Seven great walks to enjoy around Wellington

Walks never used to be of much interest to me but being in new places encourages me to get out there and find some. Maybe age has a bit to do with it, too.

Wellington, and New Zealand in general, is a beautiful place. The city has a lot to offer, but for those of you who want to take in the sights, there are plenty of walks to enjoy that will really make you appreciate just how picturesque the city is.

I’ve gathered seven of my favourite walks from the area. All are easily reached from Wellington CBD and the surrounding areas, so there’s no excuse to spend a few hours taking in the sights, enjoying the fresh air, and getting some exercise all at once. It’s a win-win-win!

First, a note. I’m not the fittest person and I managed to do these walks without problems. That being said, make sure you have water and comfortable clothing, or you might not enjoy them as much as you could. Whether you drive, take public transport or walk to the routes, give yourself plenty of time before and after to avoid the dark – and sometimes very windy weather.

Take in the view from Mount Victoria

This isn’t a long walk, but it can be a bit challenging. It’s also right in the heart of Wellington, meaning it’s one of the easiest to do while you’re getting your bearings. If you don’t have much time in the city, this is definitely the one to do.

You can’t miss Mount Victoria if you’re close to the CBD. It rises over Oriental Bay and the Waterfront and it’s enough to make you wonder just what kind of views you’ll see.

There are plenty of ways to make it to the top, whether from the Mount Victoria suburb, Oriental Bay or another route, but you’ll find few paved areas until you get to the top. This is parkland, inhabited by birds, insects and plant life. There are benches dotted along the way and you can see some pretty impressive cityscapes, but there’s more to come.

On my way up Mt Victoria
On my way up Mt Victoria

Whichever way you choose to go up (and you can descend via a different path), you’ll reach what feels like the top – but there’s more! Another climb sees you reach an even higher plateau where there are fewer trees blocking your view. Don’t stop here, though, climb up the last set of steps and you can see the centre of Wellington, the Waterfront and harbour on one side while the other looks across more water to Miramar. You can also see the airport by looking back on yourself. This really captures Wellington, a great city surrounded by water and greenery.

It’s not a long walk, you can reach the top in about twenty minutes from when you begin the climb, but don’t let the length fool you. As I said, it’s steep and if you start from further away, that adds to the distance.

If you’re really brave, make the climb for sunrise or sunset and you’ll be treated to some truly spectacular scenes – however, make sure you’re prepared to walk in the dark. Some of those paths are steep and narrow, so plan your route first.

Walk along Oriental Parade

Unlike the last one, this walk involves very little in the way of hills or steps. Walking around Oriental Parade and continuing around to Evans Bay Parade. This takes you closer to the airport by the end, but by cutting back through Haitaitai and the tunnel you can get back to the centre of the city easily.

This walk takes you around the gorgeous Oriental Bay area first, and you’ll pass the artificial beach on the way. This is a popular spot on a nice day and plenty of people go for a swim, too. The path is wide and lined with trees. Mount Victoria sits above, with gorgeous buildings on that side. If I could pick one place to live in Wellington, it’d be here.

Follow the road all the way around and you’ll see water carry on, with another piece of land across the bay. This is also part of the city, but that’s for another time. This part of the walk becomes a lot more peaceful, with less bustle than Oriental Parade. There are parks and beaches to see, and plenty of people fishing, too.

By the time you reach the main road, it’s time to head into Haitaitai. You don’t have to retrace your steps, though, or climb Mount Victoria – you can take the tunnel back towards the start of your walk, or head somewhere else.

I started this walk near Te Papa (a free museum you should definitely check out), and it took me around two-and-a-half hours at a steady pace (stopping for some photos along the way!).

You can start this walk at the beginning of Oriental Parade itself or from further in the CBD and add the Waterfront to your journey (which I highly recommend – you’ll pass parks, restaurants and Te Papa, too). Watch the wind, though, as there’s less cover on this walk but on a good day with a nice breeze, it’s refreshing.

Head to the Red Rocks

Easily my favourite walk in Wellington is to the Red Rocks. This one starts in Owhiro Bay, in the south of Wellington, and is a coastal walk. It begins when the pavement ends, just after a car park and public bathroom, but if you take public transport to the area, you can walk to the start by following the signs. It’s not far at all.

This is probably the most difficult of the walks I did, but I found it so because of the changing terrain. You’ll walk on sand, gravel, rocks and dirt trails – and the changes can be sudden. I have trouble with my knees quite often and to be constantly changing surfaces didn’t do me any favours.

That being said, I had left it later in the day and walked faster to make sure I didn’t end up walking in the dark. There are no lights on this route and you’re on the coast for the entire walk.

The views are stunning, though. Whether you look out across the waves, behind you or ahead, it’s breath-taking all the time. I stopped to take plenty of pictures along the way. To get to the Red Rocks, it took around 45 minutes (each way) but you’ll want to spend some time when you get there.

Why’s that? Seals!

Seals in the afternoon sun at the Red Rocks Seal Colony
Seals in the afternoon sun at the Red Rocks Seal Colony

Yes, seals. Between April/May and October, you’ll find plenty of seals at the Red Rocks seal colony. These are wild animals, and it’s best not to get too close but you’ll see more than your share as they do their thing and enjoy the sun. If you want to make more of a day of it, you can take lunch with you, as there’s plenty of places to sit and eat.

If it’s not enough for you, then you can do what I did; start right on the other side of this coastline at the beginning of the Taputeranga Marine Reserve in Houghton Bay and walk all the way to the Red Rocks. This adds a couple of hours to your walk and you’ll see beaches, islands and much more as you stroll. This isn’t a straight line, there are plenty of bays to walk around and its still easy to do with public transport, too. Give yourself plenty of time to do this, though!

Reach the top of Mount Kaukau

As I mentioned, I’m not the fittest of people and this one was also a challenge, but in a different way. Some will tell you Mount Kaukau is just a hill, but it’s called a mountain and I’m sticking with it. Yes, I climbed a mountain (even if just a little one).

There are a couple of ways to tackle this one, but I’ll share the route I took.

Whether by bus or train, you can reach the start of this trail from Wellington easily by heading to Khandallah, although the train station to aim for is Simla Crescent on the Johnsonville line. It’s a short walk from here to Khandallah Reserve, which is where you’ll start the climb.

The dirt trail leads into Khandallah Park and it’s here the ascent starts to become more noticeable. Surrounded on all sides by trees and foliage, it can be a respite from the sun above, but it does limit the views other than certain points along the way.

The trail can be steep at times, so if the ground is wet or even damp, take great care. There are plenty of steps, too (much to my dismay), which is either a good thing or not depending on your stance.

At the top, you’ll see views of the area in every direction. It’s a great view of Wellington and nearby areas, as well as the harbour. Look the other way towards the other coast over rolling green hills that perfectly sum up how tranquil New Zealand can be. On a clear day, you can even see the South Island, too.

From here, you can either return via the path you took to reach the top or head north towards the closest of those hills, and this is what I did. This is a much easier trail and doesn’t have the same steepness as the Khandallah path, but it’s longer. You’ll see rabbits, sheep and goats roaming around as you make your way around, ending in one of Johnsonville’s newer suburbs. From here, you can make your way to a bus stop or train station to get back to Wellington city.

From starting at Khandallah until reaching Johnsonville took a good few hours, but that includes rest breaks and time taking in the view at the top. There are tables up there, too, so you can sit and have something to eat with those gorgeous views.

Explore the Botanical Gardens

I’ve been to a few Botanical Gardens across Australia and New Zealand now. Some are small, others much larger but all have their own character. In Wellington, you’ll find the Botanical Garden near the CBD, making it a great choice to wander on a nice day when you’re based centrally.

This one is closer to a maze with its winding paths and numerous routes to take. You can easily spend hours trying to find them all, and some will lead you back to the same place at the end! There are maps dotted around to make sure you don’t stay lost for long, though.

Make sure you’re well prepared for going up and down the various levels of the gardens for this one, but you can find a rose garden, sculptures, an observatory and even a stage used for local events as just a few of the secrets.

Taking the tram up to Wellington Botanical Gardens
Taking the tram up to Wellington Botanical Gardens

To make it a bit easier on yourself, take the tram from Lambton Quay all the way to the top. This borders the Botanical Gardens and the observatory is a short walk from here, too. They do events here and more so if that’s something of interest, know that there’s easy access. The views of Wellington from here are superb, so don’t miss them before venturing into the gardens proper. There’s also a museum on the history of the tram, which is free, too.

Once you enter the gardens, choose your path but I’d suggest aiming for the rose garden at the end. The walk from here will take you back down to the bottom of Lambton Quay, passing the Beehive along the way. This is a part of the Parliament buildings of New Zealand and is quite an iconic structure. From here, you can return to the heart of the city or head across to the Waterfront.

Waterfall and lake in Wellington Botanical Gardens
Waterfall and lake in Wellington Botanical Gardens

Timing of his walk totally depends on how long you want it to last. You can spend as little as an hour if you walk quickly or a fair few hours if you take your time and wander it a bit more extensively.

Trek up Polhil Reserve

Head to Aro Valley and find Polhil Reserve, which is a popular walk up towards the Brooklyn wind turbine and offering stunning views of Wellington as you get higher.

There are plenty of different entry points around the area, although I began from Aro Street, where there are two main trails. One is shared with cyclists and walkers, and on a busy day there’ll be plenty of stopping at convenient points to let people past, while the second route is for walking only and more direct – but a lot steeper.

The shared path is gentler and longer but makes for an easier time up the hill while coming down was quicker on the more direct route. Along the way, you’ll see cycle-only trails, too. There aren’t many steps, and most of these can be avoided if, like me, you want to protect your knees.

At the top, you’ll be treated to stunning views atop former bunkers that have been covered in art. You can also continue the trail a little further to reach the Brooklyn wind turbine. Choose the scenic route or walk along the fence bordering Zealandia to reach it – and at the top you can continue on further and eventually reach the Red Rocks Seal Colony mentioned above.

Compared to some of the walks on this list, it’s one of the easier ones to do – especially if you don’t rush, and it’s central location shows why Wellington is a great balance of city-life and nature.

Taking the easier route up and the direct route down (going all the way to the turbine) was around 11km, so a good distance and on a nice day, a great way to spend a morning or afternoon.

Complete the Paekakariki Escarpment Track

The Paekakariki Escarpment Track is probably one of the toughest walks I did around Wellington – on par with Mt Kaukau. It might not look so bad at first glance; a 10km walk and with easy public transport access, but you do need to watch the weather. I’d feel very unsure of myself during the rain and anything resembling a strong wind should give you pause, and you’ll find out why shortly.

The track runs between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki railways stations, and I’d suggest starting at the latter and walking back. This is the easier way of completing the walk.

After a short walk along the road, you’ll see steps down and under a bridge. You’ll be separated from the road by the railway line and notice the trail rise up and descend plenty of times, but when it’s time to go up, you’ll really notice it.

There are plenty of steps up, broken up by small paths in between many of the sets.

It’s important to note that there are no handrails for the majority of the steps on this track, and most of the trail borders sheer drops from significant heights, and this is why strong winds and rains make this treacherous.

When the climb begins, you’ll make very littler headway in terms of distance and reach the “top” quite quickly, and the view along the coast is fantastic even with cloud. Take the chance to rest up here, because while there’s lot of descending, it’s not plain sailing.

The steps down are steep and winding – again without handrails or barriers – and looking all the way down gave me a little vertigo more than once, but I’m glad I didn’t have to climb that many at once, as there are very few places to stop and rest.

The stairs down from the top of the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
The stairs down from the top of the Paekakariki Escarpment Track

This isn’t the end of the rising and falling nature of the track, but it does even out for longer periods of time between the two swing bridges and after the second. The final section of the walk is easy, taking you along the railway line and through a few streets to reach the Pukerua Bay station and an easy ride back to Wellington.

Me on one of the Paekakariki Escarpment Track swing bridges
Me on one of the Paekakariki Escarpment Track swing bridges

Even with a light wind, I found myself to be a little unsteady and hugging the walls where I could. Be aware of those overtaking you and take regular breaks. Enjoy the views and marvel at sheer audacity of the heights and drops. It was both thrilling and frightening!

A special mention

There are plenty of other walks in and around Wellington, so this list isn’t exhaustive, but they are all easy to get to and are suitable for most people to enjoy. If you want to venture out a bit, head to Petone on the train from Wellington and head for the Percy Scenic Reserve. There are a few trails here, one leading to a viewpoint above the area.

The one I recommend is to the waterfall, deeper in the park. This is a dead-end trail with the waterfall at the conclusion. You’ll return via the same route, walking alongside the river. It’s an easy walk back to Petone to explore what the area has to offer, and one a nice day you shouldn’t miss the waterfront, either.

What are your favourite walks from Wellington and the surrounding area? I’d love to hear about them, and share any pictures you have, too!