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August 2016 Issue
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Above the madding crowd

The southern-most of two 40m swingbridges offers great views of Kapiti Island and SH1 below. Photo: Peter Laurenson
7.53km one way
Total Ascent
From Pukerua Bay shops on SH1 (parking at the railway station recommended), or Beach Rd, Paekakariki

Paekakariki Escarpment Track, Wellington

My primary backcountry interest is climbing, so I haven’t paid much attention to the 3000km Te Araroa Trail. That doesn’t mean I’m not impressed by what has been created. Now spanning the full length of New Zealand, the first section of trail – Kerikeri to Waitangi – was opened in 1995 and further work is expected into 2017 before all sections are complete.

The newest section, opened in early April, did grab my attention. Since it opened, it’s been an intriguing sight driving along SH1 between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki to spot walkers high above on the steep hillside. The Te Araroa Trust estimates some 15,000 people have already walked the track.

Given all the hard work put into constructing the trail and, being so close and accessible to my home in Wellington, I felt I had to check it out. But I’m not keen on crowds, especially in the hills, so I bided my time until the initial post-opening interest eased a bit.

Recent fine weather provided the perfect mid-week opportunity. Setting off at 6.30am, in less than half an hour from my door, I was walking north from the Pukerua Bay railway station car park. Trains depart every half hour from Paekakariki railway station at the opposite end of the trail, so getting back to my car was no problem.

I chose walking the trail from south to north so I could look towards the sunrise and picturesque Kapiti Island as I went. It was a good choice that morning because, while the view out to sea across Kapiti Island and north to Ruapehu was crystal clear, low cloud obscured the South Island.

At both ends, the trail begins alongside the railway tracks near sea level. If you’re used to the labyrinth of roots and mud in the Tararuas, you’ll find this track highly civilised. It’s well graded with well-formed steps on all ups and downs – perfect for youngsters and oldies alike.

The high point of the trail is 220m above the sea, near the 5km marker and halfway point –  Wellington’s Mt KauKau involves just as much climbing.

There are two 40m swingbridges, an area of kohekohe forest and several information points along the route. And of course there’s always the view to enjoy. Like much of the rest of the Te Araroa Trail, this section is a different experience to backcountry tramping. Te Araroa connects settlements, townships and cities and, perched high above SH1, this is evident. I gazed down as the sun rose on a steady stream of vehicles and felt like I was really enjoying a treat. The silence was golden and I only met three other walkers during the two and half hours I spent on it.

I was back home again by 10.30 – just a four-hour round trip.