Pencarrow Coastal Trail

Pencarrow Coastal Trail - East Harbour Regional Park

Pencarrow Coastal Trail

East Harbour Regional Park


2 Rankers Reviews

1 Face-to-Face

Your Nature Guide

Marios Gavalas's avatar

Marios Gavalas

Author And Researcher

Nau mai, haere mai

Nau mai, haere mai

I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.

I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!


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Pencarrow Head Lighthsoue


approx 7 km one-way | 3 hours 30 minutes one-way

This walk skirts the hills around Pencarrow Heads from the eastern entrance of Wellington Harbour and heads to the wilds of Cook Strait. At Baring Head, waves thunder onto the rocks in orgies of spray, held aloft by the ever-present wind. Tentacles of kelp glitter in the rolling surf and orange lichens encrust the rocks. Once at Barings Beach, the isolation and raw conditions are sure to clear the mind and buoy the spirit.


Head to Eastbourne and follow Muritai Road to the roadend at Burdans Gate. There is a parking area with picnic tables and toilets.

To access the conclusion of the walk, follow signs to Wainuiomata and continue along Coast Road to Orongorongo. There is a carpark at the end of the Barings Beach, but no toilets.


From Burdans Gate, pass through the gate and follow the wide metalled road for approximately 1½ hours to just below Pencarrow Head. This is the least interesting section of the walk with steep gorse covered hills and occasional gullies of ngaio on the landward side. You can watch the ferries and aeroplanes to the west.

A signpost on the left marks the steep track up to the old lighthouse. The track passes the fenced grave of Evelyn Violet Amy Wood. The daughter of Sidney Herbert Wood, one of the lighthouse keepers, she died in 1896 aged 7 months of convulsions and dysentry. There are magnificent views from the upper lighthouse of Wellington Harbour along the horizon south to Mount Tapuae-O-Uenuku (2885 metres) and the Inland Kaikoura Range

Orange circles on posts indicate the alternative track down, which exits at the mouth of Lake Kohangapiripiri. This detour takes approximately 30 minutes. There is an alternative route inland, signposted from the eastern shores of Lake Kohangapiripiri, which takes a route around Lake Kohangatera. - THIS DETOUR IS NO LONGER ACCESSABLE AS THE BOARD WALK ACROSS LAKE KOHANGAPIRIPIRI HAS BEEN REMOVED.

Continue along Fitzroy Bay and the road past Lake Kohangatera and the wreck of SS Paiaka (30 minutes). The road continues to Baring Head (1 hour), after which you must walk along the large pebbles of Barings Beach for 30 minutes to reach the carpark. *Please note, that this access is via private land. Please be respectful of this.

You may have to cross the Wainuiomata River mouth, which is usually knee deep. Seek advice on the river level before attempting the walk.

Watch for 4WDs, mountain bikes and occasional quarrying trucks. The winds along the walk can be very strong.


The Wainuiomata and Orongorongo Rivers discharge large quantities of sediment, which is transported by longshore drift and deposited as a shelf the length of Fitzroy Bay. Subsequent uplift has allowed the sand and gravel dune to move 100 metres inland from the sea.


The descent from the lighthouse passes Lake Kohangapiripiri, which occupies 13 hectares with a wetland of 60 hectares. Its sister, Lake Kohangatera occupies 17 hectares with an associated wetland of 170 hectares. The freshwater lakes are the receptacles for Gollans Stream, which drains the watershed to the east of East Harbour Regional Park. The rare wetlands are valuable habitat for species that struggle to find homes in an otherwise hilly region. They lie in a valley which was formerly drowned by the sea and became a narrow sea inlet around 700 years ago, when spits formed to isolate it. In the last 1000 years, continuous gravel bars have formed at their outlets and been widened by successive earthquakes.

Rare plant communities inhabit the gravels along this stretch of coast. The raised beach supports Pimelia urvilleana, a low cushion plant whose spongy dark green leaflets store water in the moisture scarce environment. Along with Raoulia hookeri, a mat of triangular pale green leaflets, they endure the winds, salt spray and severe desiccation.


The unusual communities support endemic moths and a rare species of dragonfly, which use the plants to breed. Scientific study on these ecosystems is still in its infancy and there are probably unnamed species in their ecology.

Banded dotterels and Variable oystercatchers nest on the gravel between August and January and lay camouflaged eggs in shallow hollows.

European History

Pencarrow Head was named in 1840 after the Cornish residence of Sir William Molesworth, a director of the New Zealand Company.

After a decision that a light was needed on Pencarrow Head, a 3-sided pyramid was constructed in 1842, but blew down after the first heavy storm. It was replaced in 1849 by a shed. The seaward facing window had a lamp placed at the window. This proved (as could have been predicted) totally inadequate, but it was another 10 years before the Pencarrow Light commenced operation.

The lighthouse was the first in New Zealand and operated from 1st January 1859. It was superseded 1906 the lower Pencarrow Lighthouse, which still operates today.

The wreck of SS Paiaka rests solemnly on the roadside. The iron, screw steamer grossed 14 tons and was 46.7 feet long. She was launched in 1881 and sank in 1906, with no evidence of why she sank. Her hull remains relatively intact and is one of 40 ships wrecked along this coast.


Feature Value Info


Greater Wellington Regional Council

Local government organisation


North IslandWellington RegionWellington


  • Cycling
  • Walking
  • Free


Sylvain Schiber's avatar

Sylvain Schiber

Ranking: 8/10

Nice walk on a gravel road by the beach.

Reviewed over 5 years ago

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Jenny Pullenger's avatar

Jenny Pullenger

New Zealand

Ranking: 7/10

Easy day walk towards - if not to - Pencarrow Lighthouse.

Reviewed over 9 years ago

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