Route: Return trip from Orongorongo carpark to Barney’s Whare.
Weather: Fine, no wind
Group Time: 3.5 hrs + 45 mins
A beautiful autumn day greeted us as we departed platform 9 at Wellington Railway Station. The Harbour was a millpond and as we crested the Wainuiomata Hill we disappeared into the thin layer of fog which enveloped the valley.
We were heading for Turakirae Head, located on the southern coast of the North Island at the western end of Palliser Bay. The carpark is located at the mouth of the Orongorongo River. The area is a scientific reserve and DOC’s activity cards provide interesting facts and information about the fauna, history and internationally famous geological record revealed by the earthquake-raised beaches.
The track is flat, in good condition and well-marked. After 40 minutes we reached our first stop – the largest New Zealand fur seal colony in the Wellington region. Male seals of all ages spend the winter at this colony, ‘hauling out’ to build up their condition before going south to breed during spring. Apparently up to 500 seals live here and after clambering through a 50m flax, rock and driftwood labyrinth, we were rewarded with 20-30 lively animals waddling about and climbing to find a good basking rock.
The track continues along the historic coastal route, used extensively in the nineteen century to move livestock. Until a good road and railway was built over the Remutaka Hill, the only way to get stock from Wellington or the Hutt Valley to the Wairarapa was to walk them around the coast. If the way was blocked by high tides, stockmen would spend the night in small huts along the way. One of these huts, Barney’s Whare, has been rebuilt, and we arrived there in good time for a midday lunch. The hut is private, and a picnic table and seating are located nearby. Fresh water can be obtained from a stream near the hut.
Wild horses and sheep hid in the scrubby bush along the track and we were able to see the snow capped peaks of the Outward Kaikoura Range, including Mt Tapuae-o-uenuku.
Heading back to the City, and with time to spare, we stopped at the Baring Head Track carpark for a 45min round trip to the hilltop, for magnificent views of Fitzroy Bay, Wellington Harbour entrance, Cook Strait and the South Island. Charlotte, a former professional photographer, coached the group in posing for the camera to good effect. The south coast on a perfect day is well worth a visit.