Polhill Reserve to Red Rocks

Where: Wellington
Distance & Time: 17km, 4 hours
Take: Water, sturdy shoes, sunscreen, snacks, togs if you want a swim at the end! 
Amenities on route: Nothing. At the end you could keep walking round to Island Bay for a meal, or head back into Brooklyn.
Cost of the walk: $0 – unless you get a bus/taxi/uber back into the city. 


The number one reason I like this walk is because it starts in the heart of the city, but within 30 minutes you can look around and not see any sign of people. That’s my kind of walk! The second reason is that it ends at the beach. And not just that, but a beach with seals! If those aren’t two fantastic reasons to do this walk, then I’m not sure what would be.

Starting at Polhill Reserve off Aro Street, we followed the signs for walkers heading up to the windmill. About half way up the track merges with the mountain bike track and you will no doubt have to stand aside as cyclists come through. They’re pretty good though and every time I’ve walked in Polhill the cyclists have been incredibly courteous. I love the whole ‘it’s just me’, or ‘two more behind me’, so we’re not surprise attacked by more cyclists around the corner. If you’re doing this walk listening to music/podcasts, I highly suggest you turn it down low while doing the mountain bike section so you can hear cyclists calling our behind you. And stick to the left!

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Reminder to self – up the fake tan. I could almost be mistaken for the forest ghost in this photo

After about 20 minutes, we came out on Ashton Fitchett drive and then followed the pedestrian route up to the Brooklyn windmill – super easy to not get lost, just follow the fenceline of Zealandia up to the windmill. You’ll no doubt spot kaka and other native birds along the fenceline as they brave the world outside of Zealandia – it’s pretty cool to be walking along bush in the middle of the city and see and/or hear native birds!

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Walking alongside the Zealandia fenceline up to Brooklyn windmill in the distance

If you didn’t want to walk through Polhill Reserve you could take the car up to the top of the Brooklyn windmill and walk from there. But don’t do that, walking is heaps better. The view over Wellington from the windmill is pretty stunning, and we lucked out doing this walk early on a Sunday morning as there was no-one else around. If we’d waited until mid-morning, the place would have been teeming with people.

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Windmill over Wellington

To get to the track out to Red Rocks, head down to the car park area at the windmill. The track is fairly obvious, but again, make sure you take the walking track, not the mountain bike track! I really like this track, it’s not too hilly, and every so often there are some pretty stunning views to take on. The one downside of this track? It goes past the southern landfill, so if the wind is blowing in a certain direction, you are going to pick up the pong. Less than ideal.

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Looking back towards Wellington, the Brooklyn windmill is on the left

Up on the right you’ll see the weird castle house. You can walk past here if you follow the road rather than the track from the windmill carpark, and it’s the strangest place and a source of a lot of rumours over the year. It’s now a doggy day care, but it’s like something out a fairy tale, this weird, fenced in castle on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere! That road also takes you pass the Hawkins Hall radar dome, but on this track, you’ll just see it in the distance, this white ball standing out among the green of the hills.

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Pretty obvious where we walked!

Amy’s Advice: Have someone organised to pick you up at the end at Owhiro Bay, as buses don’t run from there on the weekend. A taxi/uber back to town will cost upwards of $25. Or you could walk back to town if you fancy another 4km-5km of walking!

If you want to make this a shorter walk, there is a path down the left – the tip track’ which takes you straight down past the landfill, arriving by Carlucci Land (if you fancy a game of mini golf at the end of your walk!)

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So many trails to come back and explore

Otherwise, just keep following the track! When we came to the Tip Track sign we realised we weren’t quite ready to finish yet, so we just kept walking, and decided to head all the way out to Red Rocks. The signage on this walk was really good and not too confusing at all.

I didn’t realise how many walking tracks there are out this way, and I have absolutely no idea how you access some of them. When we looked around the hills you could see tracks everywhere but there’s no way of knowing how to get on to them, or where they lead, or how long they take! Definitely something to explore at a later date.

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See that hill on the left – that’s where we were heading

Every so often we got a glimpse of the city – due to the super clear day on which we walked we could even see the snow-covered mountains on the east coast of the South Island! That was pretty neat. The further south we walked, the more our view changed until rather than looking up the Hutt Valley as we’d done from the Brooklyn Windmill, our view changed to that of the southern Wairarapa coast, and as mentioned above, the South Island. Very cool!

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We were going to make our way down to this beach, eventually

There’s not a lot of shade on this walk so definitely slop on the sunscreen before heading out. It’s mostly low bush and scrub, not the most inspiring of landscapes, but there are plans afoot from Wellington Council to invest and develop in this area, so will be interesting to see what it looks like in the coming years. Even looking at the map of the area now, I’m still not entirely sure what walk it is that we did – all I know is we managed to get to Red Rocks and Owhiro Bay without becoming obviously lost, so I count that as a success!

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Look at all these hills we are going to walk!

With the Cook Strait ahead of us, we were able to look around and see just how many walks there are in this area. What surprised us was how few people were out and about though, especially considering it was a sunny Sunday morning. We passed a few people – even a couple of guys who we got chatting with, that it turns out one of them is doing the same adventure race as Julie and I in a few weeks. Even if he is doing the 72km, while we’re doing the solo 50km (if ever these is a way to make you feel lazy for only doing a 50km race, it’s talking to someone who is doing the 72km option).

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Commencing the downward stretch

There is quite a bit of downhill on this walk and it can be a little slippery at times with the loose dirt and gravel. My new shoes held up to the job admirably, but then I am a complete slowcoach when it comes to walking downhill on slopes like this, so not slipping was probably a combination of the two.

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Just to the right is a gurgling stream/waterfall. We’d have to cross it soon

Once the track gets closer to Red Rocks, the track gets quite a bit narrower, and turns to gravel rather than dirt. There’s also a bunch of prickly plants so you might want to make sure you’re wearing long shorts/leggings and long tops if you don’t want to get spiked. And be nice when holding branches out of the way if you’re with people, I had a feeling Julie dodged a few flung branches behind me (sorry Jules!)

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Instead of trying to keep my feet dry, I just splashed straight on through

Following the signage down to Pariwhero/Red Rocks, there are a couple of stream crossings. The first one I just strode straight through as needed to get my new trail shoes used to the water…that was a dumb idea as I then had wet feet that collected all the sand + gravel walking back to Owhiro Bay! Should have been like Julie and eased my way across on the rocks so I would have had dry feet. Next time!

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Emerging out on to the South Coast

Emerging to the beach we came out beside a cute little bach. I want a bach here! Although having people walk past your place every weekend would become a bit grating after a while, I’m sure.

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Seal!

I was on the lookout for seals, even though it wasn’t the prime time of them being here, I managed to spot one, lazing in a sweet spot on a sunny rock. There were a few people around, taking photos, sketching artwork, and just enjoying the last of the Wellington summer at the beach. There doesn’t tend to be many people swimming along here though, I’m not sure if it’s due to the strong tide, or just the coldness of the Cook Strait!

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Ocean. Seaweed. Rocks.

The walk back along to Owhiro Bay is 3km along a gravel and sand track. If you’ve got the misfortune of walking it in a Southerly it would be painful, but we had the most glorious sunshine and no wind – even better, my SPF75 sunscreen had held up perfectly and I made it back with no sunburn – winning!

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The different environments we encountered on this walk was amazing!

There’s minimal cellphone service once we hit Red Rocks, which meant that trying to call a taxi to pick us up to bring us back to the city (we would have walked, but we had to be somewhere and didn’t have time to walk), means we had to walk pretty much back to the intersection of Happy Valley + Owhiro Bay Road before we could call, and yes, I made a point of the telling the taxi driver that we weren’t lazy, we had in fact just walked 17km!

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