Leg 7 – Seatoun to Sinclair Head

18 kilometres
4 hrs 15 mins (walk)
55 mins (cycle)
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The final leg of the Great Harbour Way begins at Seatoun wharf.

Follow the footpath alongside the beach towards Churchill Park. [CYCLISTS: turn right into Inglis Street and follow it to the top, veering left through the Pass of Branda towards Breaker Bay.] Walk through the park, where on your left you will see the Wahine anchor. Where the park ends at Hector Street, go straight ahead, picking up the path along the seashore.

A short distance away, you will see a number of new houses. These occupy the land where Rangitane’s Oruaiti Pa once stood. It was here that the great exlorer Kupe landed when he first entered Wellington Harbour. He named his landing point Te Turanga o Kupe (‘the great standing place of Kupe’) and left some of his people to grow food and replenish supplies while he explored Cook Strait.

In European times, the site was used to build Fort Dorset, a coastal battery, begun in 1908. Between the two World Wars the defence was permanently manned, but afterwards staff were greatly reduced, and in the early ’60s the guns were removed for scrap. Up until its official closure in 1991, the Fort provided accommodation for military personnel. In 1999, part of the land was of sold for sub-division and some passed into Ministry of Education ownership for a new Seatoun school.

As you approach the escarpment, you can get a good view of Steeple Rock or Te Aroaro o Kupe (‘the groin of Kupe’). While bathing at the rock, Kupe was washed against the jagged edges and badly injured. From here you may either take the uphill path to the left of the school, or when sea conditions are right and the tide allows, (tide times are published daily in the local newspaper, or available in the Wellington Marine Forecast), you may keep to the coast, following it round Point Dorset to Breaker Bay, a dramatic arc flanked by craggy outcrops. For those going over the top, follow the path towards the red pou – take the left fork down to Breaker Bay, or the right to stay on the ridge where it meets the Pass of Branda; when you reach the road, turn left. Note that Breaker Bay has a strong undertow and swimming is not recommended;  and that it is traditionally a “clothing optional” beach.

From Pass of Branda, walkers have the option of following the Eastern Walkway onto the ridge and around to the Ataturk Memorial. Cyclists should stick to the road.

Following the road from Breaker Bay, an amble along several small bays brings you to Palmer Head. The footpath runs out here, so keep left. This rocky point is the site of Wahine Memorial Park, and marks the entrance to Tarakena Bay, site of Rangitatau Reserve. The reserve takes its name from the pa which originally occupied the eastern ridge. The villagers of nearly Poito often used the pa as a refuge in times of threat. Both were attacked and destroyed by raiders from the north in 1819-1820 with a large number of fatalities.

It’s worth taking a detour into the reserve, where a short climb will bring you to the Kemal Ataturk Memorial – a monument erected by the New Zealand government in 1990 to honour the divisional commander (and later president) of Turkey who, having battled against the ANZACs in the WWI Gallipoli campaign, renamed the ill-fated invasion point ‘Anzac Cove’. This memorial was erected to reciprocate Ataturk’s homage, and the site chosen because of its likeness to the cliffs of Gallipoli.

In 2014 a collection of micro tramping huts were erected at the west side of Tarakena Bay as part of a public art project.

Continue along the roadside with care. As you pass Moa Point and approach the airport, the footpath resumes. Follow it through the  tunnel at the end of the runway.  – pause to rubberneck as the odd plane passes overhead.

The breakwater and the long straight mark the entrance to Lyall Bay. As you walk up the straight you can pause to rubberneck as planes take off and land. The bay has long been popular with surfers, with predominantly offshore breezes and a frequent swell. However, local surfers believe the ‘breaks’ could be greatly improved by the construction of an artificial reef; their campaign to have it built has as yet been unsuccessful. In the meantime, bodies and boards doggedly bob about – brave souls, especially when the wind blows!

As you leave Lyall Bay you pass a replica Easter Island/Rapanui Moai statue donated by Chile and approach Te Raekaihau Point. In September 2008 the 800-hectare Taputeranga Marine Reserve was official gazetted here – from Te Raekaihau Point to the old quarry, and 2.3km out to sea – after a 17-year battle by lobby groups. The convergence of three ocean currents here creates a wide range of habitats which attracts a rich mix of plants and animals.

The footpath begins again at Princess Bay & Houghton Bay, where more fearless surfers provide spine-chilling entertainment in high seas.

The picture-postcard settlement of Island Bay is next, unmistakeable with its fishing fleet at anchor and Tapu Te Ranga Island sitting proud. This is much evidence of Maori settlement in this area. Onshore, Te Mupunga Kainga was favoured by both Ngai Tara and Ngati Ira, while the island served as a refuge from invaders. Legend has it that Tamairanga, wife of leading Ngati Ira chief Whanake, and her children sought refuge there during the final battle that forced their iwi from Wellington Harbour. When the island was besieged and defeat was imminent, she and her children escaped in a canoe and fled further up the coast to Mana Island.

As European settlement got underway, Island Bay proved popular with Italian immigrants, attracted by its proximity to the fishing grounds, where many made their living. These families thrived and their community remains strong in the bay today.

On the rocks at the eastern end of the bay, the old bait shed is home to the Island Bay Marine Education Centre.

Look out for three interesting houses as you leave Island Bay. One has two horse heads mounted on the wall, another has a rowing boat, and there is also a lighthouse – supposedly built as a surprise present by a husband with a wife wanting a hideaway to pursue her writing.

Continuing on, you will reach Owhiro Bay (whiro, ‘moonless night’, refers to the first day of the lunar month.) Follow the bay around until the sealed road ends. Pass through the quarry, and into the 600-hectare Te Kopahou Reserve to reach Sinclair Head – about 2-3 hours return walk from Owhiro Bay. There are several tracks inland (and upward!) from here.

In 2014 a miniature hut was erected as part of a public art project on the terrace below the old quarry just to the west of Owhiro Bay.

About an hour’s walk into the reserve is Red Rocks, or Pari-Whero. Maori mythology provides three explanations for the rocks’ striking colour: blood from Maui’s nose stained the rocks when he hauled up the North Island from his canoe; Kupe the Polynesian navigator cut his hand whilst wrestling a giant octopus and bled on the rocks; when Kupe failed to return from a voyage, his daughters cut themselves in mourning after they had given him up for dead. In any event, the rocks are nationally significant, formed about 210 million years ago during undersea volcanic eruptions. The raised shore platform with its pillow lava is note-worthy, being well preserved and accessible. The purple coloured lava was erupted on to the sea floor and instantly cooled. The red colour is caused by finely dispersed iron oxide (haematite) and the green by the clay mineral, chlorite. Red and white-banded rocks contain silica. Eventually all these rocks were compressed, tilted, uplifted and eroded over many years to expose the formation and colour we see today.

Sinclair Head, or Rimurapa, is a winter ‘haul out’ for New Zealand fur seals. During ‘haul out’ (between May and August) the seals, predominantly males, rest up and eat in preparation for the breeding season (November to January). The seals feed on squid, octopus, barracuda, hoki and conger eel. They in turn are prey for sharks, orca whale and leopard seal. Bull fur seals weight up to 160kg and are able to move surprisingly fast. (Warning: seals may become aggressive if threatened. Keep your distance and keep dogs under control at all times. Dogs are not permitted on Sinclair Head between May and August.)

Sinclair Head is the western end of the Great Harbour Way. From here, walk or cycle back to Owhiro Bay, where you can bike back over Brooklyn hill, or catch a bus through Happy Valley into downtown Wellington.

Toilets Churchill Park, Seatoun
Lyall Bay Parade
Princess Bay
Shorland Park, Island Bay
Public transport Metlink
Wellington Combined Taxis, tel 384-4444
Accommodation WellingtonNZ Accomodation
Useful contacts Wellington Visitor Information
Island Bay Marine Education Centre
Miramar Peninsula Brochure and Map