When I was training for Tarawera, I ran along the Wellington Skyline almost every second weekend.
The ‘Skyline’ is a 12km stretch from Makara Hill to Johnsonville, so it is a semi-central Wellington trail run. There are a number of access points, which you can run, bus or drive to, and the whole stretch is 12km in length. It doesn’t start right in the city, but it is accessible enough without a car. If you are after a long run, you can run one way and back, equaling 25km. Otherwise you can drop out along the way, depending on how you go. I find parts of the track from Karori to Mt Kaukau pretty tough, so if I am doing it both ways, I often start in Karori, run to Johnsonville and then back (meaning that I get the tougher parts out of the way before the 1/2 way turnaround point…then it is somewhat smoother sailing on the way back). I have also started and ended through Khandallah, using Mount Kaukau as the access point. It is about a 6km run from the city to the Mount Kaukau access point in Khandallah, which can be a tough warm up, but a speedy cool down as you run down hill and along the flat waterfront to finish 🙂
The ‘skyline’ combines some single tracks, a number of farm roads with roaming cow and sheep, open grass areas and beautiful 360 degree views from one coast to another. On one side of the ridge, you have vast views of rolling green hills, the sprawling wind farms along Makara Hill and on a good view, like the day I recently was up there, you have clear views of the South Island. On the other, you can drop down into a number of different Wellington suburbs (Karori, Wadestown, Crofton Downs, Otari Wilton, Ngaio, Khandallah, Johnsonville), with a view of the harbor, the waterfront and Wellington central itself.
No matter which direction you run, you will run uphill, downhill and on the flat. And no matter where you start from, it will be uphill to begin with, to get up on the skyline. From there, there are some steep hills, and other valley/peak combinations, but it is generally undulating. It isn’t too technical, but of course you need to watch yourself, especially when the Wellington winds are blowing. It is completely exposed to the elements, and you may find yourself hugging the hill at times or being lifted off your feet mid stride by a strong gust. In this way, it completely redefines ‘windy wellington’, even on a beautiful sunny day like last Sunday where at most there was a light breeze along the waterfront. Well, a light breeze by Wellington standards…
While I am not currently in super training mode, I have tried to get back into my longer weekend runs, to clear my head, listen to some podcasts and get a bit more active. One of the best things about training for Tarawera was getting out and enjoying nature, exploring new places, and having a little bit of adventure. So this past weekend I started in Karori, at the Makara entrance point, and ran all the way to Mount Kaukau. From here, I dropped down into Khandallah and ran back into town.
Overall, I was simply aiming for was time on my feet, to see how my endurance was and how the body felt. I went out with an aim of 2 to 4 hours, depending on the weather, how I went and what else I wanted to do that day. Because I started off a bit later than planned, I cut the run a bit shorter than I originally intended, to 2:10, but it was nice as I still made it back to time with enough time to shower, eat lunch and relax briefly before meeting a friend for coffee.
I ran a total of 21km, which I thought was a pretty good effort given the timing, with 516m elevation gain and 735m elevation loss (as I started up the hill in Karori, and ran back into the city, at sea level). My max elevation was 425, at the top of Mount Kaukau. I was out for just under two hours thirty minutes, and listened to some nice new NPR produced podcasts. I had no pain, no soreness or tiredness, and felt totally fine during the run, after the run and the next day, which meant I definitely could have pushed myself harder and probably could have run another 10 or 15 km easy.
While the skyline is a close and relatively dependable track to run, and is really well sign posted, it can be somewhat repetitive and tiresome if you run it often, like I used to. There isn’t much room for exploring or going ‘off piste’, as there is private farm land around, and if you ran off the main track towards Makara, you may not be able to find your way out! There is also cattle around…which you have to keep an eye out when running listening to music (or in my case, podcasts). My first introduction to the skyline resulted in me running away from a charging cow who was not happy with being surrounded by approximately 15 runners. I learned my lesson there and am very wary of them now.
For those who have never explored it, it is well worth the hike, even if you simply do the hike up and down Mount Kaukau on a sunny day – the views are definitely worth it. Though personally, unless I am simply after time on my feet on familiar ground, I plan to explore some different trails around Wellington over the coming Sundays, to try and keep things a little bit more interesting.