If you’re a fan of wild places – those rugged, windy places where ocean waves crash ashore in a thunder of white water and the trees are pushed sideways by the prevailing wind – then you’ll love the south coast beyond Wellington city. Bordered by the tempestuous Cook Strait and open to the boisterous southerly winds that blow straight up from Antarctica this exposed shoreline is no place for creature comfort lovers. On a fine day you can see the South Island, with the snowy peaks of the Inland Kaikoura Ranges appearing deceptively close in winter.
Having said that though, it’s a beautiful place on a balmy summer day when the blue sky reflects off the glassy sea, seabirds circle high in the sky, barely moving, and children play in the water. It’s definitely a place of two minds. From Island Bay drive westwards to the road end at Owhiro Bay. From here its 4WD or walking only so park your car and check out the Interpretation Centre. It’s a fascinating view into the rugged world of seals, flax bushes and sturdy fishing families.
The whole area offshore of this piece of coast is contained within the Taputeranga Marine Reserve which runs from Owhiro Bay back to Houghton Bay, and includes Taputeranga Island. Three different oceanic currents meet in this area, providing a unique distribution of what the Department of Conservation describes as ‘warm, cold, temperate and sub-antarctic flora and fauna’. This includes fish such as blue cod, crayfish (rock lobsters), butterfish, long-tailed stingray and seahorses. A number of these can be seen while snorkeling around the rocky promontories on a very calm day.
Another way to experience this area is to join a 4WD tour. These leave the city and climb inland over a high pass that takes you past the city’s wind farm before dropping down steeply to the coast on the far side. It’s an excellent trip and the guides have a great knowledge of the geological, historical and natural history of the area.
Otherwise grab a picnic and a takeaway coffee and drive out to Owhiro Bay with a Hertz Wellington Airport Car Rental. You’ll often see little fur seals basking on the rocks or seabirds wheeling in the wind over the beach. It’s a wild deserted place at times and is just 15 minutes from the heart of Wellington city.