Baring Head/Ōrua-pouanui

A few weeks back, Sarah and I made plans to meet up before she and her husband Michael moved to Christchurch. I was sad to see her go, but so happy that she was following her dream of living in the Garden City, a place I also hold close to my heart. Since it was set to be a beautiful day, we decided to head out to Baring Head, or Ōrua-pouanui, a spot I’ve been wanting to visit since I first arrived here. Located on the South Coast between Wellington and the Wairarapa, it’s a remote but important ecological area.

We met in Petone and carpooled from there, about 30 minutes along the winding road over the Wainuiomata Hill and then toward the coast.

After parking at the entrance to the East Harbour Regional Park, we set out on the loop track toward the Baring Head Lighthouse.

It wasn’t long before the track began to climb and we got great views out over the valley below, with the serpentine Wainuiomata River making its way to the coast. You can easily see how the water has worn away the land over time.

After some more climbing, we crested the ridge, and the vast ocean came into view. Like almost everywhere else in NZ, sheep can be found grazing here too. It always seems such a shame that they can’t appreciate what a good spot they’ve got.

We headed in the direction of where we knew the lighthouse would be, which was our planned lunch spot. Cute little signs along the path helped orient us.

It’s amazing how remote and windswept it feels out here, even though it’s fairly accessible by car and only takes about an hour to trek in on a trail that most people can manage. The color of the water, as always, was otherworldly.

Pretty soon, Baring Head Lighthouse came into view, and what a view it was!

First lit in 1935, it replaced the lighthouse at Pencarrow. It was initially powered by a diesel generator before converting to mains electricity in 1950, then becoming fully automated in 1989. Again, it’s easy to imagine how lonely it would’ve been to be stationed out here, much like at Pencarrow, with the rugged, howling winds as your main source of company. Sarah and I, on the other hand, were incredibly fortunate to have an eerily still day for Wellington, with hardly any wind at all!

You can see where the gusts normally come from, right off the Cook Strait, with the way the bushes have grown.

We found a picnic table and settled in for our lunch, only spotting another couple groups of people the whole time. It was a surprisingly quiet spot for such a nice autumn day, when Wellingtonians usually take advantage of good weather to visit outdoor recreation areas. Maybe the drive required to get here deters some folks, or they wait for the warmer months.

After lunch, we had a look at the buildings in the lighthouse complex, aiming to find the new Story Hub. The Council worker at the carpark had told us that we’d find it by determining which building had an automatic door. They all looked pretty much the same from the outside, until one slowly creaked inward in a way that I can only describe as straight out of a horror movie. Luckily, we knew to expect it or I might not have wanted to go into the Story Hub at all, haha! (This is the door on the right… doesn’t look like your average automatic door. I swear someone with a sick sense of humor designed this setup.)

It was very informative and well worth a visit to learn about the history of the lighthouse, the grounds and what the area is used for now, like NIWA’s atmospheric monitoring. They also had great information on local flora and fauna, which I knew some about because of my Zoo colleagues. Reptile monitoring takes place at Baring Head, as it’s home to native skinks and geckos, so it’s important to protect this area from predators.

Other buildings in the complex are in various states of upkeep, all with plans to be restored at some stage as funding allows.

Having finished up at the complex, it was time to move on. We briefly retraced our steps, then headed in a different direction to make a loop, rather than go back the way we’d come in. We also took a little side trip to visit the Para Trig and WWII Bunkers, which have a great view.

Time for an Amerikiwi shot! Going to miss our adventures in Wellington together.

The headlands south of Wellington jutted out into the distance as the sun sank lower in the sky, sheep fleeing from us as we hiked onward. As we wound along the hilltops, we had views on both sides, the best of both worlds, out toward the Cook Strait and down into the valley.

What an incredible stretch of coast! I can’t believe I didn’t get out here sooner, and would already love to go back again.

As Sarah and I walked along and chatted away, following the orange arrows scattered here and there on posts and gates, we noticed we hadn’t seen an arrow in a while. We were looking for a path heading down on our right, toward where my car was parked, but we weren’t seeing one. All of a sudden, we came to a gate that said “NO ENTRY, NO EXCEPTION.” Um.

Time to turn around, I guess! So we had to retrace our steps, and luckily it was only a few minutes before we found the path heading downhill. That’s what happens when it’s only a tiny trail sign, and you’re having a great chat with a friend. Not the first time this has happened to me, either.

After descending into the mostly-shaded valley, we were met by our duck friend, who had followed us around upon arrival. He must have learned to get food off of visitors to the carpark, since he almost hopped into the car with us. No food – sorry mate! Andy helpfully identified him as a Muscovy duck when i showed him this photo. A very pushy chap, indeed (duck, not Andy).

Overall, the loop took us about three hours with a lunch break, and it’s a pretty easy walk with views to die for, as you can see. If you’re in Wellington and haven’t done it, DO IT. No dogs allowed, so that’s the only downside.

Sarah, Wellington won’t be the same without you, but can’t wait to visit Christchurch for some adventures on the South Island, hopefully sometime soon! Everyone else, stay tuned for Fern’s first dog blog appearance coming soon. 🙂

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