An idyllic country setting, gourmet food, award-winning wines, outdoor adventure, native wildlife and charming heritage towns are just some of the delights in store for visitors to this premier wine and food region.
Just an hour's drive or train journey north of Wellington, at the centre of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail driving route, Wairarapa is an area with a growing reputation for its premium pinot noir. Gladstone Vineyard was recently awarded a gold medal for its 2006 Pinot Noir at the Mondial du Pinot Noir in Switzerland – New Zealand's only gold medal.
The wine village of Martinborough is the heart of the Wairarapa’s flourishing wine-making region. Packed with charm, this historic village has more than 30 wineries – most within walking distance of each other. You can cycle or walk your way around the wineries or join one of the guided tours. Tranzit Coachline's full day tour, the Wairarapa Gourmet Wine Escape, offers tastings at four vineyards, a platter at the Village Cafe and coffee and cheese platter to conclude the day. The tour begins with a scenic train journey from Wellington or join up in the Wairarapa if you prefer.
Foodies will find themselves spoilt for choice with Martinborough’s long list of restaurants, cafés and delis. Centrally located on The Square, Peppers Martinborough Hotel won the Best Regional Restaurant at the 2007 Cuisine awards or try one of the town’s many delightful cafés. When you've finished dining, there are plenty of boutique stores and galleries to explore. Close to Martinborough Square, art-house cinema ‘Circus’ offers daily screenings of a new interactive wine tasting film Vintner’s Choice, Martinborough. If you are looking to indulge in a little luxury, then visit nearby Parehua Country Estate.
Just a short drive from Martinborough's central square you can enjoy a tour and tasting at Olivo, one of Wairarapa’s award-winning olive oil producers, or go quadbiking on 1400 acre working sheep and beef farm with rural adventure specialists McLeod’s Quad Adventures.
Nature lovers can take the scenic drive south to Palliser Bay to see New Zealand’s largest colony of native fur seals. Climb the 250 steps of the candy-striped Palliser Lighthouse for dramatic views across to the South Island or take the half-day walk through the nearby Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve to see the fascinating rock formations.
If you're planning to explore northern Wairarapa, Masterton makes a handy base for exploring the area’s attractions. Just a 30 minute drive north of Masterton will bring you to Tui HQ, at the iconic Mangatainoka Brewery. You can join a guided tour for a chance to sample the famous Tui beer.
Twenty minutes north of Masterton is the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, a key centre for captive breeding programmes. An easy walk leads through the ancient rainforest and you can see rare and endangered species up close in their natural habitat. A new walking track, opening around mid-year, will take you deep into the heart of Mount Bruce Forest.
A 20 minute drive south of Masterton will bring you to Gladstone, home of the unique Stonehenge Aotearoa . The structure is an adaptation of the mysterious 4,000 year old monument on England’s Salisbury Plains and has been specially designed for the Southern Hemisphere. Visitors gain a fascinating insight into the way people of ancient cultures, including Maori, lived their lives guided by sun, moon and stars.
In central Carterton, close to Gladstone, are the delightful Richmond Gardens, a formal Italian garden identified as a Garden of National Significance. Look out for Tranzit Coachlines Garden Gourmet Escape this winter – a tour of two stunning Wairarapa gardens, including Richmond, combined with a wine tasting and delicious lunch. Also not to be missed in Carterton is Paua World. Here you'll discover how the world's most colourful shell is crafted to manufacture an exquisite range of jewellery, gifts and souvenirs that reflect the iconic status of Paua shell to New Zealand.
South of Carterton, you can enjoy the Victorian character of Greytown, New Zealand’s first planned inland town. Beautifully preserved wooden buildings now house antique stores, gift shops and galleries. Stop for coffee and pastries at Moise Cerson’s French Bakery and be sure to try the delicious handcrafted chocolates at Schoc Chocolates.
Events in the Wairarapa
Wairarapa Farmers Market, every Saturday from 8.30am-12.30pm undercover at Solway Showgrounds, Fleet Street, Masterton.
The Toast Martinborough Festival, is held on the third Sunday in November.
The national sheep-shearing and wool-handling competition, ‘The Golden Shears’ occurs at the beginning of March and draws competitors from across the globe.
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Editorial courtesy of Destination Wairarapa