Doing this walk reminded me how lucky we are to live in Wellington. The Southern Walkway between Oriental Bay and Island Bay is an 11 km track through the town belt, across ridge tops and along a short section of coast. It is easy to access and very easy walking (it took us about four hours at a comfortable pace, including stops for lunch and other breaks).
We started at the Oriental Bay end of the track, which is just at the bottom of Carlton Gore Road, at 9:30 am. There was little wind but some low cloud, which later dropped a bit of drizzle on us. The track ascends from Oriental Bay fairly steeply at first and, having quickly gained some height, we were able to appreciate the view back across the harbour before getting into the cloud. We headed up towards the Mt Victoria lookout, but the walkway track bypasses that, skirting to the west and continuing over the top of the Mt Vic tunnels.
When we got to Crawford Road, which on one side heads down to Newtown and on the other heads to Kilbirnie, we faced a small navigation challenge – the next part of the walkway was closed due to storm damage. We decided to drop off to the Newtown side of the road and go south along the first street we came to, to find another access point to the walkway. We managed to bypass the closed portion of the track, and joined up with the walkway again after ten minutes.
The walkway then takes you past Truby King House in Melrose, and from there you spend a few minutes on footpaths en route to Melrose Park, just behind the zoo. Following the zoo fenceline you head back into the bush and ascend Mt Albert (at 182 m, really just a hill!).
This is near the end, and I almost led us astray as we had to do a little more footpath travel from Mt Albert Road to get to Sinclair Park…I was looking for a track marker that I didn’t spot and was merrily leading us further along Buckley Road. Fortunately one of the other walkers was more eagle-eyed. After a short back-track we continued on the walkway to the lookout over Houghton Bay. This was a fantastic place to stop for lunch and we had great views of Cook Strait and ferry traffic.
The last leg of our walk took us down to Houghton Bay through the bush in Buckley Road Reserve, popping us out onto Houghton Bay Road just up from the Haewai Meadery. On reaching the bay we said goodbye to Deborah who was heading back around the coast to Lyall Bay, and the rest of us walked along the coastal footpath on the Esplanade to Island Bay. As we approached Island Bay, we had gorgeous views of the snowy Kaikouras. We stopped to check out the storm damage to the seawall before arriving at the bus stop in the Parade. We had just a few minutes to wait in the sun for our ride back to town.