By Kirsten Drysdale
This popular track winds its way through sand dunes at the coasts edge. You’ll be treated to spectacular views of sea and hills – Kāpiti Island and the whole coastline from Pukerua Bay to Paraparaumu. Often you can glimpse the Marlborough Sounds, looking unexpectedly close.
You can enter the Coastal Track from Queen Elizabeth Park at Paekākāriki’s Wellington Road. Or head in the other direction, from the Raumati South entrance to the park. The track is split into southern and northern sections which meet at Mackay’s Crossing.
Varied coastal plants hug the wide, well-maintained path. The beach can be accessed at several points along the way to play, walk or swim. On the southern track, some large, flat grassy areas are handy for picnics and playing, making this an ideal spot for a family afternoon out.
Who it suits
The track is a wide, well-maintained dirt surface. While the terrain is mostly gentle, requiring little effort, there are some steeper parts that may leave the less-fit or older walker short of breath. Children, on the other hand, will relish its rollercoaster curves. The track isn’t suited to wheelchairs or people with limited mobility, though all-terrain buggies will breeze through it. It is easy to get to and well signposted.
How long it takes
- Full track (Paekākāriki – Raumati South): The return walk takes 2 hours or more with stops along the way, and is about 3.5km
- Southern section (Paekākāriki – Mackays Crossing): 1 to 1.5 hours return, 2 km
- Northern section (Mackays Crossing – Raumati South): 1 hour return, 1.5 km.
There’s much to see along the entire length of the track, so have your camera ready. The South Island can be viewed on all but the cloudiest day. On a crystal-clear day you might even spot Mount Ruapehu or Mount Taranaki on the horizon.
Starting at the southern end you walk amid precious, fragile coastal vegetation on beach-side dunes. All you’ll hear are the birds and the sea – this setting guarantees a tranquil experience! Take a seat on one of the benches dotted along the route and bask in the sun as you look out over the water to Kāpiti Island. It’s surprising how much bigger the island appears as you head further north. Moving north, you can see the progress being made by local sand dune restoration projects to encourage native plant regeneration.
Historically, the entire foredune area was home to Māori – down on the beach you can find the remnants of a midden or two, where part of the dune has collapsed to reveal the layers of shell.
Tūi, wax eye, fantail, greenfinch, goldfinch, yellowhammer and swallows are just some of the more commonly-seen birds in this coastal habitat. On the beach you’re likely to find oystercatchers, a variety of gulls and sometimes the more exotic white-faced heron. You might even see a hawk or two hunting over the fields towards the hills. If you detour to the Inland Track, you may catch the odd drift of quail, hear the call of a ruru (morepork), or watch a pheasant take to the air in a flurry of wings.
Other things to see in the area:
- Model aeroplanes
- Marines Memorial
- Tramway Museum (This operates trams to and from Whareroa Beach on weekends and public holidays, from 11am to 4:30pm. You might like to catch the tram down to the beach and continue your walk from there).
If you’re coming from outside the village, the Coastal Track is easy to find after travelling by train or car.
- Take the train to Paekākāriki – it’s a short walk (just over 1km) from the train station to the Queen Elizabeth Park entrance at the far end of Wellington Road. You’ll find an information board, map and directions opposite the Paekākāriki Holiday Park, just inside the park gate. Note there’s no public transport within Paekākāriki or between Paekākāriki and Raumati South.
- If driving, parking is available at the Paekākāriki and Raumati South entrances to the park, and also at Mackays Crossing and Whareroa Beach. Parking at Raumati is limited. Access gates to Queen Elizabeth Park are locked at dusk so don’t get your car locked in. (If you do, ring the ranger on 027 244 5319.)
Toilets are provided in the park at Paekākāriki, at Mackays Crossing, and at the Raumati South entrance to the park.
Food and drink
There are options for purchasing food and drink in Paekākakāriki, Queen Elizabeth Park (limited) and Raumati South. On Beach Road, Paekākāriki, there are two cafés, a pub, a fruit shop and a dairy. These are all about 1.5km south from the Wellington Road entrance to Queen Elizabeth Park.
In Queen Elizabeth Park, at Mackays Crossing, a kiosk at the Tram Museum sells pre-packaged ice creams, ice blocks, chippies etc. only while the trams are running, (at weekends and public holidays , except Christmas Day, between 11am and 4:30pm.) This is around 1.5km from the end of the southern track and can be reached by foot or by tram from Whareroa Beach.
In Raumati South there are cafes, a dairy and Southend Takeaways. There are more cafes further north in the bigger shopping centre of Raumati Beach.
What to bring
- On a windy day you’ll be glad you brought a jacket – and sunglasses to protect your eyes from a sandblasting.
- Take water, too, as there are no drinking-fountains on this track.
- This is a multi-use track so expect to encounter cyclists. Dogs also frequent this track (they should be on leashes but aren’t always!).
- At the places where the northern track meets the beach, you will see some damage from coastal erosion on the walking track itself. The park staff have marked where it’s safe to walk.
- There’s generally mobile coverage along the length of the track.
- Be aware that weather events can sometimes cause potholes to appear overnight in the lower parts of the southern track.
- In winter, on the highest points on the mid-to-north sections of the Inland Track, look south for stunning distant views of Tapuae-O-Uenuku, the highest peak in the Kaikoura Range.
Off the beaten track
But wait, there’s more: countless secondary pathways are dotted along the southern coastal route. These link to the Inland Track– if you feel like mixing it up or coming back a different way. They take only a few minutes to complete and some loop back to the Coastal Track. Most of these paths are well-marked with blue posts. Others are hinted at by a grassy gap in the shrubbery, making them feel more of an adventure.
Friends of QE Park are an active group who help to look after the Park’s dune, wetland and forest native plants and animals. The Friends are involved in restoration, conservation, and where possible expanding these ecosystems. They welcome new volunteers to help with regular weeding and planting.
To complement your walk, read The Kingdom of Heaven (to Haina) by Apirana Taylor