Discover the charms of the Kāpiti Coast

Sandy beaches, spectacular landscapes and friendly people - all just a short drive north of Wellington

Welcome to the Kāpiti Coast, which stretches across 40km of rumpled, curved coastline from Paekākāriki to Ōtaki and whose tranquil beaches and characterful villages have long been like catnip for those wanting to decompress from city life.

Back in the 1800s, they called it ‘taking the sea air’ and Wellingtonians wanting to do so would have spent at least a day threading their way through the hills from the capital. Today, you can cover the 50km journey in less than an hour by road or rail. Although you shouldn’t: it’s better to take your time and enjoy the distractions around every bend.

First things first: leave your jacket at home because you probably won’t need it. Kāpiti’s climate is what weather forecasters like to refer to as temperate, meaning it’s often a few degrees warmer than Wellington.

Secondly, bring a big appetite and stretchy pants because Kāpiti offers a bounty of foodie delights, its fertile soil coughing up orchards and market gardens. Thanks to enterprising locals, these goodies find their way into everything from cheese and olive oil to craft beer, chocolate and ice cream – which in turn find their way onto the menus of local cafés and restaurants. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never go hungry in Kāpiti.

Kāpiti’s eateries may have a relaxed, beachy vibe but they take good food and drink seriously. Helen Turnbull worked under Gordon Ramsay in Tokyo before setting up 50-50 Restaurant at Paraparaumu Beach. Old Beach Bakery does a best-ever gourmet version of a classic Kiwi pie with the most buttery and flaky pastry you’ll ever eat. While Paraparaumu craft beer brewery Tuatara has won awards for their locally-made beers which are now enjoyed around the world. Once you’ve filled your belly with seasonal, fresh food, it’s time to explore.

Nose the car towards the Southward Car Museum, where more than 500 highly covetable vehicles, including Marlene Dietrich’s Cadillac, are the star attraction. Even if you wouldn’t describe yourself as a petrol head, you’ll find something to like at this $20 million museum which began life when Len Southward bought a Model T Ford in 1956 for £40. One thing led to another, and the result is a fascinating shrine to all things vehicular, from a sleek red Ferrari worth a cool five million dollars to New Zealand’s first-ever car.

You’ll probably want to work off some of the great local food and craft beer with a walk around the Paekākāriki Escarpment. This track, part of the national Te Araroa Walkway, opened in 2016 and runs from Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay, a 10km stretch that takes around 2.5 hours to complete – longer if you’ve got an itchy camera finger.

And you can’t come to Kāpiti and not visit Kapiti Island, the bush-smothered island that sits 5km offshore. One of New Zealand’s most valuable nature reserves, this diamond in Kāpiti’s tiara allows visitors a glimpse at what life must have been like before humans started messing up the environment.

Either pop over for the day or stay overnight with Kapiti Island Nature Tours in glamping accommodation at the north end of the island. Thanks to more than 100 years of protection, with the last 20 years entirely pest-free, the island is thick with birdlife. Head off on a walk around one of the island's tracks and you’ll encounter many of the resident species such as stitch birds, kōkako, takahē, and kākā. If you’re lucky, you might just stumble on one of the island’s many little spotted kiwi (or, more likely, hear them), not to mention the numerous little blue penguins who call this island home.

If weather or time works against a visit to the island, take a visit to the Ngā Manu Nature Reserve for an up-close look at nature. Meet kiwi in the nocturnal house, feed long fin eels and say ‘kia ora’ to a tuatara. The reserve has Kāpiti’s largest remaining coastal wetlands where you can meet some of the 50 different bird species that come and go from this rich ecological swamp. Don’t leave without hugging one of the ancient 400-year old kahikatea, which are Aotearoa’s tallest forest trees.

Fortunately, Kāpiti doesn’t mind if you come for its beaches, its walkways, nature reserves or cuisine; it will welcome you with open arms and invite you to share its many experiences.

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