Turakirae Head raised beaches

Accessibility: EASY
Turakirae Head raised beaches and storm ridges, J.Thomson / GNS Science
Turakirae Head consists of a broad gently sloping area extending 300 to 500 metres from a line of steep hill slopes to the sea’s edge. The steep hillside was a sea cliff more than six thousand years ago and the gently sloping area has been raised above sea level by large earthquake movements since the cliff was cut. The most recent rise was in 1855.
Turakirae Head storm ridge, J.Thomson / GNS Science
Turakirae Head sits at the southern tip of the Rimutaka Range, to the east of Wellington. It is a scientific reserve featuring fascinating coastal landforms, giant scattered boulders and a seal colony. It is popular with mountain bikers, walkers, climbers and geologists.
During the frequent storms along this coast, large and powerful waves heap up stones from the gravel beach into long ridges called ‘storm ridges’. Further, larger storms rework this material, pushing the ridge further up the beach. This leaves a record of how far the waves have reached. Later, smaller storms might add additional, smaller ridges on the seaward side. The seaward face of the ridge is usually steepest, with an area called the swash zone in front of it. The landward side of the ridge is a more low-angled slope onto which floating material like wood and seaweed gets washed by big waves overtopping the ridge.
This process of formation of gravel ridges is different from sandy beaches which usually get flattened by storm waves, with the sand being dragged out to sea, rather than pushed further up the beach. A good supply of gravel for this process at Turakirae comes from some large slips that have brought greywacke fragments down to the beach from the nearby hill slopes.
Storm ridges can become large features that develop and remain in place for many decades or centuries.
At Turakirae there are several storm ridges running parallel to each other along the beach, separated by many tens of metres. They are easily noticed as they look like trackways, with little vegetation on them. They show up particularly well from aerial photos. They are evidence of a sequence of earthquakes that have raised the Rimutaka Range and its coastal storm ridges over the last six thousand years. The most recent uplift occurred when the Wairarapa Fault ruptured in 1855, raising the area by up to 6 metres. This pushed the sea out beyond the pre-1855 swash zone and caused the initiation of the latest storm ridge that has been forming amongst the boulders over the last 160 years.
The uplifted (pre 1855) beach has many abandoned rock pools and overhanging boulders. Scientists have identified over 100 species of molluscs and other sea creatures that were stranded as the sea retreated.
As you move further up from the 160+ year old ridge, the next one has been dated at about 2300 years and the one beyond that at approximately 5000 years old.
Turakirae Head raised beaches and storm ridges,Lloyd Homer / GNS Science
As you walk towards Turakirae Head, you should be able to pick out some of the raised beaches and also identify the most recent storm ridge with its washover slope and swash zones. You will also pass a large gully with a wide debris fan of boulders at the base of it.
Think about where the sea once was and how it retreated in stages as each earthquake occurred.
Towards the area of large boulders you will most likely be standing on the beach ridge that was active just prior to 1855. Have a look for remains of ‘1855 shellfish’, but do not remove them as this is a scientific reserve and must be left intact.
You can follow a track past the rock outcrops that takes you inland towards some of the older storm ridges. Here it is hard to find any old shell remains. Can you think why this is so?
You should be able to easily identify 4 separate ridges (including the most recent one). Can you find a 5th?
The fault that ruptured to cause these uplifts is offshore to the east of Turakirae Head. As you walk back towards the car park, you may notice that the elevations of the beaches get lower, ie they are tilting very gently to the west, away from the fault. This shows that uplift during earthquakes has been greatest nearer to the fault, decreasing gradually to the west.

Follow the coast road south of Wainuiomata until you arrive within sight of the sea. Keep going for 5 minutes until you arrive at a car park on the right, just before a bridge.

Please do not disturb any seals or other wildlife that are common in the area. Also, this is a scientific reserve so take only photographs and leave rocks and shell fossils as found.
The route to the scientific reserve crosses private land which includes the bridge over Orongorongo River. Please respect that access across this active farm is a privilege and not a right.

Google Directions

Click here for Google driving directions

Accessibility: EASY

From the car park head across the bridge and follow a track along the shore for about 30 or 40 minutes to the Head. It is fairly flat, but occasionally muddy and rocky underfoot

Fossils Landform Active Erosion
Geological Age
Holocene (within the last 10 000 years)
Zealandia Evolution Sequence
Pākihi Supergoup: 5 million years ago – present
Turakirae Head features in this GNS Science video: https://youtu.be/lH_PAGimWJM