The Pencarrow Lakes are New Zealand’s last remaining, relatively unmodified wetlands

Image: DOC


Pencarrow Lakes are tucked in behind Pencarrow Head at the entrance to the Wellington Harbour. You can walk or mountain bike to the lakes.



  • many picnic spots and walks
  • awe inspiring views of Wellington’s dynamic coastline, harbour, and cityscape
  • views out to Cook Strait and the snow-capped Kaikoura ranges

Place overview


  • Bird and wildlife watching

Find things to do and places to stay Pencarrow Lakes

About this place

Nature and conservation

The Pencarrow Lakes, Kohangapiripiri (a nest clinging very strongly) and Kohangatera (a nest basking in the sun) occupy the seaward end of adjacent valleys immediately to the east of Pencarrow Head. They are relatively unmodified wetlands, despite their proximity to a large urban area.

Freshwater lakes so close to the sea are uncommon, particularly in the relatively unmodified state of the Pencarrow Lakes. They were formed in drowned valleys that have been blocked off from the ocean by beach ridges still bearing the evidence of earthquake history in the region.

The lakes, wetlands and raised beaches together support regionally-threatened native plants, native fish and wetland birds. It's the only area in the Wellington region where banded dotterel nest on the open sand.

Both lakes and their stream systems support native freshwater fish species, including giant kōkopu (Galaxias argenteus), banded kōkopu (Galaxias fasciatus) and longfin eel (Anguilla dieffenbachii). Lake Kohangapiripiri is one of the few waterways in Wellington that is free of the introduced brown trout.

The area provides an excellent open water and wetland habitat, supporting a high number of waterfowl species. For some waterfowl it is the only breeding area in the Wellington region. The spotless crake and the Australian bittern are among the rare waterfowl reported in the area. Many species of coastal birds can also be seen in the area.

The vegetation of the hill-slopes surrounding the lakes has been modified by more than 150 years of burning and grazing. However, the wetlands and beaches still support indigenous terrestrial and aquatic plant communities in a relatively unmodified state without any major noxious water weed.

Since grazing ceased in 2004, the wetland has begun to recover, particularly around the lake shores.  

The surrounding area includes evidence of early Maori occupation and the first lighthouse in New Zealand.

The Pencarrow wetlands are being protected and restored under joint management by DOC and Greater Wellington Regional Council, as part of the East Harbour Regional Park.

History and culture

The area around the lakes incorporates some unique cultural features, including evidence of early Māori occupation and the first lighthouse in New Zealand. Remains of the lighthouse complex include the decommissioned lighthouse, house sites and the grave of a lighthouse keeper’s daughter.

Getting there

The Pencarrow Lakes can be reached via a two hour walk or 25 minute cycle ride along the flat coastal road from the locked Burdan’s Gate at the end of Eastbourne.

Find out about mountain biking out to the Pencarrow Lakes.

Know before you go

  • Take food and water and warm waterproof clothing. 
  • Wear sturdy footwear.
  • Don't light fires. 
  • Boats are not permitted on the Pencarrow Lakes.
  • Dogs are only allowed on the road along the coast to the lakes and must be on lead, but are not allowed into the park and the lakes area.


Kapiti Wellington Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 4 384 7770
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   18 - 32 Manners Street
Postal Address:   PO Box 10420
The Terrace
Wellington 6143
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