3 hrs 15 mins (walk)
52 mins (cycle)Go to map
Welcome to Fitzroy Bay, part of East Harbour Regional Park, and the eastern end of The Great Harbour Way. The journey begins at the fence that marks the boundary on to private land, just short of Baring Head.
The Baring Head Lighthouse was one of the last lighthouses to be built in New Zealand, and the first to have an electrified light. It sparked up in 1935, and during the Second World War it was used by the armed forces as a radar and signal station. It superceded the Pencarrow lighthouses, both of which you’ll see further along the way. So many lighthouses? And so there ought to be. More than 40 shipwrecks have been recorded between Baring Head and Eastbourne.
This is a wild and exposed coastline, infamous for its frequent battering by angry surf whipped up by fierce southerly storms and the strong swells of Cook Strait. The craggy, kelpy beach is inhospitable and not recommended for swimming. This area, however, has a long history of Maori settlement. Its dunes were used for growing kumara, and the sea and lakes provided abundant fish, eels, seals and other sources of food. This area was first occupied by Ngati Ira, who fled to the Wairarapa in 1825 when they were attacked by Te Atiawa.
The first Europeans to settle along this coast were whalers and traders, although their stays were usually short-lived. By the early 1900s this area had been significantly altered by farming, logging and extensive fires. This led the local council to start a land purchase programme that has eventuated in the creation of the Regional Park.
Forty minutes from Fitzroy Bay you’ll see testament to the treachery of this coast – the rusty wreck of the steamer SS Paiaka which ran aground here in a fierce gale in 1906, while the Pencarrow lighthouse keepers could only look on in horror. Fortunately no one was killed. Buried in its sandy grave for many years, the hull was discovered and exhumed in 1987.
Just past the Paiaka is the first of two lakes, Kohangatera. The track marked to your right offers a lakeside detour, and a climb over the hill to the next lake – Kohangapiripiri, which can also be reached less strenuously by staying on the coastal path. These two lakes are formed by earthquake-raised beach ridges, and offer not only an idyll of rustic stockyards and grazing sheep: these are important and vulnerable wetlands, home to abundant birdlife – look out for banded doterills, white-fronted terns, oyster-catchers, shags and pukeko, as well as black swans, ducks and black-backed and red-billed gulls. The interpretive display at Kohangapiripiri tells you more.
Just past the lake, take the path leading right, signposted towards the lake and old Pencarrow lighthouse. A 40-minute gentle climb will reward you with magnificent views from Pencarrow Head, site of the original Pencarrow lighthouse, built in 1859. Not only was this New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse, it was operated by the country’s first and only woman lighthouse keeper, Mary Jane Bennett. Since it was often obscured by low cloud, a second lighthouse was built at sea level in 1906 – this can be passed by staying on the coastal path from Lake Kohangapiripiri.
Enjoy the grandstand view! On a clear day, across Cook Strait, you can see Mt Tapuaenuku (2885 m) on the South Island. Below you lies the perilous harbour entrance, and Barrett Reef – scene of the sinking of the Wahine, New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster, caused by the most ferocious storm ever recorded in this country. Early morning on 10 April 1968, the inter-island ferry Wahine struck the southernmost rocks of Barrett Reef, grounding and suffering severe hull damage. It was then driven northward towards Point Dorset, dragging its anchors along the shoreline until she came alongside Steeple Rock where the anchors gripped and held. At about 1.20 p.m. the captain gave orders to abandon ship. About an hour later the ship heeled over, crashing heavily to the seabed. That day, many acts of heroism and valour were performed in the attempts to rescue the passengers. Most were washed ashore on this side of the harbour, but 51 people lost their lives. There are remnants and memorials to the Wahine further along the Great Harbour Way past Seatoun.
Follow the track back down the hill. On your left you may spy a grave surrounded by a white fence: therein lies Evelyn Woods, a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter who died in 1896. Keep heading downhill until you reach the stile. Cross it, and follow the track down until you reach the coastal path.
From here, follow the path until you reach Burdan’s Gate – it’ll take about an hour and a half on foot.
|Toilets||Burdan’s Gate/Camp Bay|
|Public transport||Metlink (bus services), tel 0800-801-7000
East by West Ferries, tel 499-1282
Eastbourne Taxi Company, tel 562-7554
Hutt & City Taxis, tel 570-0057
|Accommodation||Hutt City Visitor Accommodation Information|
|Useful contacts||East Harbour Regional Park
Bike hire and shuttles: The Bike Shed Pencarrow (Burdan’s Gate), tel 562 7077