Putangirua Pinnacles Hike

Second to the incredible Tongariro crossing, the Putangirua Pinnacles is my favourite hike I’ve done in New Zealand. Not super well known, I stumbled upon this gem while researching things to do near Martinborough, a small town famous for its wineries, that lies an hour north east of Wellington.

Photographs of the pinnacles looked incredible: hundred-year-old rock formations projecting into the sky, eerily towering over everything that stood below it. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Naturally, because of its ominous appearance, I soon discovered it was a Lord of The Rings filming location in Return of the King. I couldn’t wait to see it in person.

On a clear Saturday in June, we rented a car and began our adventure to the pinnacles. We drove for one hour to Martinborough where we stopped at The Village for lunch. After an average meal and burnt coffee (a sign we definitely weren’t in Wellington anymore), we continued our drive to the pinnacles, full of anticipation. Forty minutes later, the ocean suddenly stretched before us followed by a sign: the turnoff for the pinnacles was in eight hundred meters.

Driving in, a huge grassy muddy car park welcomed us and as I stepped out the car I consciously tried to keep my sneakers mud-free. At the beginning of the track we studied the different paths we could follow: the river or the lookout. Below the river track, an angry hiker had scribbled in black marker: DO NOT DO THIS IT IS DANGEROUS. Chuckling, Joel turned to me and said, ‘I wanna go by the river’. Relieved and without a second of hesitation I replied, ‘me too’. Joel nabbed a hiking stick left by a previous explorer and off we went.


About five minutes into our walk we came across our first river crossing and it became obvious that my sneakers were probably going to get wet. It was deep enough to soak your shoes if you walked through it and I wasn’t keen to do the rest of the hike with cold, wrinkled feet. For the next hour we hopped, leaped and bounded backwards and forwards over the river as we followed its bends up towards the pinnacles. But getting wet became inevitable: do I risk leaping onto a slippery rock or quickly hopping through the shallow, icy water? I chose the latter. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel that cold and my Nikes became only slightly damp.


When we finally reached the famous rocks it felt other-worldly. The crisp air, deafening silence and daunting pinnacles towering over us made for an eerie setting. I could’ve sat there for hours, escaping the sounds of the city and pondering life. The formations started to get narrower and the rubble beneath our feet felt thicker. It became hard work walking uphill on this rocky, unstable surface. We stopped, sat, and sat a little longer. It was beautiful.


The sun was setting so we made our way back, beginning our second round of hop, skip and jump with the river. We made it back just in time to watch the sun set over the ocean, colouring the sky in pink hues. Next time, I’ll bring a spare pair of socks, ample time to soak up the grandeur of these rock formations, and a marker to write: do the river walk- you won’t regret it.

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