the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
- Which Way to Walk the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
- When is the Best Time to Walk the Track?
- Who is the Walk Suitable for?
- Navigating the Track
- The Route
- What to Pack For the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
- Thoughts on the Walk
- Distance: 9.1km
- Time to Complete: 3-4 Hours
- Elevation Gain: 363m (Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay)
- Difficulty: Easy to Intermediate
- Start and Finish: Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay
Paekakariki Escarpment Track Difficulty, Distance and Elevation
Most people will walk the track from Paekakariki train station to Pukerua train station as it is easier in this direction. From station to station the distance is 10km, however the actual track is 9.1km. The trail is a relatively easy tramping track that is well formed throughout and any steep climbs or descents have been created into stairways to make the journey easier.
It is common to see families walking the track with children as it is considered an easy to intermediate track. It is however worth noting that some may find it quite challenging as there are over 1000 steps to conquer. Also during windy days the narrow paths are quite exposed to the elements and can become quite dangerous.
The first 2km and last 2km are relatively flat and effortless. The hardest parts of the walk are the climbs and descents found in the middle of the walk. My tracking app recorded an elevation gain of 363m when I completed the walk and the highest point on the track is at 220m above sea level.
How to Get to the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
When it comes to traveling to the start and from the finish of the track you have two options, either by car or train.
Travel By Train
There are train stations near either end of the track, these stations are Pukerua Bay at the southern end of the track and Paekakariki near the northern end. Both of these stations are stops on the Kāpiti line service that connects Wellington station to Waikanae station.
If you are travelling from Wellington and don’t have a car, this is a great option as the journey only takes 45 minutes to get to Paekakariki. Once you have walked the track you can jump straight on another train and head back to Wellington. Tickets can be purchased either at Wellington station or on board the train with cash. You cannot buy train tickets at Pukerua Bay station, you can however purchase tickets from Paekakariki Village grocery store near Paekakariki station. When I walked the track I caught the train from Wellington and purchased an Explorers Day Pass zones 1-10 which covered me for all my travel.
Travel By Car
If you have a car you can drive to either end of the track and park at Paekakariki or Pukerua Bay station, it’s free to park at both stations. Once you finish the track you can catch the train back to where you started.
Which Way to Walk the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the direction in which you walk the track. I’ve walked the track twice and both times it seemed like there were plenty of people walking in both directions. However, from my experience it seems the route from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay is slightly more popular.
The route from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay will have you climbing to the summit sooner, meaning you can get the hardest part out the way early. Also it seemed as if there were less steps to climb when walking towards Pukerua Bay. This being said, both directions will take you on an amazing adventure.
When is the Best Time to Walk the Track?
A sunny clear day with little to no wind are the ideal conditions for walking the Paekakariki Escarpment track. The views along the track are truly epic and for the best experience, you will want to make sure you catch the Escarpment on a clear day.
The track is exposed to the elements for the majority of the day so if the wind speed is too high the track can become quite dangerous. Some parts of the track can be narrow and very close to steep drops in the hillside so during high winds safety can be a concern. Also crossing the swing bridges during windy conditions would be no fun as these bridges do move in the wind. If it is raining, the countless steps can become slippery so make sure you are careful if it’s wet.
Who is the Walk Suitable for?
If you have a reasonable level of fitness and don’t mind walking up and back down a few steps then you will be able to tackle the Paekakariki Escarpment track fine. The track will take approximately 3-4 hours to complete so you must be prepared to walk for this long.
There are signs at the start and finish of the track that specify that dogs, horses and wheeled vehicles such as bikes are not allowed on the trail. It also indicates that the trail is unsuitable for small children such as toddlers.
Navigating the Track
Navigating the track is fairly straightforward as it is well formed and signposted, however first you need to find where the track starts. If you are starting in Paekakariki, make your way to State Highway 1 and walk north towards Pukerua Bay. After about 2 minutes you will start to see signs for the Escarpment Track and Te Araroa trail. Follow these signs for approximately 600m until you reach the railway bridge underpass. Walk down the steps and under the bridge and you will find the start of the track.
If you are starting from Pukerua Bay, navigating to the track is a little more tricky as the first part will have you walking through a residential area. From the train station, locate the park and skatepark across from the station. Once you have found the park follow the path that runs alongside it. Eventually this path will bring you out onto Sea Vista Drive, once you reach it turn left and walk along the road for approximately 4 minutes. After 4 minutes take a left turn to stay on Sea Vista Drive. Now follow the signposts which will direct you towards a short cut through a field and to the track.
Once on the track it is very hard to get lost as it is very obvious where the track leads to. At various points along the track you will find kilometre markers that indicate how far you have walked and how far you have left to walk. The markers are made from big rusty chunks of metal that have the kilometres cut into the metal, they’re pretty hard to miss.
If starting from Paekakariki, the route starts fairly easy. After approximately 2km you will reach the start of the steps that will take you to the summit at 220m above sea level, this is the hardest part of the walk when walking in this direction. The ascent to the summit is approximately 1.5km and if you feel tired there are benches placed periodically along the track just in case you need a rest. The walk up to the summit is amazing as the views get better and better the further you climb up.
Once you reach the top, if the weather permits you can enjoy a well deserved break while you take in the spectacular views of the coastline. On the way back down from the summit there are a lot more stairs to walk down than the ones you previously walked up. After a little while of descending the many steps, you will reach the first swing bridge. Both of the swing bridges are definitely the highlight of the walk. Once you have crossed the first swing bridge the second one isn’t too much further.
There is a little bit of uphill and downhill to tackle from 5km to 7km but this is not overly taxing. Once you reach the final 2 km of the track it is plain sailing, from here it’s mostly flat and quite easy. The last 2km will have you mostly following alongside the Kāpiti line train track until you finally reach Pukerua Station. And just like that you have finished the Paekakariki Escarpment Track.
What to Pack For the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
You don’t need to pack a lot of equipment in order to complete the Paekakariki Escarpment Track. I’ve seen some people walking the track with nothing but a water bottle, however there are a few items that will make your hike a little more enjoyable.
Sunscreen is an important item to bring along to protect your skin, especially if it’s a nice sunny day. Make sure you have a water bottle with you and a packed lunch or snacks to keep yourself fuelled until the end.
When it comes to what you wear, a nice sturdy pair of running shoes will do – trail running shoes are the best as they have more grip than conventional running footwear. Waterproof and warm layers can come in handy even on the nicest of days. It can be very windy especially when you reach the summit, so a warm waterproof layer will be very useful. Walking poles are not essential, however they can be beneficial if you struggle with uphill climbs or downhill descents.
If you are planning on catching the train back to where you started then you will need to make sure you have some cash with you for a ticket.
Below you can find a full list of items I took with me both times I have walked the track:
- Water bottle
- Lunch and snacks
- Running shoes or hiking boots
- Warm waterproof layer such as a rain jacket
- Cash for a train ticket
- Camera. I like the Fujifilm X-T30
- Walking poles can also be useful for some people
Thoughts on the Walk
The Paekakariki Escarpment Track is definitely a walk you will want to experience. If you happen to be in the Wellington area and are looking for something to keep you occupied I really recommend you give it a go. It’s a really interesting and enjoyable walk which isn’t too challenging and this is great because it means lots of people can enjoy the spectacular views of the Kāpiti coastline.
If you are planning on walking the track make sure you check the weather forecast first. It may be an amazing walk with impressive views but during rain or strong winds the exposed track would be no fun. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
If you’re looking for some more great Wellington walks check out this article.