Remutaka Cycle Trail: home to a geological marvel

Visited by researchers from around the globe, Turakirae Head is not only a visually impressive place to visit but offers insights spanning thousands of years

Along the multifaceted Remutaka Cycle Trail is Turakirae Head, a hidden treasure with an internationally famous geological record.

You’re invited to grab your boots or bike, and explore a trail that takes you from bushland to the coast.

World class geology on our back doorstep

Turakirae Head is notable for its five earthquake-raised beaches that reveal insights into how the landscape has changed over the last 7,000 years.

The oldest preserved ridge was raised three metres and took place way back in 5100-5400 BC. Most recently, in 1855, an earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale raised the beach 6.4 metres.

As the largest recorded earthquake in New Zealand’s history, it released around 1,000 times more energy than the Hiroshima bomb. The energy travelled outwards and up at speeds of up to six kilometres per second, and created a nine metre high tsunami that washed up droves of slippery fish to shore.

Felt from Auckland to Dunedin, the earthquake significantly impacted settlements throughout the country, especially in the southern half of the North Island and the northern part of the South Island.

It also resulted in a six metre uplift of the coastline, and secured a safe passage around the Wild Coast. This became the main route connecting Wellington to the Wairarapa, until the rail network was completed, followed by the road.

Today the raised beaches can be clearly seen at 6.5, 18, 24 and 27 metres above the present beach, while ancient shellfish stranded on the beaches some 2580 years ago, 2890 years prior to that, and 1600 years earlier still can be seen.

If you look further, to the flat tops of the hills west of the Ōrongorongo River, you will be able to see traces of where the ocean met land during the last ice age, around 600,000 years ago.

The broader landscape

Turakirae Head is also an excellent place to witness a variety of wildlife and foliage. There are salt tolerant herbs, tussock, reeds, dunes and coastal forests, as well as a variety of native birds and reptiles, including banded dotterels, caspian terns and oystercatchers, and various breeds of skink and gecko.

One big draw card is the seals. At the Head you can see the largest New Zealand fur seal colony in the Wellington region. Reportedly beginning in 1950, today the colony grows to more than 500 in the winter.

Made up of many juvenile males, the seals come to the coast to build up their stamina and strength before moving to breeding colonies in other areas. During the breeding season they will not eat for three months or more, living off the fat reserves they build up over winter. When you visit you can see the seals playing and interacting with each other, languishing on the rocks and beach, or taking to the ocean.

Top tips for the Remutaka Cycle Trail

  • Green Jersey Explorer Tours and Wildfinder are two companies that offer bicycle hire for the trail
  • Petone’s Esplanade offers various food options, including the popular Seashore Cabaret, with a rustic atmosphere and tasty cafe fare
  • View the Remutaka Cycle Trail page for information on the elevation of the trail, latest updates to the trail, and other ‘know before you go’ information

You might like