South Karori is classic Wellington tiger country; big hills, great views, wind exposure, with generally dry and rocky tracks.
Even though this area is on the fringe of the city you can feel a very long way from civilisation, and help should you require it.
It certainly makes for great exploring and with the sun beating down and no wind to speak of I headed off on the Radome Track and Te Kopahou/Bunker Track.
The track follows Hawkins Hill Road to the end past the Radar Transmission Station, up to the highest point on Te Kopahou Reserve (484m above sea level) and onto the hill above Sinclair Head.
After stopping to say hi to the ostriches again, I started out on the Radome track. This is a 4km demanding trail with a steep rough descent. It starts just past the domed radar station (AKA the golf ball!) at the top of Hawkins Hill.
The Airways Corporation Radar Station dome was built in 1990 holds both primary and secondary radars, and is part of a network of radar stations.
The next one to the south is on Mt Robinson (near Picton) and to the north at Ballance (near Palmerston North).
Radar and communications equipment is used to control aircraft from the Christchurch Air Traffic Control Centre and the Wellington Control Tower.
It was as I walked along the road to the summit of Hawkins Hill, that I met an elderly man called Bob. Bob was a former taxi driver from Ashburton in Canterbury who had moved to Wellington. I asked him if he had lived in Wellington for long; he replied “No, only for 40 years”!
He was a keen walker and was full of knowledge about the local tracks; not surprising considering a couple of them every week. It was very pleasant to have some company on the walk and it was good to chat to Bob about his varied and long life.
As we walked along, we went pass the “peach castle” as everyone calls it. It is something of a mystery.
It is a private residence, but I think was once intended as a conference venue. I actually think it would be a great conference retreat venue. I looked the GV up online and it is only $1.05 million for the castle and 4,000 sq metres of land.
I think the owners must have got sick of people treating it as a tourist spot as it is surrounded by a barbed wire fence, cameras, and some very big and scary guard dogs. It’s just another weird Karori sight!
Not long after passing the rdaome and at the end of the gravel road there was an intersection of two tracks with the Bunker Track heading off to the left. There was a nice downhill gravel road on the right which looked easier but as I didn’t know where it went, I thought I should follow the marked route; this would come back to haunt me later. It was here that I said goodbye to Bob, although I am sure I will see him again in the hills!
So I took the difficult, though fun, track down to the World War II bunkers at the southern tip of the Te Kopahau Reserve overlooking Sinclair Head.
It started off with a drop down a 20% slope for 1.2km, wound its way around the valley floor (380m below where I started!), going up 50m over the next 0.5km and then ended with the fun part: a rocky slide down a 30%+ slope to a saddle point. This section of track requires a fair bit of concentration and skill, as the surface is loose and very steep (though with a brief respite towards the bottom).
It was very tiring, and it didn’t help that it was very hot…
From the saddle point there was a short climb up to the Te Rimurapa headland (Sinclair Head), classified as a Maori reserve and an early settlement site and the Rimurapa observation post (OP) dating back to World War Two.
There was an army gun battery at nearby Palmer Heads fortress and wireless telephone rooms and a forward OP were built at the Sinclair Head.
The views as you approach and from the old bunkers are stunning; the South Island seems incredibly close on a clear day and the views in both directions along Wellington’s South Coast are fantastic.
After enjoying the sun while lying on top of the bunker, I noticed there was a dive boat below me. I could make something out in the water below but I didn’t know what it was.
Turns out it is the wreck of the Nambucca which was a wooden screw steamer. On 16 January 1905, the Nambucca was bound from Blenheim to Wellington when she struck on the reef inside of Thoms Rock near Karori light. She ran into thick fog when passing Cape Terawhiti which blocked her view of all lights. Those on board escaped safely, landing their boat at Island Bay.
I spent a wonderful couple of hours on the headland, soaking up the sun, watching the ships sail along the Cook Strait, and marvelled at how quiet it was. Sometimes its good to have time to reflect on the fact that the best things in the world are free…
Sadly, it was soon time to return home and not long after leaving the bunkers, I found a dirt road; I thought I would stick to that as it was going upwards, and I also didn’t fancy taking the tortuous route back I had taken to get up the bunkers.
After about an hour and a half of this dirt road, feeling very hot and with blisters beginning to hurt, I realised that my earlier decision would come back to haunt me. The track i was on joined up with the nice gravel road where I had left Bob…