Walking the Paekākāriki Escarpment Track

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!).

A 40m swing bridge with incredible views of the Kapiti Coast and Kapiti Island.

A few things to note before embarking on this walk!

Just some of the 200 steps!

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.

Escarpment Track, with markers every kilometre, and the south island of New Zealand visible on the horizon.

The village of Paekākāriki, the walkway is between here and Pukerua Bay train stations, making it easy to walk in one direction and catch the train back to the start.

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.

Paekākāriki Train Station

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).

A bench with a view.

Coastal bush groves.

Climbing above the railway tracks.

The track then continues over steep terrain and there are no handrails on the steps.

Steps and more steps…!

Waving hello to my hubby making his way down the steps above me.

Looking north up the Kapiti Coast

Pause for a selfie and to catch our breath!

Looking down!

Stairway to heaven!

The first 5km gradually climbs, with some undulation, and crosses the first of two 40m swing bridges.

3km marker, starting from Pukerua Bay.

One of the two 40m swing bridges.

The highest point of the walk is around half way, 220m above sea level.

Soaring into the shades of blue.

Swing bridge with views!

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.

A sheltered area of kohekohe forest.

Shades of blues and greens.

A tunnel of green leading to the blue.

Looking out to Kapiti Island

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.

Looking down toward Pukerua Bay

Pukerua Bay

The final kilometre follows a now redundant rail track and passes this beautiful mural.

Near Pukerua Bay railway station.

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:

Useful links:

https://www.walkingaccess.govt.nz/track/escarpment-track

https://www.wildernessmag.co.nz/trip/paekakariki-escarpment-track-wellington/

Paekākāriki Escarpment Track