Exploring the Putangirua Pinnacles, Wairarapa and Cape Palliser

Putangirua Pinnacles Wairarapa 

The Putangirua Pinnacles Wairarapa, walks to an incredible set of rock formations deep in the hill at the head of a streambed.  It is quite otherworldly and the Pinnacles are quite the natural phenomenon.  If you have been to the Omarama Clay Cliffs, they feel a little similar to this.

The Putangirua Pinnacles walk takes about 45 minutes each way and there are two options to reach the base of the Pinnacles themselves.  It is a great walk for kids who love to explore and the varied terrain makes it a really interesting walk

Note: There is the Pinnacles Walk in the Coromandel, but this is the Pinnacles Wellington walk.  The Coromandel Pinnacles Walk is a popular overnight hut walk with families, but this is a only a couple of hours walk.  There is no Pinnacles Hut here.

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Putangirua Pinnacles New Zealand
Putangirua Pinnacles, NZ

Putangirua Pinnacles, Lord of the Rings Film Location

If you are wondering why the Putangirua Pinnacles feels a little familiar, it was a Lord of the Rings Film location.  It was used in the third film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Return of the King and was the set for the Paths of the Dead scene.  The scene was very eerie, ghostly and morbid and filled with ghosts.  An incredible place to film, and if you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you will definitely recognise this spot.

Putangirua Pinnacles Wellington

What exactly are the Putangirua Pinnacles?

The reason to visit the Putangirua Pinnacles, Wellington is to explore the really cool rock formations.  These are best seen from the base of the Pinnacles, along the streambed as you really get some great perspective from the bottom, however its well worth viewing them from the top too.

Kids will enjoy climbing and exploring and do be aware, you will get covered in dust.  But thats all part of the fun.


How were the Putangirua Pinnacles formed

Over the last 120,000 years, amongst floods, rains and storms, the Putangirua stream was exposed. The cool rock formations appeared as sedimentary layers were washed away.  Some washed away completely, and others concreted together to make the interesting shapes today.  They are often called hoodoos, which are irregularly shaped rock spires.  Often they have a cap that looks like a mushroom, and much of its column has been eroded away.

Walking through the Putangirua Pinnacles

How to get to the Putangirua Pinnacles, Wairarapa

The Pinnacles walk Wellington is located on the Southern Wairarapa Coast in the very south eastern corner of the North Island.  The Putangirua Pinnacles are a great day trip from Wellington and can be combined with a trip to the Cape Palliser Lighthouse, just 30 minutes away from here.

It will take about 1 hour and 50 minutes to drive from Wellington to the Putangirua Pinnacles, or around an hour from Masterton.

You definitely don’t need to take a Putangirua Pinnacles tour, or join a group if you have your own vehicle.  The track is well marked, its easy to get to, so just go for it!

Family photo of Backyard Travel Family at the Putangirua Pinnacles Wellington
Family photo in front of the Cape Palliser Lighthouse near the Putangirua Pinnacles

How long does it take to hike the Putangirua Pinnacles Walk Wairarapa

There are two options for tracks at the Cape Palliser Pinnacles.  The information was a little ambiguous on the DOC sign, as it was a little unclear whether the loops linked together, so we can help with a little information here.

The loop that we did was: Carpark – Lookout –down the hill to the steambed junction – up the streambed to the base of the Pinnacles – Back to the Carpark again

From the Putangirua Pinnacles carpark to the Lookout, it takes about 45 minutes.  With kids who were 5 and 7, the DOC signage was true to walk.  It took about 10 minutes to walk down the steep hill to the track junction from here.

From the track junction you could walk another 10-15 minutes up the streambed to the base of the Pinnacles, which is well worth exploring, or about 30 minutes back to the carpark.

Carpark to the Lookout walk (45 mins)

The walk to the Putangirua Pinnacles Lookout took the kids 45 minutes.  It is an uphill climb all the way to the lookout, mostly in bush.  This is great in the summer as the rest of the track is completely unshaded.  We chose to do the climb first before it got hot and the kids got tired later on.

The Lookout has a platform looking down on the Pinnacles.  It is quite a sight looking from above, so I highly recommended this.

Carpark to Putangirua Pinnacles base (leisurely 45 mins)

Walking up the streambed to the base of the Wairarapa Pinnacles is a more gentle walk, however the footing is quite unstable.  The streambed has large rocks which can make it awkward under foot.  If you have dodgy ankles, I would definitely make sure you wore hiking boots, just for the support.

This Pinnacles track is more flat with a gentle incline going up to the base of the Pinnacles and we saw people of all ages walking this route. I personally like making tracks a loop, as it’s much more interesting for the kids, and me too to be fair.

Putangirua Pinnacles Campsite (DOC)

If you are looking for accommodation near the Putangirua Pinnacles track then you are going to be limited, due to the remoteness of the area, however there is a DOC campsite right at the walk. You can’t get any closer places to stay than this Putangirua Pinnacles accommodation right here.

The Department of Conservation campsite at the Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve is a basic camping ground with flushing toilets (no long drops) and water in the basin (however the water needs to be boiled if you are to drink it).  The site is quite pretty with the cliffs in behind and you can just see the sea from some places.  It is relatively flat too and seemed sheltered from the wind when we were there.

As a note, the summer sun rises over from the Pinnacles walk (if that helps you figure out what direction to set up your tent)

This DOC site cannot be booked, so you do have to turn up on the day and hope there is room.  There are spaces for 50 tents here and there were a good amount of campervans making use of the carpark while we were there.

As at March 2021, the campsite costs $8 per adult and $4 per child (5 years old and up)

Deep orange sunset over the ocean from the Putangirua Pinnacles campisite

A few things to note when visiting the Putangirua Pinnacles

  • Check the Pinnacles weather.  Downpours of rain could definitely flood the track
  • There is no supermarket closeby nor cafes/restaurants, so make sure you bring supplies
  • You will need to bring extra water to drink, or boil your own here
  • There is a Putangiura Pinnacles Map at the start of this Wairarapa walk.  You can loop both sections, the viewpoint and the base of the Pinnacles together (I found this unclear on the DOC site)
Nathan from Backyard Travel Family smiles after he completes his first run on the beginners slop at Mt Hutt Skifield, Canterbury, New Zealand

Other things to do near the Putangirua Pinnacles, Wairarapa


Explore Cape Palliser

Cape Palliser is the most south eastern point on the North Island.  It is marked by the Cape Palliser Lighthouse that sits up on the hill and is guarded by the local seal colony.  There are not a lot of attractions or amenities in the area, so you do need to bring all your groceries in, if you are staying for a few days.

There is the small fishing settlement of Ngawi, that sits right on the waterfront.  Big trawlers

Cape Palliser Lighthouse Walk

The Cape Palliser Lighthouse Walk is very short, however there are 252 stairs to reach it.  Wee Emilia at 2.5 years old managed to climb all the stairs and it will only take you 5-10 minutes to reach the top, depending on how fast you climb.

The views from the top are beautiful, looking over Cape Palliser and the beautiful bays below.  There is no where to continue walking from up the top.  It is a full fenced off platform.

You could easily do the whole Cape Palliser walk in about 20 minutes return

How to get to the Cape Palliser Lighthouse:  Follow the no-exit Cape Palliser Road to the very end.  Near the end of the road, it is quite narrow and gravel in sections.  There do not recommend this for large long vehicles, but campervans seemed to navigate the road without trouble.

View of the Cape Palliser Lighthouse from the bottom of the stairs. Good walk near the Puntagirua Pinnacles
Looking down from the top of the stairs of the Cape Palliser Lighthouse with beautful blue ocean in the background

Cape Palliser Seal Colony

The Cape Palliser Seal Colony is an awesome place to see lazy seals basking in the sun.  There is no particular start point for the seal colony and there are no signs, but you will be able to see them lying on the rocks all the way up to the Cape Palliser Lighthouse.  Just pull over on the side of the road to view them, but as always, give them plenty of space and don’t interfere with them.

Go Explore the Pinnacles Walk, Wairarapa

Whatever you choose to do in Cape Palliser, the Pinnacles Wairarapa is a great start and an awesome place to base yourself for exploring.  If you have tried the Pinnacles New Zealand walk, come over to Instagram or Facebook and tell us how you found. 


Exploring the Greater Wellington Region?  You might find these articles useful



Founder of Backyard Travel Family

Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space

Jen has three young children, 7 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.

Backyard Travel Family New Zealand. Lets share these articles and spread the love

what you need to know


- 1 hour 50 minutes from Wellington to the Putangirua Pinnacles
- About an hour from Masterton
- Own transport required

The track

- well formed bush track to the Putangirua Pinnacles viewpoint (uphill climb)
- rocky streambed and unstable ground on the base of the Pinnacles. (gentle incline)

Suitable for kids?

Yes, this is a great track for kids. The most awkward part is the rocky stream sections, which are fun, but can be a little slow.


- Toilets at the campground at the beginning of the track

What to bring

- Clothes you don't mind getting dusty
- Boots if you have unstable ankles
- Water bottles with refills in the car (no drinkable water here)

Food options

- None near the walk
- Waimeha Bar and Grill at the camping ground
- Fish and Chips food truck in Ngawi

What the critics thought

The rocks were really cool. We got covered in dust and threw stones. I liked seeing it from the top. It wasn't too hard, but it was really hot.
Backyard Travel Family / Your go to for practical advice for active families travelling around New Zealand
7 year old Leader
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