The Best Things to Do on the Kāpiti Coast, New Zealand

The Kāpiti Coast near Wellington boasts a long stretch of spectacular beaches protected from westerly winds
The Kāpiti Coast near Wellington boasts a long stretch of spectacular beaches protected from westerly winds | © Molly Marshall / Alamy Stock Photo
Bianca Ackroyd

The Kāpiti Coast lies about an hour’s drive north of New Zealand’s capital city Wellington in the southern region of the country’s North Island. With over 40 kilometres of spectacular beaches, the coastline is protected from westerly winds by Kāpiti Island and the Tararua Range and Forest Park. From escarpment walks to eco-adventures, here’s a list of the best things to do on this beautiful coast.

1. Climb to the top of Kāpiti Island

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© James Lee / Unsplash

Kāpiti Island, only five kilometres (3mi) off the coast, is only reachable with an approved tour operator. Two areas on the island are open to the public, both offering dense forest walks and a chance to get close to some of New Zealand’s native birds in the wild. To reach the highest peak on the island – Tuteremoana, which is 521 metres (1,709ft) above sea level – you will need to work up a sweat on the steep track that runs for two kilometres (1.2mi) one way. But don’t worry, you come back down at a gentle pace on the 3.8km (2.4mi) Wilkinson Track. When visiting in the peak summer season, it is advisable to book transport well in advance so as not to miss out on this epic adventure.

2. Explore the Paekākāriki escarpment track

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For the best views of the stunning Kāpiti coastline, head to the escarpment track that runs from the seaside village of Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay. This walk is part of New Zealand’s famous Te Araroa trail and is known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’, as it reaches a height of 220 metres (722ft) above sea level. The track from one station to the other is 10km (6.2mi) and covers 1,200 steep steps, narrow pathways across ridge lines and two swing bridges. The trail is steep and exposed, so people who experience vertigo are advised not to attempt this walk.

3. Take a dip in the sea at Paraparaumu Beach

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The Kāpiti Coast is known for its excellent beaches, one of the most popular being Paraparaumu, a wide beach that leads to Raumati Beach in the south and Waikanae Beach in the north. Paraparaumu is a popular swimming beach for families due to its gentle waves. Fishing, boating and kayaking, or just beach-combing along the shoreline while watching the seagulls and oystercatchers look for food, are some of the fun activities on offer at Paraparaumu Beach.

4. Hike in the Tararua Forest Park

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Tree ferns in moss forest, Mount Pukeatua, Tararua Forest Park, North Island, New Zealand
© Geoff Marshall / Alamy Stock Photo

Located eastwards from the Kāpiti coastline is the Tararua Forest Park, a place of diverse forest vegetation, including a canopy of tall alpine forest trees dripping with fragile hanging moss. The park has facilities for hiking, hunting, overnight stays in huts or lodges and mountain-biking. Family-friendly short walks such as the Arcus or Fenceline Loop and the Waiotauru walk can be reached from Ōtaki Forks, the main western entrance to the Tararua Forest Park. This is 19 kilometres (12mi) from the town of Ōtaki, situated at the northern end of the Kāpiti coastal region.

5. Get close to wildlife at Ngā Manu wildlife sanctuary

Natural Feature, Park

Visit the 14-hectare (35-acre) Ngā Manu nature reserve in Waikanae to experience coastal lowland swamp forest on the Kāpiti Coast. A haven for native New Zealand flora and fauna, the reserve offers fun experiences to engage with local wildlife such as eel feeding, kiwi-night encounters and an opportunity to join staff on their morning feeding rounds of captive species. The reserve is open every day from 10am to 5pm, and there is a small entrance fee, but visitors can join a free guided forest walk with a volunteer on the weekends.

6. Discover cars from the past at the Southward Car Museum

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New Zealand, North Island, Otaihanga. Southward Car Museum, interior
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

The Southward Car Museum in Paraparaumu is home to a collection of over 400 vehicles and aircraft, started by Sir Len Southward in 1978. Get a chance to see pristine car models from times past such as a 1930s Alfa Romeo 6c, a DeLorean from the Back to the Future films and famous car models from the likes of Ferrari, Maserati and McLaren. The museum has a café (open daily from 9am to 4.30pm) and often hosts music concerts and events.

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