I haven’t been up Colonial Knob  for some time. It happens to be on the one Topo50 map in the Wellington Region that I never got around to buying, being just a corner around Porirua. At 468 metres, Colonial Knob is the highest point along Wellington’s western hills, it’s home to a radar outpost of the Airways Corporation, and on a nice day there are some good views over to the south island, including features like the Kaikoura Range. There’s a loop’ish track that leads up from Porirua, but recently thanks to negotiations with landowners towards the establishment of Te Araroa  — the project to connect a continuous walking route along the entire length of New Zealand — it’s now possible to get through some private land and onto the side of Mt Kaukau. Actually this has apparently been possible for some years , but I hadn’t realised until now. I’ve walked out to Porirua and beyond several times, but always through suburbia, and I was really keen to see where Te Araroa would direct people. It turns out there’s a 6km road walk in the middle of the Wellington section, but at least it’s rural roads.
Date: 29th August, 2010
Location: Wellington Region.
Route: Starting at Elsdon (Porirua), get up Colonial Knob, then follow the Te Araroa route through Spicer Forest to somewhere in the vicinity of Mt Kaukau.
[Download GPX ] [LINZ Topographic Map in new window ]
I like getting to places with public transport where possible, and this walk’s a good candidate. I walked to Wellington Railway Station through 30 minutes of torrential rain, but still had hopes of a nicer day. Having caught a late morning train to Porirua, it took maybe 15 minutes to walk across various streets and arrive at the Elsdon Youth Camp (by now about 11.45am and only very light rain), from which the walking track entrance has an entire car-park alongside the camp and is quite well signposted.
Expecting the main track up to Colonial Knob to be very civilised, I became confused within the first minute. A string of orange triangles leads off to the right, and initially thinking that the hard, wide road of a track simply led around the back of the youth camp, I hopped up the hill which quickly became an ugly slippery sidling track, which would have been typical in many Forest Parks, but nothing like what I was expecting. Returning to the civilised track I followed it further, and discovered that it quickly left the youth camp behind and went up. And up. And up. And up. And every part of this up-ness is elegantly stepped, with no slippery-ness involved even with so much recent rain. I presume this is a very highly maintained track. It’s nice to have something like this to walk on every so often.
After about 30 minutes of climbing, the track breaks into more open farm-land, eventually reaching a gate onto the main servicing road. From here I think it’s possible to continue down the road in a little loop, ending back at Camp Elsdon, but I didn’t check it out to confirm, instead heading up to the summit. Not much wind at all, just light rain, and increasingly good vantage points to look out over Mana Island and Kapiti Island. There are a couple of masts on the way up, about half way along the open section, and I’m not sure what they’re for. About an hour after leaving the parking area at Elsdon Camp, roughly 12.45pm, I arrived at the Airways’ Corporation radio station on the 468 metre summit, sheltered out of the light wind, and ate a couple of sandwiches.
I’m not sure what to say about the summit, I guess it was a bit of a let-down. I’m sure it’d be a great vantage point to look all around, and there was certainly no shortage of glimpses of the surrounding land… keeping in mind that cloud and fog were drifting all around. All of that aside, for a point that’s advertised as being so fantastic to stand on and look all around, I think I was disappointed that the Radio Station structure prevents much of whatever view might otherwise exist out towards the coast. A fence blocks private land on the coastal side of the structure, preventing anyone from (legally) venturing around the back. The track itself remains on the Porirua/Tawa side of the structure. Quite a nice vista over towards Porirua Harbour, but still…
There’s another peak 10 metres lower (458m) about 200 metres past Colonial Knob, which even has a geodetic survey marker trig station on it. I hopped over there after lunch — the track doesn’t cross over it, but evidently more than enough people have scrambled up the side of the hill — and took a look out towards the coast. Of course, from here a large part of the would-be view is blocked by a big fat annoying Colonial Knob that’s 10 metres higher, and has a structure on it. Oh well.
So yes, it’s a good walk as walks go, but I think there a possibly better places to go if you specifically want a panoramic view over the coast along the Kaikoura Range and up towards Mt Taranaki/Egmont. Somewhere around Makara would be a good bet.
By now it was about 1pm, and I was starting to think about how to get off the Colonial Knob loop and onto the Te Araroa part of the walk. The route’s not marked on a map, but the Te Araroa website helpfully has step-by-step route directions for walking the entire length of New Zealand. I’d hastily scribbled down the instructions off this page  for the important ~9km section between Colonial Knob and Mt Kaukau before I left, which look as follows:
- Follow marked track up Colonial Knob.
- Follow Markers down other side (white poles with yellow circles) to edge of Spicer Forest.
- Cross style following fenceline on edge of forest.
- Sharp left 1/2 way down into forest and steep zigzag.
- Exit forest into clearing, around edge of fence & follow markers.
- Along vehicle track with wide grass verge.
- Sharp right where marked track re-enters forest.
- Steep marked route through trees.
- Exit left into Ohariu Valley Road.
- Walk along road (approx 5kms) to crossroads.
- Straight through crossroads to Rifle Range Road- to end.
- Enter Old Coach Road. Optional exit into Johnsonville at Truscott Ave.
I’m uncomfortable following step-by-step directions like this without having the context of a decent map, but I tried it. I followed the markers down the other side of Colonial Knob — for everyone’s reference, these markers aren’t white poles with yellow circles, they’re thumping big black poles with yellow stripes. It turns out the instructions aren’t as critical as I thought they could be, because Colonial Knob has a giant Department of Conservation sign that points the way to Mt Kaukau, and for much of the time I found it fairly easy to simply follow the signs.
I didn’t have a clue which forest “Spicer Forest” was, but half way down the farm-land, DoC has a couple of extra signs that mark the junction from which it’s possible to either walk straight down to a Keneperu/Tawa/Porirua kind of suburban area (think Railway Stations if you like public transport as I do), or alternatively head south along more farm-land.. which I did, and very quickly ended up on a fenceline alongside a plantation pine forest. A style crosses the fence, and then I saw the first “white pole with a yellow circle”.
The poles follow the inside of the fence-line for a short distance, then drop into the pine forest. The poled route quickly became extremely slippery, and I found myself squatting down to lower my centre of mass, and shuffling down the slope very carefully. I think it would have just been very muddy at worst. Just as the Te Araroa instructions say, it comes into a clearing, through which I could follow even more poles (taking care not to spook the sheepies and young lambs), eventually ending up on the mentioned vehicle track. The very muddy vehicle track, of course.
The next instruction on my list, whilst I was following this vehicle track, was “Sharp right where marked track re-enters forest”. This instruction might have been mis-leading, because after some time I came to a track leading off the right side into the trees. At the top of it I saw the first couple of white-poles-with-yellow-circles for some time, but it became one of those moments where it wasn’t at all clear to me if they meant “turn here” or if they meant “don’t you dare turn here”. I looked down from the top and couldn’t see any markers on the side track, so I rode my luck and kept going along the top for a while, eventually coming to the end… after rather a lot of mud for a vehicle track. It turns out the turning point is really obvious when you get to it, because it’s not exactly possible to go much further. The vehicle track more or less ends, and a walking track follows down through the trees.
The Te Araroa instructions then say “Steep marked route through trees”, but it wasn’t really steep at all, especially compared with that first. It’s marked, and a fairly easy descent through thick pine needles. It ends at a gate… onto a road… the end of Ohariu Valley Road, which is a farm-connecting road. There’s a nifty little sign on the gate-post confirming that this is part of Te Araroa. I read the next instruction, which briefly said “Walk along road (approx 5kms) to crossroads.
Oh great, ending up on a road is the scourge of this kind of walking. Incidentally, the Te Araroa instructions say it’s 5km, but once you’ve reached the crossroads there’s another 1km to add, totalling 6kms of road walking through the back-blocks of Wellington. It wasn’t too bad, though. Much of the farm-land along there is populated by Paradise Ducks, constantly calling to each other. I pulled out my GPS (which I leave switched on for tracking purposes) so I could count down the kilometres. They went so slowly, too. Oh, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to play GPS games (ie. things like Virtual Maze and Beast Hunt) in the middle of a public road. They don’t really work anyway if you keep running into fences on the side of the road.
Having reached the gate at 2pm, I arrived at the road intersection with Rifle Range Road shortly before 3pm, confirmed another “you’re walking the length of New Zealand” Te Araroa sign on the intersection’s signpost, and then reached the end of Rifle Range Road after another 10 minutes, waving to the horses in the paddocks. I haven’t been up Rifle Range Road for some time. It doesn’t really go anywhere, but a few years ago in amateur astronomy days, we used to drive up here with telescopes to get away from direct glare of lights. The public part of Rifle Range Road ends underneath Mt Kaukau, and it marks the beginning of Old Coach Road, which is continuation track that weaves around the hillside towards Kaukau. After 30 minutes of Old Coach Road, I stood at the back-blocks of Johnsonville, and there’s a possible exit point here. I didn’t really feel like walking all the way up Mt Kaukau which was hiding in the clouds, and it was starting to get late, but didn’t exactly want to walk down through streets either, so after a moment of thought elected to continue up over the hills, before finding an exit down closer into Johnsonville, finally getting out about 4pm for a train home.
Not a bad walk, really. It took a few hours, though times would vary between people and groups of people. Also keep in mind that the Colonial Knob section of this route is very exposed to strong wind, both northerlies and southerlies. (Potentially the kind of wind that makes it impossible to stand.)