Putangirua Pinnacles: Paths of the Dead

On the way back from Martinborough (well, slight detour), Andy and I stopped to hike the Putangirua Pinnacles. I’ve been wanting to check out this spot ever since I first arrived in Wellington, but it’s a bit tricky to access without a car. Fortunately for me, Andy happens to have one of those.

This is the spot where they filmed the Paths of the Dead in Lord of the Rings, so I must admit that was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit. We got a warm sunny day, so it was certain to be a bit less spooky than in the film. We parked just up from the campsite at the entrance to the pinnacles track and started the trek.


The majority of the path follows a mostly dry stream bed, but there were a few spots where we had to cross.

This next one gives a good idea of the scale of everything, with Andy in the frame on the lower left.




It took about 45 minutes of scrambling over rocks before the valley narrowed and we came to the beginning of the pinnacles.


I immediately wanted to clamber up every side path to see where it would lead, as I’m always drawn to do.



Some of the paths got a bit steep and slippery, covered in so much loose rock, so we had to choose wisely. The pinnacles themselves were formed when sea levels were much higher and this land formed an island, with the sea then receding after the Ice Age. The towering conglomerate rock, exposed to weather, is regularly collapsing, so you don’t want to put any weight on the steep sides of the pinnacles.



Turning back towards the main path, we continued further up the valley and deeper into the pinnacles.



Andy was on the lookout for fossils throughout.

It was impossible to tell which part was the precise setting for the Paths of the Dead in Return of the King, but it all looked pretty otherworldly. Even on a sunny day, it’s easy to see why Peter Jackson chose this spot.


I got to test out my handy new tripod as well. I never bring my other one because of its weight, so I decided to get a cheap lightweight option for hiking trips.


We ventured a bit further in and soon came upon the end of the road.

It was tricky to get good exposures with the sharp contrast between light and shadow beneath the towering pinnacles. This next one may be my favorite shot of the day.


Andy humored me by taking my photo multiple times, and luckily he knows how to line up a good shot.


As you can see, there’s only so far you can go.


With no further paths to take, we turned around and made our way out of the valley.





Sadly, the only fossils we found were in rocks far too enormous to take back with us.


The day had really warmed up by the time we neared the parking lot, and the stream began to look more and more inviting. Maybe we’ll come back and camp here sometime this summer.


On the road back towards Wellington, we pulled over at a lookout for this incredible view of the coast and turquoise sea.


The Putangirua Pinnacles definitely exceeded all expectations I had. They’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen, which is a statement I find myself uttering frequently when it comes to New Zealand. Sometimes this country feels more like another planet than simply another continent.

Up next, join me, Andy and Higgs on an outing a bit closer to home at Wellington Botanic Garden.

4 thoughts on “Putangirua Pinnacles: Paths of the Dead

  1. Now I want to watch Return of the King again to take a real good look at the scenes filmed there. What an amazing spot – sort of a creepy Grand Canyon. Great pix, Kelsey (and Andy) but there was a furry element missing this time. 🙂


    1. Yes, there definitely was a vallhund-sized hole int he past two posts. I’m tempted to watch RotK again, as well. It was so hard to pick out an exact spot, but it all looked like it could’ve been in the films. Must’ve been interesting getting all the crew and horses/ponies up there.


  2. Good thing Bill didn’t come trotting out of one of those narrow canyons and bowl you over. What an interesting geological formation — much more interesting than the little bits you see in the movie.


    1. Yes, so much bigger than I expected! Pretty surreal to be in a place like that with no other people around.


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