Kapiti Coast – Guide for Backpackers
Explore the Kapiti coast and Kapiti Island.
40km of unspoiled beaches backed with charming Kiwi towns backed with forests and mountains: this is the Kapiti Coast. The district of the Wellington region is less than an hour’s drive or train journey from Wellington city. With that short journey, it will bring you to this stretch of paradise with a warm climate. Find out more about how to get to Kapiti in Public Transport in Wellington.
When lounging on one of the beaches or looking out from a viewpoint high in a recreational park, you can’t miss the sight of Kapiti Island’s silhouette across the water. The island is a sanctuary for rare native birdlife and is the main attraction of this district. As well as what we outline in the guide below, check out 10 Must-Dos on the Kapiti Coast.
So get out and explore one of Wellington’s stunning districts!
Things you can’t miss in Kapiti
- Choosing one of the many stunning beaches looking out to Kapiti Island.
- Walking on the Table Top of Tararua Forest Park.
- Watch the wading birds go about their business on the Waikanae Estuary.
- Take a ferry to Kapiti Island to see rare New Zealand birds, including kiwi!
- Hike Mt Titi.
- Stroll over the sand dunes at Queen Elizabeth Park.
- Get the most easily-accessible views of the Kapiti Coast from Whareroa Farm.
Otaki and Tararua FOrest Park
Otaki is the northernmost township on the Kapiti Coast. On one side of the small town you have the black sand Otaki Beach with a stunning view of Kapiti Island. Although it’s a safe swimming beach for a cool down on a warm day, arguably the best time to visit the beach is for the sunset. You’ll want to get some pictures of the sun creating a silhouette of Kapiti Island.
On the other side of Otaki, heading inland, there’s the Otaki Forks on the Otaki River. This is the western entrance of the Tararua Forest Park. The Otaki Forks Campsite is a good place to base yourself for some hiking or white water kayaking, or to just take in the river and forest surroundings. Plus, bookings are not required (find out more in Where to Camp in Wellington). From the car park, you can take advantage of some of the walks:
Arcus Loop (50-minute return)
Starting at the Boielle Flat, this loop walk goes over the Waiotauru River terraces and climbs to views of the river and campsite.
Fenceline Loop (1h30mins return)
This loop goes rises above the campsite through regenerating forest. You’ll get awesome views across the Waiotauru Valley.
Waiutauru Walk (40-minute return)
An easy walk up the valley to the remains of an old sawmill.
Field Hut and Table Top (5-6 hours return) and The Southern Crossing (3 days)
This day trip hike takes you to the tops of the Tararua Range. Climb through the forest to the Field Hut – a DoC hut with no bookings necessary if you need to use the facility. Above the forest, you’ll walk along tussock and shrub lands. Return on the same track or continue to the mountain peaks and further on the 3-day Southern Crossing hike, which ends in Kaitoke car park.
There’s more beach fun to be had in Waikanae, plus the small town is also close to the gentle Waikanae River. There is a 10km well-formed walking and cycling loop track going down/up both sides of the river for those that want to go exploring.
Boardwalks go through the Waikanae Estuary, which is a scientific reserve for around 60 species of waders and seabirds, such as the dotterel, pukeko, dabchick, and oystercatcher. However, if you catch yourself in Waikanae on a rainy day, never fear! There is the ShoreLine Cinema.
Finally, those with a self-contained vehicle can take advantage of the many freedom camping spots in the area. Find out where you can camp for free in 15 Free Camp Spots in Wellington.
You guessed it, more beaches! If you want a swim in somewhere a bit warmer then head to the Coastlands Aquatic Centre. It’s also worth trying New Zealand’s famous cheeses and ice-creams at Kapiti Cheeses along State Highway 1 near the Nikau Reserve.
Those interested in taking to the skies and getting a bird’s eye view of the Kapiti Coast can go on a gliding trial flight. From Paraparaumu Airport you can take either a 20-minute, 40-minute or an hour flight.
Paraparaumu Beach is also the location where you can take the ferry to Kapiti Island, where you pick up your tickets from the kiosk at MacLean Park.
Get a taste of what life used to be like in New Zealand before human migration. Kapiti Island is one of the few accessible nature reserve islands in New Zealand. With it are native birds that you rarely see (or don’t see at all) on the mainland. Look out for the kaka, saddleback, weka, takahe, wood pigeon and little spotted kiwi.
To access the island, you either need to go with a DoC approved tour operator or purchase a ferry ticket with the DoC permit at the kiosk in MacLean Park, Paraparaumu. With a tour operator, there’s a chance to learn about the wildlife and history of the island, stay on the island overnight, and even go to see a seal colony or kiwi spotting at night.
If you are going to Kapiti Island without a tour operator, then you can either access the walking tracks at Rangatira or the Northern End.
At Rangatira you’ll take the short and easy Rangatira Flat Walk before approaching a choice of two walks:
Wilkinson Track (3 hours return)
This is the easier of two tracks to get to the summit of Tuteremoana, the highest point on the island. You will pass a hihi feeding station along the way.
Trig Track (3 hours return)
This is a shorter way up to the summit but much steeper.
The Northern End walks offer more coastal scenery:
The Lagoon Walk (1h30min return)
Walk along the island’s northern coast.
Okupe Loop Walk (1h30min return)
Make your way up the regenerating forest to a lookout. This track starts from the visitor shelter found by walking the Lagoon Walk.
Raumati refers to Raumati South and Raumati Beach. It’s claim to fame is the Kapiti College, where Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson studied.
Other than a fantastic beach, Raumati has more to offer inland at the Akatarawa Forest. Although many of the walking tracks to the forest can be accessed from the Hutt Valley, the track to Mt Titi is accessed from Maungakotukutuku Road just outside of Raumati.
Mt Titi (5 hours return)
Either walking or biking, head along Maungakotukutuku Road and cross the stream to follow Perhams Road uphill. You’ll reach a junction with Titi Road. Turn left up Titi Road for about 3km until a clay road curves off left. Head along this track then follow a rough track west to Mount Titi. Success! Return the same way.
You have now reached the southern end of the Kapiti Coast. Congratulations! You will be rewarded with, you guessed it, another beach! This time, Paekakariki Beach offers some decent surf breaks.
From Paekakariki, you are close to two recreational parks, Queen Elizabeth Park on the coast and Whareroa Farm inland from the town. Both will keep you entertained and amazed with walking, biking and horse riding tracks. (Read more about the parks below)!
Queen Elizabeth Park
Queen Elizabeth Park is the last remaining natural sand dunes in the Kapiti Coast. The park is ideal for cycling and horse riding, the last of which can be done with a local horse riding operator. You can also take your pick of walking tracks starting from MacKays Crossing, off State Highway 1:
Te Ara o Tipapa/Wetlands Walk (45 minutes return)
This easy stroll is along the wetlands, as well as dipping into the one of the only kahikatea forests remaining on the Kapiti Coast.
Whareroa Stream (1 hour return)
Follow the stream through farmland and rolling sand dunes. To do a loop walk, turn onto the northern Inland Track then take the Whareroa Road back to the start.
Coastal Track (2 hours return)
Walk between Pickle Pot in Paekakariki to Raumati South over sand dunes with options to take tracks to the beach or to the Inland Track.
Inland Track (3 hours return)
Like the name suggests, this track option is more inland, giving you more shelter in the forest. Start this walk from the Paekakariki information kiosk.
Yankee Trail (1h30min return)
Named after the days when US Marines used this track to get between MacKay Camp and Paekakariki during WW2, this is another sheltered forest trail, which joins with the Inland Track.
Just across State Highway 1 from MacKays Crossing at Queen Elizabeth Park is Whareroa Farm. This recreation area complete with regenerating vegetation, goes high into the hills to offer excellent views over the Kapiti Coast. The best way to get to these lookouts, of course, is by walking track:
Stream Loop Track (12 minutes return)
Just a quick stroll through shrub land on this wheelchair accessible walk.
Coastal Lookout (15 minutes oneway)
On a clear day you can see all the way to Marlborough Sounds.
Cairn View Track (40 minutes oneway)
Take a steep climb to a lookout over the coast and farmland.
Forest Loop Walk (45 minutes return)
Walk through the remains of forest that used to cover the Kapiti Coast, then finish the loop by returning on farmland.
If you have more time in Kapiti…
- Go shopping for bargains at the Otaki outlet stores.
- See the district’s art offerings at the Mahara Gallery.
- Stock up on fresh goods and unique gifts from the Paraparaumu Beach Market and Waikanae Market on Saturday mornings, and Otaki Craft Market on Sunday mornings.
- See more than 400 cars at the Southward Car Museum.
- Golfers have to try out the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Course, a regular host of the New Zealand Open.
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