Queen Elizabeth Park was originally established for the people of the Wellington region to enjoy a coastal landscape in a comparatively milder climate. It lies on the foredunes of Wainui and Whareroa Beaches, with a lattice of interconnecting walking tracks linking the two main thoroughfare. The Inland Track and Coastal Track can be combined to form a 3-hour walk, or the numerous offshoots can be explored to create your own walk.
Gates to the park are generally locked between 6 pm and 8 am.
There are 3 entries to Queen Elizabeth Park.
The most southerly at Paekakariki is the best furnished with picnic tables, toilets and parking areas. Queen Elizabeth Park is signposted from SH1 at Paekakariki. Cross the railway, take the first right along Wellington Road and follow it 3 km to the park entrance.
The middle entrance is signposted along Whareroa Road at Mackays Crossing, 4 km north of Paekakariki on SH1. This peters out at the mouth of the Whareroa Stream, where there are picnic tables, toilets and parking areas scattered in the reserve bordering Whareroa Beach.
The most northerly access is in Raumati South. Follow Poplar Avenue from SH1 and turn left into the Esplanade. The small parking area is at the roadend.
From the Paekakariki entrance to the park veer right at the first intersection and pass the carparks and picnic areas to where the start of the Inland Track is signposted up a small hill.
The wide grass and metal track is also used by cyclists and horses, so keep a watch out. The sinuous path undulates gently over the low dunes for 35 minutes and “Nice day for it”, seems to be the greeting from your friendly fellow walkers.
Towards the middle entrance of the park at Whareroa Beach, the sounds of the breaking waves occupy one ear, and on clear still days the hum of model aeroplane engines performing acrobatics, occupies the other.
On the tar seal, head right, passing the beginning of the Coastal Track to Paekakariki, alongside the tramway. Rejoin the track to Raumati South, signposted near the end of the tramlines (15 minutes).
The next section of track traverses the margins of the park. Dunes consolidated with native vegetation give way to a more inland dune system, now devoted to pasture.
The Coastal Track is signposted above the Esplanade carpark in Raumati South. Shortly after, a strategically placed bench welcomes the beach and coastal views. Almost the entire seaward horizon is occupied by land.
At Whareroa Beach (20 minutes), retrace your steps towards the conclusion of the Inland Track from Paekakariki (15 minutes). The Coastal Track is signposted and metalled as it weaves over dunes perched above the foreshore.
The track finishes after 30 minutes at the northernmost tar sealed section in Paekakariki.
Views south show Pukerua Bay and Mana Island masking the Inland Kaikoura Range. The northern peaks of Marlborough dwindle to a misty D’Urville Island. The well-proportioned silhouette of forested Kapiti Island lies with presence to the north.
Notice how the dune alignment tends north-west to south-east, determined by the prevailing winds. The dunes are formed by sand from the upper beach area being blown landward and trapped by vegetation or driftwood to form a crest, parallel to the beach. The sand is deposited in the lee of the mound and a process of positive feedback accrues the dune’s volume. Later colonisation by vegetation stabilises the dunes, protecting them from wind erosion.
In pre-European times the dunes were smothered with pingao, spinifex, sand coprosma, which stabilised the system. Low shrubs and herbs such as manuka, bracken fern, tutu and flax covered the more established areas. This vegetation assemblage gave way to coastal forest and kahikatea forest further inland. Peat bogs and flax swamps were also common in the poorly drained inland areas. This vegetation sequence still persists on the western dunes, although introduced species mar the cultivated inland areas.
On the foredunes, sand collector species such as marram grass (introduced), spinifex and ice plant physically catch the sand and consolidate the dune until later sand binding plant become established. On the leeward face, other collectors include pimelia, sand coprosma, cottonwood and taupata.
The sand binders establish on secondary dunes, where the substrate is more stable. Bracken fern, tree lupin and flax grow on the leeward side, while muehlenbeckia and tree lupin colonise the exposed side. On the consolidated dunes further inland, ti, kanuka and gorse occur.
Early Maori settlers were the Muaopoko, a subtribe of Rangitane. The area was contested territory in the early 1800s as Te Rauparaha’s incursions commenced. Early whalers set up a settlement on the coast nearby and traded extensively with the local Maori.
Before the advent of the railway in 1886, the Coast Road between Paekakariki and Otaki was the major lifeline for links between Wellington and the Manawatu hinterland. In 1858 Cobb and Co’s Royal Mail coaches, drawn by 6 horses, travelled the hard sands, although early travellers noted the journey was fraught with delays and difficulties.
Although little evidence remains, Queen Elizabeth Park is noteworthy for the US Marine Corps Camp, which billeted over 20,000 troops between 1942 and 1943. Commemorative plaques, flags and interpretation panels are displayed near MacKays Crossing, with facades of camp shelters organised into rows.
An oral tradition in Paekakriaki entertains the notion that when the Marines left after World War 2, they had insufficient shipping capacity, so buried superfluous ammunition, vehicles and stores. This explains the occasional spotting of prospectors, armed with metal detectors, scouring the dunes.
North Island ▷ Wellington Region ▷ Paraparaumu
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