Following the silvery line, PART 2 OF 3: Ōtaki Forks to Wellington – Te Araroa Trail days 82-87, kms 1578-1672 (Day 86: Paekākāriki to Porirua)

Day 86: Paekākāriki to Porirua (27km)

I got up with the sun, breakfasted and broke camp. The path along the Paekākāriki waterfront was drying quickly, after the storm the night before.

Across the breakers, I could see the hills around the sounds at the top of the South Island. That’s where the trail heads after Wellington. If I can swing it when the time comes, I’d love to make the crossing by kayak rather than ferry, to keep up my current thing of never using motorised transport on the trail. But that will be a significant mission, and is probably a long way in the future. In the meantime, it was satisfying to contemplate those tantalisingly close, misty contours.

Pukerua Bay, the next town south along the trail, was taking shape in the distance, above the elegant lines of a drawn-up dinghy.

Another attraction of the waterfront path is a series of plaques honouring Paekākāriki’s creative citizens. The village has a history of homing artists, such as distinguished, brilliant poet J. C. Sturm:

I liked this pic from another of the plaques; it captures Paekākāriki’s beguiling location, nestled on a narrow strip between rugged hills and endless breakers.

The trail soon swings away from the beach and into the village proper, and I stopped for a coffee and a pie. Then the route crosses the nation’s main trunk railway line and goes briefly alongside State Highway 1. You almost wouldn’t know it though, as it winds artfully through a stand of trees, before emerging at a gate leading to a railway underpass, then up onto the famed Escarpment Track.

Sadly though, the tall gate was secured with a heavy chain and a padlock. A sign fastened to it warned the Escarpment Track was closed due to a recent slip; trampers were requested to keep out for our own safety. I looked up the “trail status” section of the Te Araroa website and a photo confirmed the wash-out was pretty bad. If you tried to scramble across, you’d be getting dangerously close to falling on the main trunk line.

It was disappointing but not too much, as I’ve walked the Escarpment a couple of times before on day trips. It really is spectacular, a roughly 10-km jaunt with stellar views up and down the coast. But as I turned away I began to actually quite look forward to the alternative route, which follows the footpath beside the Centenial Highway, right beside the sea, a fabulous piece of coast I’ve seen many times from cars, buses and trains, but never on foot.

First you go through a short sandhill track through native bush, sun-dappled that morning:

It has great sea views too, right out to the Marlborough Sounds again.

And it had my first close-up close of the route ahead. It passes along a hard-won strip between Tasman breakers shattering on a long reef, and the steep, rocky slope above them. Work gangs dug and rammed and blasted the road platform inside a hastily-built seawall 80-odd years ago, to carry the nation’s traffic to and from the capital, and in my opinion it’s one of the most dramatic bits of road in the country:

This is from a high point, looking down onto the Fisherman’s Table restaurant, a legendary spot at the end of Paekākāriki and beginning of this special bit of highway:

The footpath between the road and sea is fairly minimal, and that’s part of a unique walking experience:

On one side of the wall, frantic-thundering industry and artifice. On the other, absolute untamed nature:

This one is looking back north, with a bit of Kāpiti Island and the Paekākāriki coast:

Before long I came to the washout on the Escarpment Track, just before it stops following the rail line and swoops upward toward the ridge. It might not look like much, and yes you could probably pick your way over. But the Te Araroa trail’s existence rests on goodwill from entities like KiwiRail, so respecting their space seems the right thing to do.

A movement caught my eye. Another tramper was making his way along the trail above me, heading toward the slip. I watched while he stopped, saw me, got out a camera and photographed me while I photographed him. Both of us keen to capture the alternatives we each contemplated, I guess, at the locked gate: “You take the low road, I’ll take the high road…”

What would he do at the slip? I watched as he approached. He inspected it a while and I could tell he was tempted. He glanced my way a few times, then finally turned back, his body language reluctant but resigned. This is him, in the centre just above the train line, a bit later, sitting on the edge of the trail for a rest. A sign saying, I presume, “warning: turn back” is just to his right.

Another look back north. Breakers, harakeke, curved steel, traffic, maunga:

To the south, Pukerua Bay gained in definition:

It was not long after high tide and the top of the seawall, and path, were often strewn with seaweed, wave-carved driftwood and stones. The bigger waves still splashed right up in the air, the light spray refreshing:

It would probably be a little sketchy, walking along here at the peak of a king tide.

There were a few little havens where wind-blown soil and seeds had gathered on the rocks:

I passed under another highlight of the Escarpment Track, one of its swing bridges.

This apparently is quite a famous local landmark, one of a couple of pinnacles that locals learn to rock-climb on:

Then it was down a path from a rest area, away from the juddering yowl of the highway and toward Pukerua Bay.

Brendan Beach, made of fine gravel and foamy waves:

There’s a path along the beach, often completely smothered in sand and storm-tossed sea-wrack. I envied these cottage owners – no road to your door, no traffic, nothing but you, the sea, the horizon.

Then you follow Ocean Parade around to the main beach. It was early spring, and the snowdrops and buttercups added their gentle touch to proceedings.

An info panel showed some of the long history of this special little place, a pocket between land and sea.

Then it was up the forbiddingly named Goat Track, past exuberant gorse up to the main part of the township.

At the top of the track this guy kept a fairly lazy watch from his prime spot in the sun on Rāwhiti Road.

I stopped at the dairy beside the highway for an icecream and a ginger beer. Then it was due south along the Ara Harakeke, the Flax Pathway, which crosses a footbridge over the rail line then follows State Highway 1. Here’s the track, and on the horizon the first glimpse of the next destination: the hills above Porirua Harbour.

The highway through here takes a big curving deviation, largely to go around this recalcitrant bit of nature that just would not accept being built on:

Here’s the mighty swamp, gleaming in the afternoon sun.

And looking north:

Te Ara Harakeke is a pleasant enough route, although asphalt is not the most enjoyable surface to tramp on, and the roar from the highway is a constant companion. In time, the native plantings between the road and the path will grow up and it will become more of a placid experience.

Before long the pathway passes through an industrial area of Plimmerton, skirts a playing field, goes through a rail underpass and comes out onto the main beach at Plimmerton. Through the mouth of Porirua Harbour, Mana Island welcomed me in the golden afternoon:

Looking south along the beach I could see I still had a long way to go that day – right past all these houses and up to the edge of Colonial Knob, out of view at this point.

A woman strolling on the beach with her partner, a toddler, a baby in a pram and a couple of dogs smiled at me.

“Doing the trail eh? Good work bro.”

From the beach you follow a gravel track between the railway line and the back of a row of buildings. You go past a marina to the mouth of the Pāuatahanui Inlet, the eastern-most arm of the Porirua Harbour, now officially known as Te Awarua-o-Porirua Harbour. It’s the largest estuary system in the North Island, a nationally significant wildlife area and is very rich in history, particularly for the tangata whenua, Ngāti Toa. In their words:


If the domain of Tāne survives to give sustenance,
And the domain of Tangaroa likewise remains, so too will the people

In my rough translation, I believe that means: If we look after the land and sea, we’ll survive too.

The walkway goes under the rail line and up onto the Mana/Paremata bridge.

And there it is, the disconcertingly-named Colonial Knob:

What kind of a colonial knob would name a magnificent maunga like this “Colonial Knob”? I think it’s high time we decolonised this awful label and restored the original, much more musical one, Rangituhi. A source I found gives its meaning as “sky glow”, which seems perfect.

A pedestrian overpass takes you over the motorway and provides good views of Te Awarua-o-Porirua –

and the tidal flats, looking north –

the marina –

the golden hills –

and the moon above Papakōwhai.

Beyond the dull shine of the rail lines, Rangituhi was continuing to get its glow on.

The trail heads north along Papakōwhai Road. Tidal pools begin to appear beside it. The best one was Aotea Lagoon, silvery in the fleeing light, surrounded with inviting paths and gardens:

Porirua, it was turning out, has quite a few hidden gems like this. It’s a city that doesn’t always get good press, often because of structural racism. But the trail was showing me a Porirua with a hearty energy, striking good looks and down-to-earth charm.

It’s another joy of Te Araroa: arriving slowly and on foot reveals an area’s depths and facets, aspects you might’ve missed, despite having driven through or past a thousand times.

The trail takes you up a hill and into the grounds of one of the Wellington region’s most well-preserved postcolonial estates – the Gear Homestead. A pioneering magnate built a grand home up here on rise overlooking the harbour, as a present to his wife, and it was eventually gifted to the nation. There are ideal picnic spots, flower beds, pathways and interesting artefacts on every side:

The old villa itself, now a cafe/restaurant and bar, was once used as a set for an iconic sci-fi comedy splatter movie (Bad Taste, an eye-popping first feature for Sir Peter Jackson). It had a spooky appeal in the last of the light:

Out over the harbour, the lights showed the way out to Tītahi Bay, through the leaves of tī kouka trees, the Te Araroa trail emblem.

Below, the nation’s artery was slowly unclogging in the gathering dark.

The trail exits the Gear property via the “Adrenaline Forest”, where hair-raising ropes courses sway and loom among a huge, old stand of pines. Past that, I stopped for a break, looking straight down the Aotea subdivision bike path to the lights of the Porirua CBD.

At the end of the Aotea path you turn left for a brief bit beside the motorway, then you go up and over “The Ramp”, a local nickname for the motorway overbridge. It takes you into the heart of one of Aotearoa’s most diverse, humming and underrated cities.

You take a footpath beside an inlet of the estuary, up Bullock Lane toward the railway station. It was nearly totally dark now but the estuary looked clean and well cared-for; and impression borne out by hundreds of silver, finger-sized fish thronging shallows under street lights. When my shadow fell on them they jumped away as one, an electric wave of connected lives.

At the railway station you take the Raiha Walk through the CBD and up bushy gullies and slopes toward Rangituhi, on the other side of town. It’s yet another section of trail whose construction was led by the Te Araroa Trust, which has been quietly opening up under-appreciated bits of the nation for more than a decade now.

You see a side of Porirua you just will never know if you never go on foot. It’s brilliant the way the trail stitches together the city’s natural, wild nooks to make a new route. One of these nooks is the stately parkland where where the trail passes the grounds of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, NZ’s prestigious, Māori-oriented university. A magnificent sculpture lets you know where you are:

As do the trail signs: only 1354km to Motupōhue!

It was peaceful and solitary on the track, which climbs steadily behind factories and between subdivisions.

At one point shouts, whistles and laughter began floating toward me through the soft-breathing bush. They grew in volume until the path popped out beside the tall mesh fence of a large football academy. Dozens of fit youngsters sprinted up and down, locked in an intense training game on the bright green artificial turf.

This isn’t much of a photo, but it just about captures the pleasure of night-time tramping through proper bush, in the heart of a thrumming city.

Finally I reached Elsdon Campground, right on the upper edge of Porirua. Below, the city’s lights shone through the camp buildings; above, Rangituhi’s cloak of bush creaked in the night wind. I pitched my tent, scoffed food and slept.

My Ōtaki to Wellington section concludes in the next post. You can read previous posts, right back to the start of my Te Araroa journey, by hitting “home” at the top of this blog.

Thanks for reading! Ka kite.

One thought on “Following the silvery line, PART 2 OF 3: Ōtaki Forks to Wellington – Te Araroa Trail days 82-87, kms 1578-1672 (Day 86: Paekākāriki to Porirua)

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