Photo: Mark Kerr -

The Ballad of the Triple Track proudly presents the second in its commissioned series of creative writing to go with our walks. In an epic poem, itself like a track, Michael O’Leary writes historically and contemporaneously about the rail, road and path between Paekākāriki and Pukerua Bay. This series sees our writers paid through funding provided by the Kāpiti Coast District Council Creative Communities scheme. The first story ‘Tūrangawaewae’ by Dani Deluka is here.


Paripari. Photo: Mark Amery

Te Paripari was the name of the great hillside
South of Paekākāriki, which is where the Tararua 
Mountain range begins. Māori recognized this and 
Named the slopes here paripari, the precipice. 

This location is steeped in history, identified 
Still today. The area where the cave lies 
Is still very important to Māori. It was known as 
Te-Ana-o-Hau. The cave is a naturally formed 

Sea arch in a greywacke outcrop extending out
To the sea. It was named after a Tupuna or 
Ancestor called Hau, who travelled along the 
Coast from Taranaki to Paekākāriki, in search 

Of his wife, who had left him. Hau 
Travelled along the coast, naming every river 
And point he came across, until arriving at the 
Great rock at the base of Te Paripari. The rock 

Then was solid and Hau could hear his wife 
Speaking on the other side of it, so he uttered 
A powerful karakia and, using his supernatural 
Powers, blasted a hole through the rock. After 

Retrieving his wife, Hau sent her out to sea to 
Gather shellfish and cast a mākutu over her
And she was turned into a rock. That rock is 
Wairaka, and the pierced rock remained as a

Token of the power of Hau. Pākehā thought  
The rock cave to be the work of nature, but 
Māori knew better and called it Te Ana o Hau 
‘The Cave of Hau’. Later, when Ngāti Toa Iwi 

Travelled along the coast, they would break 
Their journey and camp at the sacred rock 
For the night, proceeding onward the next day
To Porirua, Takapu and Te Whānganui-aTara 

There was a small Māori kāinga near the cliffs
It was known to early settlers and whalers as 
‘The Rocky Settlement’. Wakefield described 
The location in 1840. “The village was situated 

On a terrace on the hill about fifty feet above the 
Beach and very neatly built. Below two or three 
Canoes were hauled up under some karaka trees 
Which formed a pleasant grove in a sort of recess 

From the beach. About half a mile north of Paripari 
The hills recede from the coast and the rocky slope 
Is replaced by a shoal sandy beach backed by 
Sand hummocks.” Ten years later, when visited 

By Kemp, the kāinga was found to be nestled amongst 
Heavy bush, with a population of twenty-two people 
Residing there. It had twelve huts, and one church 
Or chapel, six horses and two head of cattle. The 

Settlement had two waka taua with cultivations of 
Both kumara and potato, as well as other produce. 
Above where the proposed railway line would be 
The site of Paripari could be located as a series of 

Small terraces, a short distance up the rocky slopes 
From the future line. Signs of occupation included 
Shell refuse (mainly pāua), with some fish and dog 
Bone and other unidentified bones. Two human 

Teeth were found close to each other near some 
Midden refuse. By the 1940’s, it was reported that 
The downward movement of loose scree material 
Had probably caused some of the original occupation 

Levels to be covered in places. A small part of the kāinga
Nearest the sea was sliced off to make way for Centennial 
Highway and earlier on, the railway line. Behind the kāinga, 
A little further up the slope was a karaka grove of sites 

Of historic and archaeological significance 
Between Paekākāriki and Muri. Although the 
Location was severely desecrated during the 
Construction of Centennial Highway in the 1930s 

And 1940s, today Te-Ana-o-Hau Is still sacred and 
Precious to Māori. In more recent times, during |
Remedial work on the highway, Transit NZ hoped 
To demolish what was left of the outcrop, but local 

Māori would not allow them to do this. Transit argued 
That the rock would be weakened during the mahi, 
Hence wanting to remove it, but a compromise was 
Reached through rock-bolting the outcrop to strengthen 

It. It can still be seen on the seaward side. While not 
Between North and South Junction, another location 
Which directly affects the railway line, is Paripari. 
This is the site of another old kāinga, directly above 

Railway Track

The Capital Connection from Paripari. Photo: Mark Amery

The North-South Junction is the single tracked 
Section of line south of Paekākāriki to Muri. 
It runs along the steep Paekākāriki coastal 
Escarpment and includes a series of tunnels 

The railway line, between North and South Junction 
Lies about a mile south of the railway quarry. This 
Also includes historic kumara pits on the Te Paripari 
Escarpment, between North and South Junction.

When Wellington encounters very heavy weather 
And storms, down the hillside falls. North-South 
Junction and surrounds have a history that is like 
No other on the New Zealand railway system. 

North-South Junction between Paekākāriki and 
Pukerua Bay is a place that is steep and one where 
The heavy trains have to work hard to make the
Steep grade. Until recently the bigger freight trains

Needed extra locomotives to help them up the hill. 
These extra engines were known as bankers or 
Bank engines which assisted the train up the bank. 
A series of locomotives working hard on the hillside 

Had a sound akin to thunder in the mountains.
On a clear, crisp winter night, the sound of this 
Can be heard from Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay
As the sound echoes all around the hills.

The Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company 
(WMRC) was the largest privately owned railway 
In New Zealand and it was also the most successful.
The system was always kept in very good order. 

The line was taken over by the Government in 1908 
To allow completion of the North Island Main Trunk 
Railway. The escarpment itself is a modified scarp of the 
Pukerua fault line. The escarpment was steepened 

Naturally by wave action and later, by construction
Of the railway line and Centennial Highway. 
A history like this explains why North-South 
Junction is still on its original WMRC formation.

It is a very unusual section of track and history wise 
it is probably unique in New Zealand. The 
Tunnels are amongst the oldest still in use on a 
New Zealand main line. One of the problems is 

There is simply no other way down the mountainous 
Slopes. At times the section became so troublesome 
And bottlenecked that tunnels or deviations were 
|Proposed to go under the Pukerua Bay part of the line.

In a geologically unstable section like this history tells 
Us that the slopes will reawaken at some future time, 
Whether that be caused by saturated earth or earthquake 
Occasionally the hill has given way in hot, dry weather 

For no apparent reason. The Paekākāriki area as a
Whole has many different moods, and whether it be 
The railway, the roadway, or either of the walkways
These moods dictate the lives of us who live here

The Escarpment Track

Paripari and the triple track. Photo: Mark Amery

There are two ways to walk between Pukerua Bay and
Paekākāriki, the first is along the footpath which runs
Beside Centennial Highway, where there is a sea wall
To stop you falling in the water. However, there is no

Protection from on-coming traffic or the noise and 
Pollution of breathing a mixture of sea air and carbon
Monoxide. There is a second way which is to take the 
New, at times difficult, but extremely popular

Escarpment Track, which runs from Paekākāriki to 
Pukerua Bay, taking in sweeping views of the spectacular
Kāpiti Coastline and the region’s famous Kāpiti Island.
Heading south, from Paekākāriki township, the trail

Starts by following the railway line then veers uphill
Across privately-owned farmland. You’ll climb 220 
Metres above sea level and navigate steep, narrow
Pathways on what is one of the highlights of the  

3000km ‘Te Araroa Walkway’ that stretches from Cape
Reinga in the north of New Zealand to Bluff in the south.
The Escarpment Track can be walked in either direction 
But most choose to walk from north to south. While 

Families of all ages regularly enjoy this trail, but it is not 
An easy walk. There are around 1,200 steep steps
And walkers must navigate narrow pathways often 
With only room for one person to squeeze past. High

Ridgelines and two quite precarious swing bridges add
A sense of adventure and danger to the mix, especially
When them bridges really start swinging. Getting to 
The Escarpment Track from either Paekākāriki or 

Pukerua Bay, is an easy three quarters of an 
Hour journey from Wellington by train or car. 
Follow the signposts to the start of the trail. The 
Walking distance from station to station is 10km.

And remember, there are no handrails on the steps. 
Children should be supervised and should you decide to
Accept this mission (impossible for someone like me)
Destroy these instructions and go and enjoy yourselves

To find out more about the Escarpment Track, read Vanessa Crowe’s article here.

Photo: Mark Amery gratefully received funding from:

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