There’s loads to do around Wellington’s coastline but who’d have thought there would be a fur seal colony within an hour’s walk of the capital’s beaches?
The walk to the Seal Colony is often referred to the ‘Red Rocks’ walk by Wellingtonians, but there are a number of things to see on the walk. At the start of the walk, there’s a superb free visitors centre with toilets which tells you the story of the local quarrying in the area that has now stopped, but the scars remaining in the hillside are very obvious. You are also near the end point of the Taputergana Marine Reserve where any kind of fishing and hunting is banned which makes it a popular spot for diving. On a clear day you’ll see the regular inter island ferries travelling across the Cook Strait, framed by the mountains towering behind Blenheim and Kaikoura on the South Island.
The walk to the seal colony will take you past Red Rocks which is actually 200 million year old lava formed by undersea volcanic eruptions, the iron oxides giving the rocks their colour. There are two historical Maori folklore tales which indicate the colour of the rocks may be from a famous Polenesian explorer Kupa gathering the Paua shellfish and cutting his hand, or from his daughters cutting themselves in grief over his absence on a long voyage. Of course you couldn’t gather Paua at the start of the walk now or you’d be getting a hefty fine due to the marine reserve!
On the way to the obvious red rocks you’ll pass some bachs which are still in use today. Once you get to the red rocks you’ll see a pointed rock in the distance on the coast – this is your target for the seal colony. From May to October (and often beyond) you’ll see many males who haven’t managed to mate this season. It may take you a few minutes to hone your eyes into the seals as they merge into the rocks but once you see one, you’ll see loads of them.
You can continue the walk for quite a distance along the coastline, or you could be ambitious and head towards the Zealandia park in Karori if you are fit. Beware there is private land when you head into the surrounding hills so you will require permissions to cross some land.
This is a superb little walk much loved by many Wellingtonians and you’ll see many people walking, running and cycling along the route. Apart from on a Sunday there will also be regular 4x4s passing by on their way to fishing as this walk follows a designated 4×4 track. If you are into climbing, there’s a big boulder called Fly Rock which is just a few hundred metres along the first beach which is used by local boulderers.
To get to Owhiro Bay take a regular number 1 bus to Island Bay, then walk a few kilometres West to Owhiro Bay and the end of the road. The 4×4 track is an easy flat walk on stony and sandy ground. From the start point at the visitors centre it will take you up to 90 minutes to walk to the seal haul out, which is obvious as you will come up to two bits of obvious rocks with a clear gap which cars can get through over a small rise. It is further round than the red rocks which are obvious when you get to them.
If you have your own transport and aren’t short of time, take an hours drive to appreciate the Wellington coastline. Follow the drive from the city centre, past Oriental Bay, right around the Miramar peninsula and follow the coast to Owhiro Bay. If you keep the water to your left from the city centre, you can’t really go wrong – there’s an obvious road taking your right round the superb harbour for around 30km.
Seal Coast Safari’s will take you on a tour to Red Rocks in comfortable 4×4 transport.
On Metlink you can find further information abut Wellington’s transport.