Hawkins Hill: The Hidden Gem of Wellington, New Zealand
January 1, 1970
by Andrew J. Stillman
The hike in New Zealand you’ll never forget.
“You can’t beat Wellington on a good day.”
This famous phrase is often heard by the locals of Wellington, New Zealand, but the city’s eclectic range of weather patterns can make it difficult to understand why.
Windless days may be sparring, but there’s never a lack of energy, no matter what lays on the day’s forecast. There’s a vibe that emits out of Wellington’s core that captures the heart of any visitor. It is a city weaved within the surrounding mountains that outlines the jagged beaches finishing off the country’s North Island. There’s culture, art, and individuality bleeding through the cracks in the pavement. It is a haven where one can be themselves and express their unique creativity.
Despite having a diverse range of opportunities for any traveler, however, most people only stay in Wellington for a day or two. Some arrive in the evening and leave the following morning. Hardly anyone gives it the time it needs or deserves as they do with Auckland, Queenstown, or even Christchurch.
The standard attractions recommended to help you “see Wellington” include Te Papa National Museum (which, to be fair, is a must-do for a reason), the lookout on Mount Victoria, or Weta Workshop out in Miramar, the home of The Lord of the Rings and where Peter Jackson hides.
People rave about each of those things because that’s usually all they have time to do. While each location is worth checking out, people don’t often recommend getting out into the hills of Wellington to experience its unique beauty. As New Zealand is a country known for its extraordinary nature, it would behoove you to know that just outside of Wellington’s Central Business District (or “CBD”) is some of the best scenery New Zealand has to offer.
If you give yourself an extra day in Wellington, and good fortune provides you with a sunny day (you’ll always have to deal with the wind), do yourself a favor — check out the natural side of Wellington and experience firsthand why the locals tend to gush.
Central Park, Brooklyn
From the CBD, signs leading you to Brooklyn are the ones you’ll want to follow. There’s an option to bus as far as you can all the way out to Kowhai Park on the number 8 bus line, but if you want to maximize your hiking experience, opt to take a walk through Central Park. The rush of the city quickly gets enveloped by a thicket of trees and ferns that vibrantly guides you along a sanded path and brings forth the mythical feeling that influences New Zealand’s reputation.
Once you’ve gotten to the tip of Kowhai Park, the fun begins. If you have a car, and you want to squeeze this excursion in on the one day you do have, you can choose to drive all of this should you desire. On the flip side, if you have the time and want to see why any hill in New Zealand will do wonders for your calves, you should certainly choose to walk from this point, especially if you’ve already driven half the way.
The Wind Turbine
Whichever method of travel you select, just be sure to follow the signs leading you to the Wind Turbine.
The hike from Kowhai Park to the Wind Turbine looks short, but the steep and constant hills will leave you gasping by the time you reach the top. From there, stand under the 13.5-meter blades of the turbine as they churn at least 33 revolutions per minute from the wind as it energizes the city below.
Apart from the various things you can learn from the information center about bringing the city electricity, the turbine also comes with an unbeatable panoramic view of the city. Since you’ve had to walk to the tip of the mountain, every suburb out to the Upper Hutt can be seen from this point. And, if you have landed on a good day, the ocean glimmers as it pushes itself throughout all of Wellington’s interconnected islands.
The completion of this hike alone is exciting, but there’s more to it if you want to see some rare sights. If your legs haven’t given out yet, and seeing both islands at the same time is on your New Zealand bucket list, keep going.
The Hawkins Hill Radar Dome
If you follow the road from the turbine with your eyes, on the other end of the mountain, where the island ends and falls off the side of a cliff, rests a tiny white dome known as the Hawkins Hill Radar Dome that’s easily overlooked if you don’t know it’s there.
Since hardly anyone continues past the turbine, the rest of the walk should be relatively solitary. The only thing you should be cautious of is the wind. The closer you get to the ocean, the windier it gets.
Along the way, you’ll stumble across the famed and sometimes hard to find castle of Wellington.
Not long after the backwoods castle you’ll find yourself standing at the base of the dome. It’s much bigger from underneath than it looks from the turbine, which is nothing more than a distant dot from this point.
The moment you walk around the far side of the dome, you’ll see it:
The mountains of the South Island.
The proof of the scenery everyone raves about when they dote on New Zealand.
Each of the islands is unique in their own way, but it is something about the mountains in the South Island that leaves viewers stunned. From this vantage point, you could easily turn behind you to look at the rolling hills that make up the North Island, then move your eyes across the ocean and see the distinct difference between the two.
That, mixed with the adrenaline it took to get you up here in the first place, could easily go down in the memory banks as one of the most epic hikes accomplished in New Zealand.
Check the weather against your itinerary, but whatever you do, maximize your time outdoors in New Zealand’s coolest capital. Chances are, you won’t regret it.