Monday, June 9, 2014

Stairway to heaven: by gold card to the Paekakariki escarpment

Stairs climbing towards the skyline on the Paekakariki Escarpment.
The 9:15 Kapiti train has lot of grey heads, as it's the first train out of Wellington that qualifies for a Gold Card discount.  This morning the guard doesn't even bother looking at the proffered cards, dispensing free tickets to anyone who meets minimum standards of wrinkliness and greyness. He does however upbraid several seniors for attempting to discretely quaff takeaway flat whites, in flagrant violation of the "no food no drink" ideograms on the Matangi unit's walls.

Over the last couple of years, when heading north from Wellington, I'd noticed a track wending along the high escarpment that towers above the road and rail corridor between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki. Where did it start, and where did it lead to? A bit of research showed that it was the Paekakariki Escarpment track,  part of the Te Araroha trail, and intended to connect Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay, but currently only completed about half way from the Paekakariki end.

So this morning I'm taking advantage of retirement and my newly acquired Gold Card to head up to the place of the colourful kakariki parrots, and check out the route.

Ames road out of the Paekakariki settlement leads to an ingenious "Ames Spiral", looping across the rail bridge, underneath, and through a planting area of new native shrubs. For a while, the track bobs up and down close to the rail line, as if hesitant to break away from Wellingtons lifeline. Squadrons of tiny larks practise high speed tree hugging manouevres through the bush. At a bridge, I chat to a couple of volunteers armed with weed eaters, about to clear space for some more native plantings. "We're getting some feedback that we need to put in handrails, some people are complaining of vertigo".

After crossing the outlet of a slip prone gully, the track gains courage and starts climbing steeply on a relentless series of stairways. Near the top I pause for a muesli bar. A guy comes the other way " how far to the top?" I ask. "325 meters" he replies. The precision of the reply is explained by the GPS he's clutching, and that he's a geocacher, searching for objects left in wild by other enthusiasts with the coordinates listed on a website.

For the prescribed 325 meters, the track sidles along, with certainly some narrow sections, and long steep slopes leading to the transport corridor 200m  below, but I avoid any vertigo. Soon I'm at the "under construction" signs that indicate the current trail end. It's a heavenly view, the snow of Tapetueranga showing to the south, the bulk of Kapiti out to sea, and the Kapiti coast arcing north into cloud.

Current end of Paekakariki Escarpent trail, looking south to Pukerua
I chat with a couple who have come up for a picnic with a view; he'd grown up in the Aro Valley so we reminised about Aro School and Holloway Road. I hadn't bought a picnic, so I descended the stairway back down to the Perching Parrot for a fine if not heavenly Tex Mex pie, and plenty of time to catch a Gold Card capable train back to Wellington.

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