Red Rocks and Seals, Oh My!

I woke up to the wind whistling against my window. It was another dreary and windy day in Wellington, but I was determined to go hiking at the Te Kopahou Reserve, regardless.


I had been wanting to tackle this coastal hike since around the time I moved here, and since I’ve walked about half of the Wellington coastline by now, this was one of the last day hikes on my list.

What captured my attention the most was the promise of red rocks and fur seals, even still, I didn’t know what to expect. Although the Red Rocks looked fairly majestic in pictures, I know that photoshop and a bit of saturation can do wonders, and it was slightly out of season to have a chance to see a male fur seal up close and in person.

However, I wasn’t about to let some gale force winds and what ifs stop me from seeing the place for myself.

It’s an easy enough hike to get to from the Wellington CBD, you just take bus #1 (only $3.50) to Island Bay and get off at the last stop. You walk from Island Bay, through Owhiro Bay, and finally arrive at the Te Kopahou Reserve entry with an open air mini museum that talks about the history and marine life in the area.

The walk through the bays took about 30 minutes, and the walk from the start of the reserve entry to the seal colony took about 45 minutes to an hour.

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It took us slightly longer to do the whole hike because we discovered a playground in Island Bay that we most definitely had to play on, and the wind kept our pace slow and steady. We also decided to stop at the seal colony for a short break and a bite to eat with our packed apples.



The wind was so strong that we were sometimes forced off our direct path against our will, and on the way back we had to stop a couple of times due to sand swirling up and coming at us full speed and getting into our eyes and hair. I only heard that there had been a severe wind warning that day after we’d already arrived safely back to my house.


The Te Kopahou Reserve, which includes the Red Rocks and the Sinclair Head seals, has signs all around warning that it’s a tsunami zone, if you happen to be unlucky enough to be there during a hefty earthquake.



I guess you always have to add in a bit of danger to have a proper adventure though.


There are two different histories behind how the rocks achieved their vibrant red color, one more scientific history and the other, Maori folklore. And I’m happy to report that they really are as cool in person as they look in the pictures, no photoshop needed.


Historically, the Red Rocks were formed 200 million years ago by volcanic eruptions below the sea, their well-known red color comes from small amounts of oxidized iron sediments.

Some very ancient rocks
Some very ancient rocks

As for the Maori legend, the color comes from the story of Kupe, a Polynesian explorer, who was gathering shellfish when one clamped onto his hand and made him bleed all over the rocks, leaving them doused in red.

An alternate legend says it was actually the daughters of Kupe who cut themselves intentionally on the rocks over grief, because they believed him lost at sea and never coming back.

A glimpse of spring

Besides the constant wind, it was a day of spectacular scenery (seriously New Zealand, you never let me down!), and we even saw two fur seals basking in the fleeting sun out on the rocks. Usually you can only spot the seals from May to August, but we were lucky enough to find some males that were lingering a bit longer.


Look a seal!

The fur seals are located at Sinclair Heads, about a 10 minute walk further after the Red Rocks.


The colony is only made up of males that were unsuccessful in the breeding season, so these last two must’ve been the content loners of the group, but they were adorable all the same.



I love this area of the Wellington coastline, looking out towards the South Island, it always promises grand views and many bays, no matter what the weather may do that day. It’s also a coastal walk that’s loved by locals and travelers alike, so I’m happy I was finally able to tick it off the list.




Here’s a look at the amount of Wellington coastline I’ve walked so far since moving here in April:

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And a look at the Te Kopahou Reserve hike specifically:

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We grabbed a classic fish & chips take away with some hot dogs thrown in – well, really corn dogs, but they’re called hot dogs here, and fell into a nice little food coma for the bus ride back to Newtown. It was a Kiwi filled day, with the scenery, my hiking partner, and the food.

A perfect way to spend a blustery Sunday afternoon.



Have you ever walked around the Wellington Coastline? Or experienced seals up close? Or been attacked by crazy wind?

Mimi McFadden
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