The Paekākāriki Escarpment Track, north of Wellington on the Kapiti coast, otherwise known as ‘The Stairway to Heaven’, is a 9.6km walk, comprising of lots of steps (more than 400) climbing to 220m above sea level, a couple of 40m swing bridges and a narrow pathway with some steep drop offs (not for the faint hearted, vertigo sufferers or those with knee problems!).
It’s an exciting track, located between Paekākāriki and Pukerua Bay railway stations (making it easy to walk in one direction and catch a train back to your start point), with incredible views of the Kapiti coast, including Kapiti Island, and on a fine day the south island is visible on the horizon. It is one of the highlights of the 3,000km Te Araroa Trail.
This is a walk best done on a fine day, as it could be slippy in wet weather and would feel very scary in high winds!
We decided to walk north to south, parking up at Pukerua Bay railway station, catching the train to Paekākāriki and then setting off on the walk (trains run frequently – but only take cash for tickets – lucky we had some to hand!). There are some lovely little cafes and places to grab refreshments in Paekākāriki – also a good opportunity to use the public facilities as there are no toilets on the walk and no water stops.
The walk starts and finishes at sea level, alongside railway tracks. We began by meandering through groves of coastal bush before reaching an old quarry, seating and views worth stopping for (there are benches at frequent intervals along the walkway and endless views to photograph). The old quarry is now home to a colourful lizard garden developed by Nga Uruora with tamariki from Paekākāriki School (read a blog on this quarry project and restoration here).
The track then continues over steep terrain and there are no handrails on the steps.
The first 5km gradually climbs, with some undulation, and crosses the first of two 40m swing bridges.
The highest point of the walk is around half way, 220m above sea level.
There’s a lovely section, around midway, of kohekohe forest, where we enjoyed shelter from the sunshine, the sound of native birds and small streams bubbling through the forest.
As we got closer to the Pukerua Bay railway station, where we’d parked our car, we were treated to views down to the bay.
The final kilometre follows a now redundant rail track and passes this beautiful mural.
This really is an exceptional trail and the views speak for themselves! Choose to walk it one way, or the other, or do a return walk (nearly 20km in total). If walking in one direction it’s best to take a look at Met Service and choose the direction that will give you a tail wind; so start at Pukerua Bay if it’s a southerly, and at Paekākāriki if it’s a northerly wind. Walking from Pukerua Bay to Paekākāriki seems to involve a steeper climb (although you end up at sea level after starting higher up). The one big bonus of finishing at Paekākāriki village is being able to enjoy the reward of a cold drink, ice cream, coffee or beer!
Here’s a wonderful video of the walk: