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.
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.
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.
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.
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!