Green gems

By Sarah Catherall
Photography by Evangeline Davis

Featured in Capital #60
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If you laid out Wellington’s 460 kilometres of green-belt trails end to end, you could walk from here to Hamilton on them.

Close to the city, some just over the back of suburban fences, these paths meandering through green corridors are one of the region’s assets.

Since I moved here two decades ago, I’ve run and walked over many of the city’s obvious trails. Like many runners, though, I’m a creature of habit. Living in Wellington’s east, there are routes I tread regularly − the trails around Breaker Bay, Mount Victoria, and Polhill Reserve, and an asphalt route along the waterfront up through the Botanic Gardens.

This year, I set myself a new challenge − to venture beyond these routes and explore some of the 300 kilometres of trails through and around Wellington, plus the additional 162 kms on the outer greenbelt. I want to discover the peaks that friends who live west, in Kelburn and Karori, rave about, to find the trails I’ve never explored before, and to climb the peaks beyond the city to see new vistas of this wild, windy and beautiful city I call home.

Exploring Wellington’s west

On a February morning so windy that a $20 note blows out of my handbag never to be seen again, I meet a friend, Catherine, near Zealandia. We drive to the entrance near Trelissick Park, halfway up Ngaio Gorge Road. I’ve walked through Trelissick Park a couple of times over the years, with a double buggy when my daughters were young, but I’ve never attempted the 7km City to Sea walk to Zealandia.

Catherine’s pooch, Teddy, is so excited to see me that he jumps into my lap in the front seat (he knows he’ll get a decent walk when I’m around).

We begin our walk beside the thin, shallow Kaiwharawhara Stream which runs all the way from the sea to Zealandia. The gusty northerly miraculously stops like a noisy orchestra suddenly quietened, replaced by the occasional burst of a tui call.

The trail takes us to the northern end of Trelissick Park, to the start of the Northern Walkway. For the next 30 minutes, we walk through a green corridor of old forest, and regenerating bush – towering natives, soft green ngaio trees and dense ferns. A band of keen locals (The Trelissick Park Group) have pulled out hectares of weeds and planted hundreds of native plants and trees. In the lower part of the stream, you can apparently spot the odd eel if you stare long enough into the dark, shadowy waters.

This trail would be an easy one to run, as it’s flat and virtually empty on a weekday morning. We pass solo walkers with dogs, and half a dozen British tourists ambling together. Small bridges with number markers are signposted with information about each spot.

We know we’re out of the park when we emerge from the greenery and hit Waikowhai Street, where the wind whips up again. We stop for a coffee at the bright yellow Columbus Coffee caravan parked in a supermarket carpark.

Eventually, we enter Otari Wilton’s Bush, 100 hectares of delicious green wilderness. It is Wellington’s oldest scenic reserve, a gem in the backyard of Northland, Wadestown and Ngaio. The bush forest reserve in Wellington’s outer green belt protects original and regenerating bush that once covered much of Wellington. Many of the trees are apparently several hundred years old.

When my daughters were young (they’re teens now), I often took them on the 20-minute “canopy” walk. Today, we walk the “blue” trail through dense kohekohe forest. Kereru fly above us, and kaka and kakariki screech about.

Eventually, the green canopy above parts and we walk into Karori Cemetery. Historic graveyards are lined up in rows beneath gumtrees. We weave through paths beside crumbling graves engraved with fading names. The wind stills, and the whole place is eerily quiet, until we hit the main road again and walk down the hill beside a stream of noisy cars. We’ve walked 7.6 kms, and taken 1.5 hours. Next time, I’ll find the 100-year-old rimu tree in Otari bush, and view the war graves.

Wrights Hill, Karori, to Aro Street

Since we met more than two years ago, my partner has been raving about Wrights Hill and the thick green bush reserve surrounding it. I know Karori is the starting point of Makara’s 40 kilometre of trails, but I’m ignorant about much else out that way.

On a hot February Saturday, we drive to South Karori, wind through a few suburban streets, and park our car at the southern entrance to Wrights Hill Reserve. The bush and trails here are similar to tracks on the South Coast, covered in regenerating lime-green bush.

The reserve has two official walks: the 2.4 km Lookout loop walk, taking about 1.5 hours or the 1 kilometre Salvation Bush walk, taking about 45 minutes. Our trail from the south takes us to the loop walk.

The journey is pretty enough but the destination is the highlight. After an easy 20 minute climb, we reach Wrights Hill – and near the top, a former WW1 gun emplacement, a grey monolithic concrete bunker which once boasted a disappearing gun and ammunition. Wellington is spread out below, and we have vast views of Wellington Harbour, the south coast, over to the Wairarapa, and out to Petone.

Next we wind down a four-kilometre trail running beside the Zealandia sanctuary fence line. It’s a dirt track, steep in parts. The Brooklyn wind turbine waves to us in the distance. I’ve only ever spied the turbine from below, but we approach it from the southern end.

The turbine is barely moving when we get there, and we head past it, walking down towards George Denton Park in Highbury. Transpower pylons tower above like steel monsters, and we pass a reservoir. This is the route I’m familiar with through the park, we are back on a trail covered in bush, sheltered from the sun.

The Polhill Reserve 7.3 km loop is one I run regularly. Aro Valley used to be called Polhill Gully, after a settler, Baker Polhill, who arrived in 1841 and ran a timber business in lower Aro Street.

Three kilometres later, after passing a few mountain bikers on the way, we drop on to Aro Street, back towards civilisation. Two and a half hours since we started out, we drink flat whites at Aro Cafe, the noise of traffic replacing birdsong.


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