Wellington's Rugged Southwest
Why are we trampers attracted to it?
We find the city’s southern and western rural hinterland beyond the Outer Green Belt powerfully attractive. Its features include the nationally significant coastline, rugged terrain, interesting geology and indigenous plant communities, seal haul-outs, Maori sites, gold-mining, farming, telecommunications, meteorological radar, power transmission, water supply and WWII history, stunning views, and often wild weather!
The dramatic landscape of steep coastal cliffs, prominent ridges and summits, and often deeply incised valleys, results from wave action, and the presence of numerous faults traversing the area. The ‘crush zones’ of shattered greywacke rock along the faults have facilitated the formation of the valleys that run parallel to them. The faults include:
- the Wellington Fault, running north-east through Long Gully, to Karori Sanctuary and beyond.
- the Owhariu Fault, running north-east up the Waiariki Valley, from its mouth north-west of Tongue Point, along Makara Valley to Owhariu Valley, and beyond.
- the Shepherds Gully Fault, running north-east from Oteranga Bay, into the Shepherds Gully branch of Oteranga Stream, then along the valley of Opau Stream, and entering the sea in Wharehou Bay, near Makara Beach.
- the Terawhiti Fault running north from Oteranga Bay, up the Black Gully branch of Oteranga Stream, towards Ohau Bay.
The capital city’s hinterland still supports significant areas of indigenous vegetation, despite the losses caused by land clearance for farming and gold mining, fires, roading, erosion, and the whole gamut of pest animals from goats, pigs, possums, deer, mustelids, rodents, hedgehogs, feral cats, and magpies, to unfenced stock. There are numerous areas of regenerating, broadleaf forest, mānuka scrub, a raupō wetland in Opau Valley, a sedge wetland in Hawkins Gully, coastal plant communities, and “grey scrub”, which is rated as being in ‘serious decline’.
In addition to the above, Makara Farm/Quartz Hill has two areas of mature forest, with some pre-European trees. They are Post Office Bush, a.k.a. Telecom Bush, near the former Post Office village, at the top of Opau Road, and Johnnys Bush, up a True Left tributary of Makara Stream which flows under Makara Road, about 2.5 km north-north-east of Makara School. Both are so significant that they are protected in perpetuity with covenants between the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the landowner, Meridian Energy, a State-Owned Enterprise (SOE).
On the steep, west side of Makara Valley, about 1 km south of Makara Beach, is a fine stand of regenerating coastal forest, and in Owhariu Valley, “Huiawa”, is an impressive stand of mature podocarp/broadleaf forest. Both forests are protected in perpetuity by QEII National Trust Open Space Covenants.
The area’s appeal is increased by the fact that most of the c.160 sq. km is privately owned, or in the case of Makara Farm/Quartz Hill, owned by an SOE. Thus for most tramps, except in WCC’s 790-ha Te Kopahou Reserve, on DOC’s Makara Walkway and Marginal Strip, and on ‘paper roads’, permission must be sought from landowners. To seek, and be granted this privilege, makes tramps in our hinterland rather special.
Makara Regional Park proposal
It is no surprise that Wellington Regional Planning Authority, forerunner of Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC), proposed in 1976, in Regional Parks for the Wellington Region, a Makara Regional Park. It was to involve the purchase of most of the coastal escarpments between Owhiro Bay and Owhariu Bay/Makara Beach, and include, without change of ownership, Makara Farm/Quartz Hill, Terawhiti, Kinnoull and Long Gully stations, Te Kopahou Reserve, and DOC’s Rimurapa/Sinclair Head and Pari-whero/Red Rocks Scientific Reserves.
Given the area’s outstanding natural and recreational values, and the fact that the area proposed is Wellington city’s only chance to have a regional park, tramping and conservation would benefit immensely if the proposal were implemented. Management of the private and SOE lands would continue as at present, while recreational activity would be managed by agreement between the owners and GWRC, using the provisions of the Walkways Act 1990. This system works well in Belmont Regional Park, which is also in multiple ownership.
Regional coastal trail proposal
In 1991, GWRC received the first of three reports on the potential for a regional coastal trail. Along that part of the trail in the proposed Makara Regional Park, little track formation work would be needed, because a ‘paper road’ traverses the coast from the former quarry at Owhiro Bay to Oteranga Bay, Cape Terawhiti, Ohau Point and Ohau Bay. A ‘paper road’ provides an inland link between Ohau and Te Ika a Maru bays. This bay has a 40 m-wide public strip that extends northeast to DOC’s Makara Coast Marginal Strip along the coast to Opau Bay and the Makara Walkway.
Existing access points to the coast include Owhiro Bay Parade, the Tip Track from Happy Valley Road, Hawkins Hill Road, South Makara Road and the ‘paper road’ from its southern end, and Makara Beach. The latter provides access westwards to Makara Walkway/Fort Opau, and northeast to Makara Estuary, fordable depending on tide, wind, and stream levels. On both sides of Oteranga Stream, 20-metre-wide Marginal Strips run about 200 m inland from the 20-metre wide Marginal Strip in Oteranga Bay.
Te Araroa, The Long Pathway, which will eventually link Cape Reinga with Bluff, passes through the northern part of the area. It traverses a GWRC pine plantation at the north end of Owhariu Valley, then along Owhariu Valley Road, up Rifle Range Road, to Old Coach Road on our Outer Green Belt.
Subject to agreement with landowners, and track formation and marking of ‘paper roads’, potential access points to the coast include:
- Hawkins Hill Road, then via Long Gully Station roads
- South Karori Road, then via Long Gully Station roads, or over WCC and private land along Karori Stream, to the ‘paper road’ at the end of South Makara Road;
- South Makara Road, then across Terawhiti Station on Transpower’s road to Oteranga Bay;
- South Makara Road, and across the ‘stopped’ road over Karori Golf Course, to historic “Sievers’ Track”, then bridle tracks to Mt Misery, and the gold workings in Black Gully, Terawhiti Station;
- Cliff Gaskin Reserve, Makara Village, the start of “Snowdon’s Road”, a ‘paper road’ over private lands, Makara Farm and Terawhiti Station, to Te Ika a Maru Bay;
- Opau Road, Makara, then via Makara Farm/Quartz Hill roads to Opau Bay, or Te Ika a Maru Bay;
- Makara Road to near the private bridge over Makara Estuary;
- Owhariu Valley Road, then via farm roads to the coast south of Boom Rock and Pipinui Pt;
- Titahi Bay, either around the coast below Mean High Water Springs (MWHS), or via farm roads to Open Bay, then below MHWS to the Porirua City Council/WCC boundary south of Rock Point.
Some classic tramps
The most exciting tramps traverse the route of the proposed coastal trail.
Makara Estuary to Titahi Bay, - 8 hours - involves long stretches of stony beaches, a steep climb and descent to circumvent impassable Pipinui Pt, then a tide-dependent traverse below cliffs, followed by a rock scramble, and more beaches. The cliff vegetation, wheeling seabirds, seaside smells, rock formations, driftwood, breakers, and views of Mana Island and Kapiti Island, make this one of Wellington city’s great tramps. A report in The Tararua Tramper, May 1982, records the joys of the trip, the mixed feelings about beach-combing on this wild coast, and the shock of the sight and stench of sewage that twenty-six years ago spewed into the sea at Rukutane Point, near Titahi Bay.
For a sense of remoteness close to the capital that is hard to beat, try the 8-hour tramp to Cape Terawhiti and Oteranga Bay, via Te Ika a Maru Bay, Ohau Bay and Ohau Point. The trip starts and finishes at Terawhiti Station Woolshed, South Makara Road, which means long walks on Transpower’s road, and farm roads, but these are across hill country that gives you inspiring views across Raukawa/Cook Strait to Te Wai Pounamu/South Island, Mana Island and Kapiti Island.
Other inspiring tramps on Terawhiti Station include climbs of Outlook Hill, 534 m, yet only 1250 m from the coast as the kāroro flies, Mt Misery, 483 m, and Terawhiti Hill, 458 m, a.k.a. Omere, or ‘Black Mountain’.
Of interest to trampers who are fond of gorges is “Breakneck Creek”, the main True Right tributary of Waiariki Stream, which Barbara Mitcalfe and I had recced while botanising the area. It was named by gold-miners in the 19th-century, for good reason! On 21/11/93, (ibid. January/February 1994), eleven Tararua Tramping Club (TTC) members enjoyed the challenge of waterfalls, a gorge, and dense vegetation, then the reward of a torchlight trip along the 70m adit of Phoenix Mine.
On 30/11/03 (ibid. April 2004), Barbara and I led a TTC native plant identification trip in Warrens Bush/’Erin go Bragh’, near the end of South Makara Road. This native forest is significant because it contains some large Rimu, mature Titoki forest with Nikau, and extensive, regenerating, native scrub and shrublands, so its owners have protected it in perpetuity with a QEII National Trust Open Space Covenant. It includes some of the remaining 1% of pre-European forest in Wellington city. And why the name? It is named after a gold-prospecting adit and shaft on the property!
Other ideas for tramps
If you enjoy discovering new places, seek permission to visit:
- North Makara Stream, with bush-clad margins, an artificial lake, and further upstream, kohekohe forest and a mini-gorge draining part of our Outer Green Belt;
- Hawkins Gully, a tributary of Makara Stream, with an extensive sedge wetland;
- Smiths Gully, north of Makara Estuary. You can return along the crest of the ridge above the coastal cliffs. If you crave for a place that is inspiring in a gale, this is it!
- Opau Stream, with a raupo wetland, and extensive areas of coastal forest and shrublands, and access beyond to Te Ika a Maru Bay;
- Silver Stream, a tributary of Karori Stream, which runs through 55 ha of regenerating native forest, that Wellington Natural Heritage Trust has protected in perpetuity with a QEII National Trust Open Space Covenant. The historic dam in the valley was built to supplement flows into the Karori Reservoirs, in the neighbouring Kaiwharawhara Valley, that once supplied water to Wellington city.
Wellington’s rural hinterland, between our Outer Green Belt and the south and west coasts, has many and varied tramping opportunities, some of which have been enjoyed by parties from the region’s tramping clubs over the years. Go forth trampers, seek permission from landowners, where necessary, and learn more about what is in our backyard! You will not be disappointed!
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