Of bunkers and beaches
Mākara Beach is a harsh environment. The prevailing nor-wester that roars over Wellington’s western hills churns a choppy Cook Strait. On a still day, though, Mākara is magic – a place of sparkling waters, friends fishing and families making fun.
A distinctive aspect of the Mākara Walkway is the contrast between open farmland, with its sweeping hilltop views, and the marine environment and sense of being hemmed in by the hills. The walkway is a loop and I prefer going clockwise, as the views are better and you avoid a somewhat dispiriting climb up a farm road.
The loop junction is 10 minutes along the beach. Follow the path uphill and arrive on a steep ridge with wide views over Cook Strait. There’s a real feeling of ‘wild’ here, with sheer hillsides that fall away at your feet, and layer upon layer of ranges in the Marlborough Sounds on the horizon.
Continue along the ridge to Fort Opau. At 200m, this is the highest point of the walkway, overlooking the glistening arc of Opau Bay.
From 1941 until 1944, Fort Opau formed part of Wellington’s Second World War defence network. During that time, 100 personnel were stationed there. Similar forts remain dotted around the Wellington peninsula. Fort Opau was built to defend those sections of Cook Strait that the Wrights Hill guns left vulnerable. The gun emplacements are fenced off, but you can enter other bunkers.
An easy 500m walk along the crest of the hill leads to the access point with West Wind Farm. Although wind turbines are scattered all over the Mākara hills, it’s hard to comprehend the scale of these enormous structures until you come face to face with them. West Wind Farm has more than 60 turbines and, on most days, their huge blades will be whooshing round. The wind farm produces enough energy to power more than 70,000 homes.
Turn right and descend along a steep but sealed farm road to the Opau Stream. A fantastic wall of driftwood forms a barricade between the land and sea. This is a nice spot to pause and enjoy a sense of remoteness – it seems hard to believe that the bustling capital is just over the hills.
The walkway now loops back on itself and traces the stony coastal beaches. Occasionally it is a bit of a slog but in most places the path is well-trodden. Besides, there is no need to rush and walkers can inspect the numerous rock pools, just as my father and I did years ago in my childhood.
At the north end of Opau Bay, the path rounds a headland. Take a last look at the Marlborough Sounds as the turbine-laden hills that surround Mākara Beach appear in front. It’s not far now—only another 2km back to the car park.
Mākara Walkway is a tempting option for families – it’s straightforward, accessible, rewarding, and can be walked in any season. In August and September, part of the walkway is closed for lambing, during which time Fort Opau must be accessed from the beach.
- Lachlan McKenzie