Following our recent move to Pukerua Bay, I’ve been on the lookout for more walks, regular ones that I can do multiple times in one week. I walked to Plimmerton one day which is the next town over and about 6km away but although the path was wide and not at all taxing, it was kind of boring and a bit too close to the road for my liking.
And then a couple of weeks ago, I remembered the Escarpment Track. This 10km path winds its way from Pukerua Bay to Paekākāriki up and over a steep, undulating hill next to the coast.
Not wanting to make the same mistake as I did with Hemi Matenga in Waikanae, I did some brief research on the trail and found the following on the Wellington Regional Trails website:
“The trail starts by following the Kāpiti railway line then veers uphill and across privately-owned farmland. You’ll climb 220 metres above sea level and navigate steep narrow pathways on what is one of the highlights of the Te Araroa Trail.”
So far so good.
“Families of all ages regularly enjoy this trail, but it is not recommended for the faint-hearted.”
“You’ll scale around 1,200 steep steps……”
Can I just interject here? Not just 1,200 steps, you’ll note: 1,200 STEEP steps.
“……navigate narrow pathways across ridgelines….”
Won’t be looking down then…..
“……and traverse two swing bridges.”
Right. This wasn’t going to be easy. But I was up for the challenge.
There was only one day the following week where it wasn’t forecast to be raining so I decided that I’d go for it. On Monday morning after packing the kids off to school, I assembled my walking kit which comprised a small rucksack in which I put a flask of green tea, a bottle of coconut water and a couple of muesli bars. Liberally slathering myself in insect repellant, I slung my rucksack on my back, told my husband where I was going (just in case) and stepped out of the house, reeking of DEET.
You can walk the Escarpment Track from north to south (Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay) or from south to north (Pukerua Bay to Paekākāriki) but as I was already in Pukerua Bay, it made more sense to start there. I knew the track was marked from the train station so I made my way down there which only took a couple of minutes. As promised, the track was well sign posted and I followed the markers back up to Sea Vista Drive and headed north. The suburban landscape soon changed as the track left the village and swept down alongside the railway line. Ahead I could see another walker, a woman, re-tying her shoelaces, placing one foot on a nearby bench and then the other. She was wearing some serious walking gear and I worried for a moment, glancing down at my jeans, t-shirt and trainers that perhaps this was the kind of escapade that really shouldn’t be attempted with such reckless abandon and without Nordic walking poles.
In the end I decided that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try and pressed on. The path started to climb gently with a few steps thrown in here and there, almost as if giving you a little taste of what was to come and perhaps the opportunity to turn back. The path continued up and then started to turn more towards the outside of the hill and the sea. When I got to the top of this first ascent, I turned around and was faced with this view:
Flushed with success (figuratively and literally) I smiled to myself and walked on. This wasn’t too bad at all. Then the track began to get narrower and narrower as it headed further out towards the steep slope facing the sea. Very soon it became perhaps only half a metre wide with a steep rock face on my right and a sheer drop below to my left:
I’d like to point out that there are no guard rails or barriers up here. Not even a flimsy bit of rope. Nothing. Just you and your wits. It would only take a momentary lapse of concentration or one wrong footing and you would roll barrel-like down the hill and land spread-eagled on the railway line where you would either be electrocuted or run over. Or possibly both. If you somehow managed to roll to the other side of the train tracks, you’d mostly likely end up pancaked on the wheels of a large logging truck making its way along State Highway 59. And if you were really lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) and bounced unscathed across both the railway line and the road, you’d cartwheel into the sea with a large ‘sploosh’ and slowly sink to the bottom, your last dying thoughts being “whose stupid idea was it to walk the Escarpment Track?”
I exaggerate of course but I did slow my pace considerably as I pressed my back against the rock face, as far away from the edge as I could praying that I wouldn’t meet anyone coming the other way. Very soon, I came to some steep steps that led down to the first swing bridge:
“I must have reached the top already!” I crowed to myself and bounded down the steps feeling mightily pleased with myself. Then came the bridge. I kept my eyes fixed on a point right in front of me as I quickly traversed the swaying platform, now noting with some dismay that the track started to climb back up on the other side.
The path climbed up gently until it seemed to abruptly stop in front of a piece of chain link fence upon which a sign was fixed saying that the section of track on the other side was closed due to a slip. A smaller sign which read ‘temporary track’ was pinned underneath it with a large red arrow pointing helpfully to the right. I glanced around to see if I could see the diversion and for a moment, I couldn’t work out where I was supposed to go. And then I looked up:
“Are you kidding me?” I actually said aloud as my eyes followed the near vertical switchback path up the hillside. With a sigh, I grabbed hold of the rope (which some kind soul had affixed to the side of this new track to assist desperately unagile people like me) and pulled myself hand over hand up the path. The photo above really doesn’t show how ridiculously steep it was and I did think that I might not make it. But with the rope there to help, it was ok and actually quite fun.
After a while, the path began to descend slightly and then eventually rejoined the original track. Genuinely thinking that I couldn’t possibly climb any higher and that I had dealt with all the ascents pretty well, I swaggered smugly down the path where I rounded a corner and was faced with this:
With another sigh, I slowly started my ascent…….again. I had to pause at the top of each flight to get my breath back but I made it to the top where there was a bench onto which I flumped gratefully. I got out my flask of tea and after a few scalding mouthfuls I pressed on. Thankfully, the path started to descend gently again and to my surprise cut through a copse of Kohekohe trees. I wasn’t the only one that was surprised:
After enjoying the brief change in scenery I emerged out of the copse and began to walk towards a small wooden bridge which traversed a narrow gorge.
Thinking that I’d be descending the rest of the way now or at least be on the flat, I picked up my pace and strode confidently on.
Until I was met with more steps. A LOT more steps. Steps as far as the eye could see.
“Well,” I mused as I started to climb, “they don’t call this walk the Stairway to Heaven for nothing.”
Pink and panting, I reached the top and turned around to take a photo of my achievement.
And then it really was plain sailing. Those steps marked the highest point on the track and after that the path dipped further and further down until after about 20 minutes, it was level with the railway line again. Within another 20 minutes I was on the outskirts of Paekākāriki and within a further 10 minutes, I was sitting on a bench on the platform of Paekākāriki station. The walk had taken me exactly 3 hours which given the estimated times are between 2 and 5 hours, makes my time not at all shabby. Unlike Hemi Matenga, I would happily do this walk again perhaps even make it a regular thing.
My photos really don’t do the walk justice. It is truly a varied, challenging and beautiful walk with stunning views. I didn’t really feel it was safe to whip out my iPhone and video stuff knowing how clumsy I can be but someone else felt a bit more confident and has put together this 2 minute montage of the walk. Do have a look – it’s incredible: