Six months after our arrival, in my heart of hearts I still miss European cities, but if there is one thing that makes me fall head over heels for New Zealand, it is its unique nature. There is a tendency to overhype destinations in travel writing, but if you love the Great Outdoors, you will quickly find that New Zealand definitely lives up to its reputation.
New Zealand’s Stairway to Heaven | The Paekakariki Escarpment Track
We try to go to a different hiking track every weekend: within Wellington and in the wider Wairarapa region and one of the most impressive ones so far was definitely the Paekakariki Escarpment Track between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki.
The hiking trail coils around the Tasman Sea coast in a colourful landscape of New Zealand bush, hills and lush plants. For me there is nothing more soothing than spending time outside, breathing in fresh air and looking at the massive teal vastness of the sea.
There are several suspended bridges which will make you feel like Indiana Jones and the Last (Windy) Crusade. I am not afraid of heights but let’s just say that walking on a long bridge which is rocking side to side from New Zealand’s notorious winds, does make your heart jump a little bit.
Even if you have a car, it is a better idea to take the train to Pukerua. Unless you are a mountain runner (we met several of them along the way), a realistic timeline for the hike (with a break for lunch) is about 3 hours.
Arriving with a car would mean that you have to walk all the way back (spending a total of 6+ hours on the track) and trust me: after climbing several hundred stairs on a steep hilly terrain: walking back for several hours really isn’t what you want in life. So just start at Pukerua Bay and finish your hike with a nice cup of flat white at the Perching Parrot cafe in Paekakariki.
These names sound fascinating and unusual to travellers but it is typical for many places in New Zealand to have names, coming from the beautiful indigenous Te Reo language of the Maori people. As a foreigner, I really struggle with the correct pronunciation so I just decided to do some research on the meaning and combine it with an easy to remember image (I find visual imagery really helpful for learning).
Get off at Pukerua train station (The Saddle between two hills) and just follow the signs for Paekakariki Escarpment track. It might feel weird as you pass through meadows, in between streets and next to train tracks but within 15 minutes you will be up on the hill and you will have an amazing view of the Kapiti coast.
Difficulty level: Cardio and Leg Day
If you are an Intermediate or Experienced hiker, the Paekakariki Escarpment track would be an easy and fun route with just a little bit of cardio and leg exercise on the way up. It is definitely worth doing!
If you are a beginner and you aren’t into a lot of hiking: it is absolutely doable, but keep in mind that it would require some effort. If you are just looking for an easy and relaxed walk, this track could be a bit of a stretch for you, especially if you start from the easier section (Paekakariki) and progress towards Pukerua.
One track, several seasons
It might look absurd but all of these 4 photos were taken within 3 hours of hiking along the track. The weather in New Zealand is extremely unpredictable. When it is sunny, it feels several degrees warmer than it actually is. But rapid winds can bring in clouds and rain very quickly.
As a result (especially if you are originally coming from a different climate zone), a single hike could feel like walking your way through several different seasons. The best way is to wear layers: I usually have a tank top, activewear layer, hoodie and jacket (+ scarf and a hat) during Spring, Autumn and Winter. I haven’t experienced summer in New Zealand yet, but especially for long hikes and camping: always bring in extra layers!
The lovely teal/aquamarine colour of the sea can trick you into thinking you are on a tropical island, but the temperatures are chillier than expected!
Hikes are always more fun when you can balance the desperation of climbing hundreds of steps with a chill conversation and a picnic overlooking the Kapiti Island.
I won’t post our glorious yet embarrassing attempts to fly or perform ballet and kung fu moves in the air. But trust me, our Bulgarian-Vietnamese-German group had some wicked moves!