Biking to Pencarrow Lighthouse

Biking to Pencarrow Lighthouse should be on everyone’s Wellington bucket list. There’s a lot of history out at Pencarrow, the top lighthouse was the New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse  – shining it’s light from 1859. It’s first keeper, Mary Jane Bennett was New Zealand’s first and only female keeper. Often surrounded in fog the lower lighthouse replaced it from 1906. 

Exterior of Wildfinder Pencarrow. The building has a green roof with the Wildfinder logo on it and signs for bike/ebike hire, repairs and servicing, cold drinks, maps and information and icecreams, group events. Bikes and people are in the foreground.

How to get to the Pencarrow Lighthouse

If you don’t have your own you can hire a bike or ebike from Wildfinder to cycle out to Pencarrow Head in East Harbour Regional Park to see the two Pencarrow Lighthouses and the Parangarahu (Fitzroy Bay) Lakes.

The loose-gravel, car-free Pencarrow Trail begins at  Burdan’s Gate (which proved to be the only bottleneck as families squeezed their way through). It is wide enough to ride two abreast if you’re with a buddy and confident enough to swing back into single-file when you meet people coming the other way. It had plenty of potholes and certainly wasn’t as well maintained as the Otago Rail Trail but you’ll follow Wellington’s beautiful, rugged coastline and you can see right across the harbour.

We arrived at Wildfinder about half an hour after our booking time due to my late running number 83 bus. We had booked the bikes for two hours and thankfully the timing started from when we arrived rather than our booking time. If we’d been a little late (less than half an hour back) I don’t think Wildfinder would have charged us anything additional but you can just pay for any additional time when you return.

If you’re driving, allow yourself plenty of time to find a carpark and walk back from there. I’d also recommend visiting the public toilets 300 metres back down the road as there are none out on the trails. There’s not a water supply either so be sure to take water bottles, sunscreen, warm layers and snack with you.

Trail following the coastline out to Pencarrow lighthouse with upper lighthouse visible on top of green hill on the right

The Pencarrow Lighthouses

After you reach the lower lighthouse around 7km in the walkers disappear and the track is much quieter for cyclists. There’s a steep walking track up to Pencarrow top lighthouse just before the lower lighthouse. It isn’t suitable for bikes so you can either dismount and walk up there, or keep riding.

The white Pencarrow lower Lighthouse with rocky boulders to the left, blue ocean behind and Wellington's green hills over the other side of the harbour in the background.

We continued on a bit further and took the Lighthouse Loop around Lake Kohangapiripiri on and up to the top lighthouse. I managed to bike most of the way up to the lighthouse before taking the final steep section on foot. This trail is certainly one for the more experienced mountain bikers (Grade 3).

Young woman dressed in black activewear and sunglasses standing in front of white lighthouse with green hills in background

Back down on the flat after some tricky downhill sections our furthest point be was the SS Paiaka wreck – the ship sunk in 1906 and was recovered in 1987. Past here is private land.

The rusty ship wreck of SS Paiaka at Pencarrow with green hills in the background and sand in the foreground

We’d prepared a picnic but ended up eating it on the grass back near where we’d parked the car. Four hours bike hire would allow you time to hunt for the perfect spot and then sit and relax for a while as well as exploring the lakes further. Neither the lakes or the sea at Pencarrow are safe for swimming

Heading back with tired legs felt much longer but it was cool seeing the ferries between Wellington and Picton passing by. If you were facing a big northerly headwind the ride or walk would be even tougher.

If you wanted to get the ferry from Wellington City Wildfinder also have bike hire available at Days Bay which is a 15-20 cycle away. Make sure you’re back in plenty of time for your return ferry journey.

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