Get back to nature in Wainuiomata with forest walks, overnight tramping trips, thrilling hilltop quad bike rides and a stunning wild coast
This is where Wellington really gets wild. Get back to nature in Wainuiomata, an idyllic slice of kiwi heartland tucked between mountains and fringed by raw coastline.
Wainuiomata has been shaped by some wild forces. The area was once swampland covered in dense forests, and it’s thought to have been mostly unoccupied before 1840. When a large earthquake struck later in 1855, the land was lifted up, dried out and became ripe for settlement. It was soon home to the timber mills that helped Wellington boom in the 1850s and 60s, but truly came into its own when an influx of young families moved in after World War II.
These days, Wainuiomata - called Wainui by locals - has a small-town community feel, where a love of the great outdoors is aided by its rugged geography. Nestled on three sides by hills clad in dense native bush and sitting alongside the Wainuiomata River, this Lower Hutt suburb is surrounded by natural beauty no matter which way you look.
And there must be something in the water here, or maybe it’s the clean, fresh air - the suburb counts more than its fair share of rugby union and league stars (think Piri Weepu and Tana Umaga) as hometown boys. Sport is the fabric that knits the community together and there is no shortage of sportsgrounds and outdoor recreation options for visitors.
Drive down Coast Road as it winds alongside the Wainuiomata River to the wild coast. The jagged shoreline here was thrust up in several large earthquakes over the last 3000 years, and you can spot the impact each one in the shape of the terraces jutting out to sea. As you reach the southern end of Wellington’s arc of coastline, you’ll see the striking Baring Head Lighthouse. First lit in 1935, it still guides ships from the turbulent waters of the Cook Strait into the relative calm of Wellington Harbour.
The lighthouse sits by the coastline that hosts Wellington’s largest colony of New Zealand fur seals. Here at Turakirae Head, around 500 of these rotund marine mammals settle in for winter every year - make sure you keep a safe distance as you watch them. Explore this coastal reserve on foot, or head out on a horse trek for a different view.
Wellington’s hilly geography has turned it into a magnet for mountain bikers. Wainuiomata’s Wild Coast Track is one of the most remote and striking sections of the Remutaka Cycle Trail, a 115-kilometre path that’s one of New Zealand’s Great Rides. For something a bit more challenging, the Wainuiomata Trail Project is run by a group of local enthusiasts and volunteers who build and maintain some incredible tracks among native bush in Waiu Park. While the more challenging downhill runs are renowned, there’s also a skills area and family-friendly tracks for budding bikers to progress through.
This same proliferation of hills also means Wainuiomata is a hiker’s paradise. Visit Remutaka Forest Park for a buffet of beautiful bushwalks, where you can trek through the lush landscape to a soundtrack of native birdsong. And while most kiwi folk have never actually seen a kiwi bird in the wild, spend a night camping or overnighting in one of the publicly accessible huts in the Orongorongo Valley, that can be booked by the bunk room, and you might just hear their call.
Wainuiomata’s beauty is matched in its accommodation options. Settle in for a couple of nights away from city noise in remote Riverstone Cottage in Orongorongo Station, a rustic farm cottage with spectacular views, or unwind in Angie’s Rural Retreat for a barbeque and a dip in the pool.
The beauty to be found here has been a well-kept secret, but it seems that word is getting out. Its lush landscape and friendly folk have started attracting more and more visitors. But don’t worry - there’s more than enough wild, wide open space here to go round.