Vertiginous hills, narrow tortuous roads, zigzagging vertical steps, stands of native bush in impossible places, lush patches of parkland in unexpected places, rickety old wooden houses, quirky quake-defying modern buildings, scenes from Lord of the Rings, ferocious winds and million dollar sea views – that’s Wellington. If you want to experience all this in a day, take a walk, or rather a hike, along Wellington’s Southern Walkway.
The Southern Walkway (Te Ranga a Hiwi) begins at the eastern end of Oriental Parade, with a steep climb up a series of paths and steps (vertical naturally!) to the Mount Victoria lookout. The view from here is sensational and it’s worth pausing for a while to drink it all in – the city buildings, the harbour and the hills on the other side, the Interislander ferry gliding slowly out to sea. This is also a great spot to feel the force of a good Wellington wind – bracing!
Halfway along Mount Victoria there’s spot where a scene from Lord of the Rings was set. You’ll understand why when you see it!
The hour-long walk down the rolling grassy slopes on the other side of Mount Victoria, through stands of trees and past suburban back gardens is a leisurely and lovely one. Beyond Mount Victoria you cross the road near the tunnel and head through Kilbirnie and Newtown then past Truby King Park (named for the man who instituted NZ’s wonderful infant welfare system) Now you’ll find yourself at the back of Wellington Zoo. This is a good place to stop, especially if you’re walking with kids. Sush them to silence and stillness, to hear the monkeys chattering, the lions roaring and maybe to spot exotic animals lurking behind the trees (you never know!)
Leaving the Zoo behind the track leads through Melrose Park and up to the top of Mount Albert. Now you’re looking ahead, out to Cook Strait and back over streets of little wooden houses to the city. Amazing views, more tearing winds and worth a pause for both!
The end is in sight. Once you’ve crossed Houghton Bay road, you drop down through Sinclair Park and onto The Esplanade. Follow the road left along the coast past Taputeranga marine reserve to Island Bay and the end of the great Southern Walkway.
The Southern Walkway takes about five hours. It is fairly easy walking for adults and kids of reasonable fitness. It is well signposted and it is easy to pick up the track or leave it at any point. I did the trek with five 8 and 9 year old boys a few years ago. lt was a great adventure!