Learn how to get to Pencarrow Head to see two lighthouses, beautiful coastal scenery, views of Lake Kohangapiripiri, the South Island, and the harbor.
New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse was built in 1859 on top of the hill at Pencarrow Head to prevent shipwrecks from taking place at the harbor entrance where there are several rocky outcrops and hazardous conditions due to wild storms.
As fog often obscured the lighthouse on top of the hill, a fog signal was added to the station in 1898, and in 1906 a secondary lighthouse was installed down at the beach below Pencarrow.
The original lighthouse stopped operating in 1935 and became a heritage building in 1966. It was restored in 1980, so its condition is pretty good.
If you do the Pencarrow Lighthouse walk, you will be able to see and visit two lighthouses up close.
Because the walk itself and the terrain overall is quite exposed to the elements, you may want to choose a day when the weather is nice and settled to visit this location. There is no forest to walk through and you will be right next to the coast most of the time.
The road you have to walk on before getting to the lighthouse track itself is gravel with sharp rocks in some places, so wear good hiking or trail shoes that will give you some protection from the ground and prevent blisters.
Note that this is a very remote location with not many people living around there, so let someone know that you will be going hiking there and when you plan on getting back so that they can raise the alarm should you fail to return.
How to get to the Pencarrow Lighthouse walk
The Pencarrow Lighthouse walk is located in the Parangarahu Lakes Area of East Harbour Regional Park [gw.govt.nz], which lies in Eastbourne in Wellington, New Zealand. The walk can be accessed via Pencarrow Coast Road.
The walk described here starts at the end of Muritai Road in Eastbourne.
The Old Pencarrow Lighthouse in Wellington
If you have a car, you can follow State Highway 2 from Wellington City to Petone (Lower Hutt) and exit at Petone/Seaview.
Follow the signs to Eastbourne, and once you reach Eastbourne, continue driving straight until you reach parking spots at the end of Muritai Road.
If you do not have a car, you can catch bus 83 to the Eastbourne Terminus and then walk along Muritai Road until you reach the end of Muritai Road. The bus ride takes about 55 minutes from Wellington City and costs about $8.50 one-way. If you want to save $2, you could also buy a 1 – 7 zones Metlink Explorer Day Pass for $15 instead of two one-way bus tickets for $17.
The walk from the last bus stop to the end of Muritai road is about 450 meters (0.3 mi) and takes about 6 minutes to walk.
Check out metlink.org.nz for the most recent fares and timetables for buses or trains.
Once you are at the end of Muritai Road, you should see an information panel for East Harbour Regional Park Parangarahu Lakes Area. Take some time to orient yourself and read the information posted there before you start walking toward the start of the Pencarrow Lighthouse walk.
Walking to the Pencarrow Lighthouse
The walk to the Pencarrow Lighthouse starts at the end of Muritai Road in Eastbourne. It is pretty flat and skirts Wellington Harbour, so you will be walking along the coastline, which can be relaxing. In addition, there is an abundance of yellow blossoms on the hillsides in spring.
You cannot drive to the start of the Lighthouse Track because there is a gate preventing cars from driving on Pencarrow Coast Road.
I have seen a bus with tourists driving on the road, though, so there might be tour companies that have or get special permission from the Hutt City Council to drive on the road.
The walk to the start of the Lighthouse Track is flat but long. It took me about 1 hour and 15 minutes to walk the 6 km (3.7 mi) to the trailhead.
An alternative to walking is to rent a bike or go with your own bike and cycle to the trailhead. There is a bike rental company near the end of Muritai Road where you can rent a mountain bike. However, advance booking might be required.
Once you are at the end of Muritai Road near the sign for East Harbour Regional Park, walk to the right and pass through what looks like a narrow opening with a wooden fence on the left and a sign for Burdan’s Gate on the right. Continue straight ahead onto Pencarrow Coast Road.
The walk starts out paved until you reach a junction after about one minute of walking. The road then splits in two, and there are gates blocking entry to each road. Right next to the gate on your right, there is a smaller gate for pedestrians. Walk through that gate and leave the gate as you found it.
From this point onward, you will be walking on a gravel road – the rightmost gravel road that is closest to the coastline.
The road is pretty solid, so it does not rob you of as much energy as beach sand does.
However, the gravel is sharp, so it may start to hurt your feet after a while; wear good shoes. Trail running shoes with plates or hiking shoes would be the best types of shoes to wear for walking on Pencarrow Coast Road.
After about 4 minutes of walking on Pencarrow Coast Road, you should see a sign for Camp Bay on your right, and after about another 6 minutes, you will arrive at the first significant bend in the road.
As you go around the bend, you should start to see the Kaikoura Range on the South Island if you are doing the walk on a clear day.
I define a significant bend as a part of the road that does not allow you to see far enough until you go around the bend. The significant bends in the road seem to be roughly about 1 km (0.6 mi) or 10 minutes apart from each other.
There are approximately seven significant bends in the road, so you can count them while you walk to know how far you still have to walk before you reach the trailhead.
About 30 minutes from the end of Muritai Road, you should see a Hutt City Council sign on your left and a picnic table and bench on higher ground where you can sit and enjoy views of the harbor. Continue walking.
Note that there will be an occasional vehicle passing on this road. Vehicles may include cars, trucks, buses, and cyclists. Also note that there may be sheep on the road and on the hills alongside the road.
Approximately one hour and 10 minutes into the walk, you should reach the last significant bend where you will start to get a first glimpse of the historic lighthouse on the hill and the lower lighthouse in the distance.
It should take you another 5 minutes to reach the trailhead on your left, where there is a sign pointing up toward Lake Kohangapiripiri and the Old Pencarrow Lighthouse.
There is also an information panel with a map for the Parangarahu Lakes Area of East Harbour Regional Park at the trailhead [Photo: Sign at the start of the Lighthouse Track in East Harbour Regional Park in Wellington (42 KB)].
Walking up to the Old Pencarrow Lighthouse
Once you are standing in front of the map at the trailhead on Pencarrow Coast Road, go right. The trail meanders up the hill and is pretty narrow, rocky, and steep at first.
After about 7 minutes, you should reach a stile where you can climb up and over a fence and get into a paddock.
After crossing the fence, you will immediately stumble upon two signs: one sign on your left for the Lake Kohangapiripiri Track with a time indication of 10 minutes, and another one on your right for the Old Pencarrow Lighthouse (10 minutes) and Bluff Point Lookout (25 minutes). There is also an information panel for the lighthouse.
Follow the trail on the right to walk toward the lighthouse. The trail starts out level. It is a mixture of hardened dirt and grass. Expect quite a bit of sheep poo to be lying around on the trail because you are on farmland.
The trail then curves to the right and becomes quite steep for a short while. You can see the historic lighthouse in the distance from almost every part of the trail.
The trail also provides views of the harbor, so you may see a ferry or two entering or leaving the harbor. There are several lighthouse information panels along the trail.
It should take about 12 minutes from the time you crossed the stile to reach a junction where you can continue going straight ahead (left) to Bluff Point or right, up to the historic lighthouse. There is also a sign at this junction for Bluff Point Lookout with a time indication of 15 minutes.
Follow the Bluff Point Track by walking straight ahead or going left at the junction.
From this point onward, you will start to get good views of Lake Kohangapiripiri down below until the view completely opens up once you reach the lookout [Photo: Lake Kohangapiripiri in East Harbour Regional Park (51 KB)].
The trail is pretty grassy when climbing toward the lookout. It has some long level sections with some short but pretty steep uphill sections.
The last climb to Bluff Point at 96 meters (315 feet) is extremely steep and may be slippery when the grass is wet. Just take your time.
It should take you about 20 minutes from the last junction to get to the lookout. I know what you are thinking. Did the sign not say 15 minutes?
Please remember that the person who measured that amount of time may have had a better fitness level, which is why he or she completed the distance in a much shorter amount of time.
At Bluff Point, you should see a sign telling you to stop because you may otherwise fall off the cliff. Heed this warning [Photo: Bluff Point Lookout in the Parangarahu Lakes Area of East Harbour Regional Park (43 KB)].
You can get 360-degree views from Bluff Point with Fitzroy Bay in the southeast, Lake Kohangapiripiri in the northeast, the two lighthouses and Wellington City in the northwest, and the South Island and Cook Strait in the southwest [Photos: Fitzroy Bay looking toward Baring Head (25 KB); Two lighthouses as seen from Bluff Point Lookout (37 KB)].
Retrace your steps back to the last junction. It should take about 7 minutes to get back down from Bluff Point.
When you reach the junction, go left onto the trail that leads up to the historic lighthouse.
The trail is almost all uphill but quite short, so it should take you about 5 minutes to reach the lighthouse [Photo: Looking up at the Old Pencarrow Lighthouse in Wellington (23 KB)].
The location of the historic lighthouse also offers 360-degree views, but the views of Lake Kohangapiripiri and Fitzroy Bay are limited compared to the ones you get from Bluff Point.
However, the views of Wellington Harbour are much better than the ones you get from Bluff Point.
When you are done enjoying the views, retrace your steps back to the junction, then to the stile, and then back down to the trailhead on Pencarrow Coast Road.
The walk back down should not take long to complete – about 8 to 10 minutes.
When you reach the trailhead, go left on Pencarrow Coast Road to visit the lower level lighthouse [Photo: Lower level lighthouse at Pencarrow Head (27 KB)].
Soon you will come across a cattle guard (cattle grid or cattle stop); watch where you place your feet not to get stuck in it.
It should take you about 10 minutes of walking to reach the lower level lighthouse.
When you are done, retrace your steps back to Burdan’s Gate at the end of Muritai Road. The walk back from the lower level lighthouse should take about one hour and a half.
The total time to do the walk from Muritai Road and back is 3 hours and 56 minutes, so almost 4 hours.
The official walking time from Burdan’s Gate to the lighthouse and back is 4 hours and 30 minutes.
You can combine the walk described here with several other walks in the park, but because the walk to the start of the Lighthouse Track is quite long, the walk described here has been limited to only visiting the two lighthouses.
It is important to know your physical limitations before doing this walk.
In summer, wear a hat and sunglasses, and protect your skin against the sun.
Basic info for the Pencarrow Lighthouse walk
|Trail length:||The total distance from the end of Muritai Road to the trailhead is approximately 6 km (3.7 mi) one-way. The Lighthouse Track itself is about 2 km (1.2 mi) one-way, including a visit to Bluff Point Lookout.|
|Walking time:||The total time to do the walk from Muritai Road and back is about 4 hours, but the official walking time from Burdan’s Gate to the lighthouse and back is 4 hours and 30 minutes. It takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach the Lighthouse Track trailhead. You may be able get to the trailhead quicker than 1 hour and 15 minutes if you walk faster than 12 minutes per kilometer.|
|Difficulty:||Hard due to the length of the walk.|
|Trail type:||Initially a rough gravel road to get to the trailhead, then a dirt and grass trail with signposts and stile crossings. Mountain bikers may also make use of the trail.|
|Trail condition:||Good but very rocky. You will be walking on a flat gravel road for a long time before you get to the actually trail, where the first part will be a strenuous walk uphill on a rocky trail before leveling off to more grassy areas. The paths toward the lighthouse and Bluff Point also go uphill.|
|Fitness level:||Moderate to high. Because this is a long walk, you will need to have a good level of endurance to make it in and out. There aren’t a whole lot of sections to climb, so the walk will be mostly an endurance walk.|
|Best time to walk:||You can do this walk any time of the year. However, if you are into photography, you may want to choose a season when the sun rises late – late autumn, winter, or early spring – so that you have enough time to get to the lookouts to catch good light for photos. Also note that dogs are not allowed in the park during lambing season (August 1 – October 30).
|What you’ll see:||Scenic views of Wellington Harbour, the South Island, two lighthouses, Lake Kohangapiripiri, and Fitzroy Bay.|
You can see and download a map for the Parangarahu Lakes Area from the Greater Wellington Regional Council website [gw.govt.nz].
Video of the Pencarrow Lighthouse walk
This article falls under Day Walks.
Note: Walking tracks and trails can be changed or get closed. The information presented here was accurate when it was gathered.