Masterton - Wairarapa’s largest town
Masterton, a 1.5 hour’s drive or train ride from Wellington, is the largest of the five characterful towns that make up the Wairarapa region. It’s a vibrant, family friendly town at the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. It is home to the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park with its towering English trees, ‘Kids Own’ Playground, mini-golf, skate park, miniature train, paddle boats and pretty swing bridge over the river leading to the deer park. It’s the perfect setting to take a picnic and feed the ducks.
Across the road is the Genesis Recreation Centre, with indoor and outdoor leisure pools and hydro slide. On Bruce Street, visit Aratoi: the Wairarapa Museum of Art & History which showcases the region’s artists and holds a programme of national exhibitions. A short walk down Dixon Street is The Wool Shed which tells the story of sheep farming in New Zealand and offers visitors a taste of what a shearer’s life in the 19th and 20th centuries would’ve been like. It also tracks how shearing has evolved into an international sport and our top shearers into elite athletes.
Masterton is a terrific base to explore nearby Castlepoint, the region’s most spectacular beach; Mataikona and Riversdale as well as the Pukaha Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre which is home to Manukura, New Zealand’s only white kiwi bred in captivity. Pukaha Mount Bruce, located 20 minutes north of Masterton, is conserving some of New Zealand’s most rare and endangered wildlife and is of nationwide significance. Visitors can walk through native bush, enjoy talks and fuel up in the café. Each day there is a Tuatara talk & feed (11.30am); eel feed (1.30pm) Kokako Talk (2.15pm) and Kaka Circus feed (3pm).
Masterton is also the gateway to the wine growing regions of Opaki, Gladstone and Martinborough.
Greytown - Victorian charm
Greytown’s colonial character, boutique shops and superb places to eat make this small Wairarapa town the perfect destination for those escaping the city for the weekend. Drive just an hour from Wellington and leave the hustle and bustle behind. The beautifully restored Victorian Main street, one of the best examples in New Zealand, is a shoppers’ paradise. Browse galleries, designer outlets, antique stores and homeware shops, buy gorgeous gifts and tempting treats, all within an easy walk of each other. There’s also free wi-fi, if you need it.
Buy locally grown, seasonal fruit and vegetables from roadside sellers at the northern end of town and an impressive range of meats from the traditional Greytown Butcher. There are several fantastic restaurants and delis along the length of Main Street, ideal places to people watch, enjoy fabulous food and relax.
The French Bakery is a local favourite; its tempting selection of freshly made patisserie and superb coffee is hard to resist. Wander through the historic buildings of Cobblestones Museum, or head out to Kahikatea Gardens at 60 Wilkie St, for a walk amongst greenery and friendly farm animals.
Martinborough - Wine Village
The pretty town of Martinborough is famous for its numerous wineries. Rent a bike and cycle around the scenic, flat countryside, taking in vineyards along the way. Martinborough is also home to some great restaurants and cafes. The town plays host to thousands of visitors for Toast Martinborough, a wildly popular event held annually on the third Sunday in November, to celebrate local food, wine and music.
Carterton has art in its very heart. Visitors to the Wairarapa township can look around for art on display panels as they browse vintage shops and collectable stores or stop in at at one of the many cafes lining the main street. Kids love playing at Carrington Park in the heart of town while animal loving littlies may like Wallowing Heights Ranch and Farm. If you’re interested in paua shell jewellery and mementos, stop at Paua World. For a scenic drive, head out to Gladstone through rolling hills, lush valleys and vineyards and enjoy a cold beer at the “Gladdy” country pub or a glass of wine at the Gladstone Vineyard. A short drive from Carterton is the dramatic Waiohine Gorge with its swing bridge – a popular place to picnic in the summer and another access point into the vast Tararua Forest Park.
Stonehenge Aotearoa is a 10 minute drive from Carterton. Built from concrete, on the same scale as Stonehenge in England, Stonehenge Aotearoa is a working astronomical structure designed and built for its precise location. Learn how early cultures, including New Zealand Maori, used the Sun, Moon and stars for life and survival. It is often used for seasonal celebrations and festivals.
Wairarapa - for outdoor adventures
The Department of Conservation site lists wild and scenic places to visit in Wairarapa. Castlepoint is one of the region’s highlights - you can go fishing, walk up to the lighthouse or stroll barefoot along the beach, with dramatic views of rocky coast, lagoon and the Pacific Ocean. For tramping and hunting and the striking Putangirua Pinnacles, head to Aorangi Forest Park. The Tararua Forest Park offers hiking, tramping and fishing in the wilds of the Tararua Ranges. If you like biking, try a section of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail - it’s one of NZ’s Great Rides. Pick off a section for a day ride, or do the whole lot!
Where to stay
What to do
- Visit the wetlands at Lake Wairarapa
- Make a trip to Cape Palliser Lighthouse
- Learn about native birds, tuatara and eels at Pukaka Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre
- Head to Castlepoint for the lighthouse, beach and lagoon
- Cycle round the vineyards of Martinborough
- Visit Putangirua Pinnacles, which featured in LOTR
- DoC: Wairarapa Places to visit
- Wairarapa Official Tourism site
- Aratoi - Wairarapa Museum of Art and History
- Rimutaka Cycle Trail