Red Rocks Reserve. Rock Formation in New Zealand, Oceania

Red Rocks Reserve

Rock Formation in New Zealand, Oceania

Red Rocks 9 - Wellington Photo © Katrina Koger

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Red Rocks Reserve

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Red Rocks Reserve, New Zealand - Red Rocks Reserve
Red Rocks Reserve, New Zealand - Red Rocks Reserve. Photo by Kara Jones
The Red Rocks Reserve south of Wellington, New Zealand, is home to an easy walk along Wellington’s rugged south coast. Just 8 kilometers and about 15 minutes from the city center, the walk is a beautiful escape from the city for some expansive sea views and wildlife.

Etymology and Geology

The Red Rocks (“Pari-whero” in the local Maori language) are given their name from their distinctive coloring. The Red Rocks are made of pillow lava produced 200 million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions, with iron oxide giving the rocks their unique color. The lava became embedded in younger greywacke stone, giving the stones a beautiful grey and red coloring.

Historic Significance

Several beach houses were built along the coastal walk during the early 1900s, and some are still in use. Some have been preserved in their original style, and are registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

Along the walk, there are some gun emplacements and lookouts constructed during the first and second World Wars. On a clear day, you can also see the inter-island ferries travel across the Cook Strait (Wikipedia Article), framed by the snow-capped mountains of the South Island.

Gravel was first removed from the site in 1905, and quarrying began soon after. Concern grew over the environmental impact, and the quarry ceased operations. The slopes have since been contoured and replanted with native plants.

Red Rocks Reserve, New Zealand - Red Rocks
Red Rocks Reserve, New Zealand. Photo by Kara Jones


Maori legend provides two stories as to the origin of the red rocks. The first describes Kupe, a famous Polynesian explorer, who cut his hand while gathering paua (a shellfish), his blood staining the rocks red. The second describes how Kupe’s daughters feared for their father’s safety during a long voyage, and so cut themselves in their grief and worry, their blood tinting the rocks.

Species Endemic to the Site

Pthibbt! - Red
	Rocks Reserve
Pthibbt! - Red Rocks Reserve. Photo by Buffy May
If you continue past Red Rocks for another 15-30 minutes, you will walk up through a notch in some big rocks, and then descend to reach Sinclair Head. This point is home to a New Zealand Fur Seal colony between May and October. The seals present are often young males, who haven’t been successful in winning a spot at a breeding colony in the South Island.

Perch on a rock and try to find the seals - they blend in well with the brown rocks. Watch as they sunbathe, or show off their swimming skills, somersaulting and twisting through the shallow water around the rocks. While graceful in the water, they are rather inelegant when exiting! While the seals don’t mind being admired from afar, seals can become aggressive if you get too close, so keep your distance. The smell may also prevent you from getting much closer!

The walk is located near Taputeranga Marine Reserve (Wikipedia Article), where any kind of fishing and hunting is banned. This marine reserve is a popular location for diving, kayaking, and snorkeling, due to the huge variety of animals and plants, including Crabs, Lobsters, Starfish, and Octopus.

If you continue to walk along the coastline past Red Rocks and Sinclair Head, you can reach Zealandia park in Karori. A good level of fitness is needed for this. While there are some tracks leading into the surrounding hills, some land is owned privately and you will need permission to cross this.

How to Get There and What to Bring

The entrance is off Owhiro Bay Parade, South Coast, Wellington. The entrance is marked by an information center, public toilets, and a large car park.

If taking public transport, you can catch bus number 1 to Island Bay, get off at the last stop and walk around the coast past the Bach Café, via Owhiro Bay Parade. The number 4 bus also goes to Happy Valley which will take you closer, but the number 4 but doesn't run during the weekends.

If you have your own car, it is a short drive from the city center. To take a scenic route and see the rest of the Wellington coastline along the way, keeping the water on your left, drive from the city center through Oriental Bay, around the Miramar peninsula, and along the coast to Owhiro Bay.

Pedestrians share the track with mountain bikes, motocross bikes, and four wheel-drives, so keep a lookout. Vehicle access is prohibited on Sundays, however, making for a more peaceful walk. Dogs are allowed, but due to the Fur Seals, must be kept on a lead.

Most of the walk is on loose shingle, so sturdy footwear is required. More waterproof footwear is recommended for crossing streams after heavy rain. The walk is also located on the exposed southern coast, so pick a calm day if you can, and bring a windproof jacket. The walk is not suitable for pushchairs, so bring a front or backpack for the kids.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Mar 18, 2016

Pictures of Red Rocks Reserve

Red Rocks Reserve
Red Rocks Reserve. Photo by Adrian Pratt

Untitled - Red Rocks Reserve
Untitled - Red Rocks Reserve. Photo by Buffy May

Untitled - Red Rocks Reserve
Untitled - Red Rocks Reserve. Photo by Buffy May


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