New Zealand’s coolest little capital is truly that: a small but awesome city with heaps of things to see and do, overflowing with great coffee and quirky vibes. But something I didn’t realise until I moved there is that there are so many great walking tracks in Wellington, many of which are accessible via public transport!
When you live in a city as beautiful as Wellington, you have no excuse not to get out and enjoy the scenery; even a stroll along the harbour on a sunny day makes you feel as if you’re in the Mediterranean. James and I often spent our weekends in the bush or on a hilltop when we lived in Welly as we love hiking and felt the need to reconnect with nature after a week in the office.
We’ve been lucky enough to have hiked all over New Zealand in many beautiful National Parks… we’ve hiked along the beaches of the Abel Tasman, in the shadow of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, and across the ridges of the peaks in Fiordland National Park. Although Wellington’s scenery doesn’t quite rival that of Mordor, there are still some beautiful views to be had of the city and the surrounding greenery, and some wonderful hidden places to explore that are a little more ‘off-the-beaten-track’.
This list encompasses my 15 favourite walking tracks in Wellington, because I simply couldn’t whittle it down to any fewer! Truth be told I’ve enjoyed every hike I went on in Wellington, so you can rest assured that every track included in this list has been tried and tested by myself and James. We’ve endured the heat, the sweat, the tears (ok I didn’t cry on any of these hikes, that’s another story!) and absolutely loved them all. Many of these walking tracks are easy and even wheel-chair-friendly but others are more challenging. If you’re heading to Wellington on your trip to New Zealand, consider staying a few days to experience another side to the cool, quirky capital.
This hike is hugely popular with Wellingtonians as it’s so easily accessible and so rewarding! The climb to the summit of Mount Kaukau is a quick but steep climb; we had to stop to catch our breath a couple of times. However the views at the top are absolutely stunning as you can see the entire city and how it’s nestled amongst the hills and leaves. You can take the Johnsonville train to Simla Crescent and begin the hike here.
Continuing from Mount Kaukau along the Skyline Track, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city, the southern coast, and even the South Island (on a clear day!). The track starts in Johnsonville and finishes in Karori, but you can begin or end the track at a number of points along the route; we descended through Otari-Wilton’s Bush. The entire route takes around 5 hours, so it’s a really decent hike considering its proximity to the city!
Tucked away amongst the leaves near Eastbourne is a short hike that’s perfect for sunny days as you’re sheltered by the cover of the trees. The track zig-zags up and over the hill through regenerating bush, before reaching the creek; you’ll cross the bridge to the water and a pleasant picnic area. Take your lunch with you! The track takes around 1.5 hours return and is easily accessible by bus.
Take a stroll or rent a bike and head to the historic Pencarrow Lighthouse: the first permanent lighthouse in the whole of New Zealand! The track follows the coastline before ascending the side of the hill to the lighthouse and a lookout point; it’s a beautiful but very windy spot that feels miles from the city although you can see it in the distance! The views of the harbour, the city, the sea, the lakes, and the South Island are just stunning. It took us around 3.5 hours return to hike this track; bikes can be hired from the shop at the start of the walk. This track is easily accessible by bus.
This loop track is a half-hour drive from the city on the south east coast. It starts and ends at Makara beach but takes around 3 hours to do the full loop walk as there’s quite an incline on the inland part. We chose to get the hill over and done with at the start and came back along the beach. Remember the wind turbines you saw on the Skyline track earlier? Now you’re seeing them from the other side. The track passes an ancient Māori pā site and the Fort Opau gun emplacements which you’re free to explore.
Red Rocks (Te Kopahou Reserve)
One of my favourite walking tracks in Wellington, this walk is most commonly known by the name of ‘Red Rocks’ because of the colour of the rocks along the shore. This is actually an ancient pillow lava formed 200 million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions, and they get their distinct colour from small amounts of iron oxide. The track follows the coastline and is mostly flat. It continues to Sinclair Head, where a seal colony can be found between May and October; they are bachelor males who weren’t lucky enough to find a mate, unfortunately!
Top tip: If you see seals in New Zealand, please keep your distance (at least 10m) and never go between them and the sea.
If you don’t want to walk, you should at least go for a drive around Breaker Bay; it’s gorgeous! There are a few walking tracks here; we chose the one to Point Dorset, where you can see World War 2 gun batteries and observation posts. We walked back along the beach (which we surprisingly discovered is a nudist beach!) and through the natural rock archway. For more info, see the website.
Polhill Reserve is just a few minutes walk from Kelburn, where James and I used to live, in Te Aro which is one of the most popular suburbs in the city. It’s got a variety of walking tracks and biking tracks and is a lovely place to walk the dog! You can walk here from the city centre or catch a bus.
You may recognise this place from a scene in a popular film… it’s the ‘Paths of the Dead’ from The Return of the King. The Putangirua Pinnacles are located about 2 hours drive from Wellington and there are a number of tracks here. We walked through the native forest to the lookout of the pinnacles and came back along the gravel. Walking beside these towering piles of gravel is quite a surreal experience; you do kinda feel like you’re in Mordor. The hike is fairly easy walk that takes around 3 hours return. There’s also a DOC campsite if you’d like to stay the night!
Planning on going camping in New Zealand? Read this post!
Strictly speaking this hike is located in the Wairarapa, but that’s still technically in the Wellington region so I’ve included it in this post; besides, it’s only a 1 hour 30 min drive from the city over the Rimutakas. The hike climbs through the forest in the Tararua Forest Park to Powell hut, where you can spend the night or just stop for a rest. For a hike that’s so close to the capital, you truly feel as though you’re in the wilderness, and the views from the summit are just gorgeous. For more info on this hike, click here to read my post about it!
Once upon a time, the dense, podocarp broadleaf forest at Otari Wilton’s Bush used to cover the entire Wellington Peninsular; today only 1% remains, over half of which is located at this reserve. Located in the city, this is a great spot for birdwatching; you’ll likely see the tuī, fantail and kereru. There are a number of walking tracks in the reserve – you can get a map from the visitor centre. Don’t forget to stop by the 800-year-old rimu tree – craning your neck up to its topmost branches, you’ll feel tiny next to this giant! I love this reserve so much I wrote a whole post about it.
A quick, easy, straight up and straight down hike to the top of Mount Vic, a popular hangout for locals and tourists. The view of the city from here is rewarding after the climb – and personally I think it’s best enjoyed at sunset! You can also drive to the car park near the summit and take the few steps to the top. This is one of the most popular walking tracks in Wellington as it’s so accessible and offers such a beautiful view of the city!
A simple 30 min train journey from Wellington city will bring you to Paekakariki, where the Escarpment begins. The route ascends the hill, following the train tracks to Pukerua Bay. Known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’, this hike isn’t for the faint-hearted; it ascends a number of staircases built into the side of the hill but rewards you with beautiful views of Kapitī Island. It’s a great workout and a wonderful way to spend a day; personally I think this is one of the best walking tracks in Wellington! I wrote a post about it here.
This walking track is not really a hike as such, but it’s a great place to stretch your legs. Zealandia is Wellington’s Native Wildlife Ecosanctuary, a wonderful place that helps the conservation of native species of plants and animals. As well as walking through the native forest, you can see a number of birds such as the kākā, takahē and kiwi. Admission normally costs $18 per person but there are $2 days at the weekends every few months.
What better thing to do on a Sunday afternoon than take a stroll through the city’s botanical gardens? Again, this isn’t really a walking track but it’s a good place to escape the city. I went for a few runs here (until I decided I can’t hack hills!) and James and I spent a few weekends lazing about in the sun. We really like the succulent garden and the rose garden – best enjoyed in spring when everything is in bloom! There are often events held at the Botanical Gardens such as outdoor concerts!
Thinking about hiking in Wellington? Read my “Know Before You Go” Guide to hiking in New Zealand here.
For bus routes in Wellington, see the Metlink website.
Have you been hiking in New Zealand or done any of the walking tracks in Wellington? Which is your favourite?
Thanks for reading & happy travels!