Stairs, trains and swing bridges

Don Herron —  19/05/2016

The recently completed Paekakariki Escarpment Track, dubbed the ‘Stairway To Heaven’, near Wellington offers walkers commanding views of the Kapiti Coast, Kapiti Island and the distant Marlborough Sounds. This new track is part of Te Araroa Trail, a 3,000 kilometre long walk that takes in some of the best scenery around the country.

Halfway, and a great spot to have lunch!

A great spot to have lunch!

Great interpretation panels.

Great interpretation panels

Generally walked from north to south, the new Paekakariki track undulates along some open areas with small pockets of coastal bush. Local community conservation group Ngā Uruora has been busy with native planting, weeding and pest control along the 10 kilometre track. Conveniently placed along the length of the track are seating and fantastic information panels, plus very cool rustic distance markers.

After a couple of kilometres you will quickly understand why it is called the ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The track abruptly climbs up with a series of zigzag staircases. These are not for the faint of heart – they’re narrow and very steep.

However, the best way to get up the hill is to go straight up! Ideally someone is coming the opposite way giving you a great excuse to stop and let them past while you (quietly) catch your breath.

Paekakariki Track stairs.

Don’t look down!

The track has two very different halves. The first (walking south) is steep and climbs up to the high point of 220 metres to open farmland. This is a great spot to have a break and enjoy the fantastic view, and look down on the cars and trains rushing past below. Kapiti Island dominates the view to the north and to the south the bumps of the Marlborough Sounds can be spotted often with a thin line of white clouds.

The second half is all downhill! It’s still steep and if you suffer from a fear of heights you may want to take it easy. Once past the staircases, you’ll come across the first of two swing bridges crossing over steep bush-filled gullies. They offer a great view of the surrounding hill sides and a bird’s eye view of the bush canopy.

Swing bridge awesomeness!

Swing bridge awesomeness!

Between the two bridges you’ll find one of the largest remaining kohekohe forests on the Kapiti Coast. The shade is a welcome relief if you’re out on a hot day, because most of the track is out in the open. Kohekohe is an important food source for nectar-eating birds, such as tūī and korimako/bellbirds. The second bridge is similar to the first, but is a lot closer to the railway tracks and tunnels – if you’re lucky you can catch glimpses of the trains speeding past.

Paekakariki Escarpment Track.

Keep a eye out for trains!

At this stage you are almost done and the track is similar to the start as it undulates for the last couple of kilometres to finish nice and close to the Pukerua Bay train station.

For those out enjoying the new track it is a quick ten minute train ride back to Paekakariki – and an ice cream!

Don Herron


Don works in the Poneke/Wellington Department of Conservation Visitor Centre in Wellington city. Don loves tramping, riding his mountain bike, travelling and planting natives in his garden at home.

4 responses to Stairs, trains and swing bridges

    Rachel Brown 30/06/2016 at 7:08 pm

    This track is an amazing. I decided to walk the talk and made the track a couple of weeks ago. A few friends and myself stayed over at another friends place in Wellington and then on a Saturday morning the journey began. We were so lucky that it was just a bit chilly in the morning but then the sun came out and it heated up nicely. I am not afraid of heights and so the walk was a pleasurable experience for me. However, we have seen a girl that really struggled here. Turns out she was afraid of heights – her friends where maybe 50 meters in front of her and didn’t really help her master the track. I offered some help along the way until we met her friends again 🙂 Ok, to make a long story short, the track was incredibly cool and would highly recommend it for the view and the experience itself. Awesome day.


    Definitely a must try natural experience if you are visiting, though i would suggest that people with height fear should consider doing other trails before starting this one as there are some steep slopes involved in these tracks as displayed in one of the photos, thanks for awesome post Don 🙂


    I completed this track for the first time on ANZAC Day 2016, having done the previously partially completed section a number of times, but I went against the flow, and walked south to north.

    My reason for this is that I figured it would be better to go up the steepest and scariest part, which is immediately south of the summit, instead of going down it.

    The downside was that I was continually stopping to let people go past. (I would estimate 95% of walkers were going north to south, and there were many people on the track that day.)

    It is a fantastic walk. But my one warning is that this walk is frightening and dangerous in places. I would not recommend it to anybody who does not have tramping experience. Somebody died on this track, and somebody else had to be carried off, on the day I completed it.

    But if you are up to it, and you can handle heights, it is an incredible walk, and it is well worth doing.