While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
Farming is big part of the Wairarapa, but its rolling green fields are home to more than just sheep. The towns dotted about this southeast side of the North Island may be small in population, but you’ll find an interesting variety of things to do.
With its history, wildlife, wineries and character Victoriana architecture, the Wairarapa – only a short drive or train ride from capital city, Wellington – is a popular weekend escape for Wellingtonians. The sheer number of festivals throughout the year could also keep you very busy. As you’ll discover, celebrating and sharing the good life are what the Wairarapa is all about.
National Wildlife Centre
Good things are definitely happening at the acclaimed Pukaha Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre just north of Masterton.
The Centre runs a breeding program for endangered birds and wildlife and works to reintroduce species back into the 2,300 acre primeval forest behind it.
Here many of New Zealand’s native birds including: kokako, kakariki, takahe, stitchbirds and black teal can be seen in their natural forest habitat. The only white North Island Brown Kiwi in captivity – Manukura – can also be viewed in a special nocturnal house she shares with her Brown Kiwi mate.
Wander the forest trails under towering native trees for a rare glimpse of how the North Island looked before settlers cleared it for farmland.
Rocks and Shells
For an encounter of the stranger kind, head south to Stonehenge Aotearoa just outside Carterton. If you’ve never seen the English Stonehenge – and even if you have! – you can visit the one Downunder.
As you’ll see by the stones, this is somewhat a newer construction than the one in England, but a full-scale working version nonetheless. The best thing about Stonehenge Aotearoa is that a lecture and tour are available, so you can learn the whys and wherefores of stone circles and how they were used in ancient times.
Once you’ve unlocked the mysteries of the universe, you might like to head back to Carterton to check out some earthly treasures. Known as the “Daffodil Capital of New Zealand,” Carterton is famous for its art & craft shops, second-hand stores and art galleries.
It’s also home to Paua World, a retail store where you can buy jewelry and souvenirs made from highly polished paua shell, famed for its blue and green iridescent colors. Paua World offers factory tours during weekdays – you’ll be able to see how the shell is processed. Refreshments are available at its Underwater Tearooms or take a picnic and relax outside in the park-like setting.
If you’re up for more shopping, the character village of Greytown should be next on your list.
The main street has the largest concentration of Victorian buildings in New Zealand – now housing specialty stores including boutique clothing, a French bakery, a chocolate studio and antique shops. Although the town was established in 1854 and was New Zealand’s first inland town, it’s thoroughly modern in its outlook and even has WiFi hot-spots.
Head still further south to the colonial town of Martinborough for boutique wineries and award-winning restaurants. With over 30 wineries in the area, you may like to start with the Martinborough Wine Center in town. Pick up a map of the local wineries and sample a selection of the wines including its famous Pinot Noir. Many wineries are within walking or cycling distance of the town square.
A choice of restaurants is also easy to find. Join the locals at The Village Cafe, in the center of town, for a hearty breakfast or lunch – on a fine day you can sit outside and enjoy some people-watching. Est Wine Bar is in the old Post Office located in the square and serves New Zealand cuisine. If you’re seeking fine dining with an excellent local wine list try one of the winery restaurants such as Tirohana Cellars, a bit out of town.
If you’ll be in this region in mid-November, try to schedule a vsit to the Toast Martinborough Festival – the celebration of Martinborough’s wine legacy. You’ll have a fun-filled day out with the locals and a chance to sample the best wine, food and music of the district.
Fine wine aside, if you’re vacationing near the Wairarapa at the end of February, check out the Golden Shears Festival in Masterton.
This is an iconic 3-day sheep shearing championship that tests the skills of local and international sheep shearers. At the end the shearer with the fastest time shearing a sheep wins the coveted Golden Shears trophy.
The fascination with sheep is something you’ll quickly come to appreciate when you spend time in the Wairarapa. But sheep shearing and fine wine are just a few of the great things to do in this unique part of New Zealand.