Combine the Tararua Forest Park, Rimutaka Forest Park and Haurangi Forest Park with the wild stretch Palliser Bay and Pacific Ocean coast and you get the Wairarapa. It’s a region of spectacular coastlines, big skies, wide valleys and small towns that are cloaked in colonial history. There are endless opportunities for outdoor adventures and while not quite as “cool” as neighbouring Wellington, Wairapara has some of the best food and wine in the country. It’s no wonder it takes pride of place in the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail.
KEY TOWNS AND REGIONS
The Wairarapa’s largest centre, Masterton is an ideal base for exploring the rest of the region. Farming is still the mainstay of the town and is the headquarters of the annual Golden Shears sheep-shearing competition, held in March. Traditionally, Masterton has been a service centre for farmers, but these days its proximity to the Wairarapa wine industry is gradually changing the character of the town. Discover New Zealand’s rarest birds at Pukaha Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre, or watch seals at Cape Palliser. The 130-year-old Queen Elizabeth Park is the focal point of the town and a magnet for families. Adjacent to the park is the Waipoua River and there is an old cross bridge that you can cross.
Martinborough, just over an hour from Wellington City, is at the heart of the Classic Wine Trail with more than 30 wineries within walking distance of the village square. During November, the region’s wines are celebrated in the famous Toast Martinborough Wine Festival, which attracts visitors from around the country. The quaint, picturesque town centre is also home to several heritage buildings, including the historic Martinborough Hotel, built in 1882.
Established in 1857 to house the workers who built the road from Greytown to Masterton, Carterton was originally known as Three Mile Bush. It was later renamed after Charles Rooking Carter, who was in charge of building the bridge over the Waiohine River. Today, Carterton is a lovely small town, fondly known as New Zealand’s daffodil capital. It has attracted many artists to take up residence inspired by the surrounding landscape, with the Tararua mountain range to the west, dramatic coastlines to the east, and farmland and grapevines in between.
Greytown was New Zealand’s first planned inland town. It was established in 1854 by settlers from Wellington who were looking for small portions of land to farm. Excellent examples of Victorian colonial architecture line the main street. With its historical buildings and tree-lined avenues, Greytown is considered one of the prettiest towns in the North Island and a must-see on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail.
Castlepoint is a small beachside town on the Wairarapa coast, just an hour’s drive from Masterton. Castlepoint has a fossil-rich limestone reef, and features the stunning 162m-high Castle Rock, named by Captain Cook, due its similarities to the battlements of a castle. Often visited by dolphins and fur seals, Castle Rock is considered one of the best sights along the coast. The lighthouse was built in 1913 to warn seafarers of Castle Rock, and Castlepoint beach is a favourite for local holidaymakers.
Located on the southernmost point of the North Island, the road to Cape Palliser is well worth the drive. In fact, Cape Palliser is further south than Nelson or Blenheim in the South Island. Check out the fishing village of Ngawihi where bulldozers push fishing boats into the sea. The lighthouse at the end of the road was installed in 1897, where more than 20 ships were wrecked in or near Palliser Bay. It is also home to the North Island’s largest fur seal colony. Breeding season is from mid-November to mid-January.
Getting here and around:
Wairarapa is connected to Wellington via regular train service, which connects all major Wairarapa towns. Regular shuttle service link Woodside station to Greytown.
Intercity Coach services run between Palmerston North and Wairarapa via Woodville.
Regular bus service connects the Wairarapa towns.
Spring (Sep-Nov) – warming up with clear days and showers clearing, 7-17°C; Summer (Dec-Feb) – dry and sunny, 11-28°C; Autumn (Mar-May) – heavy rainfall possible in the east and south west, 8-19°C; Winter (Jun-Aug) – heavy rainfall possible in the east and south west, 3-13°C.