A visit to the Martinborough Fair

I guess you'll be going to Scarborough Fair this weekend," said the elderly man. We had struck up a conversation while queuing for service in a Wellington cafe. He gazed at me with rheumy eyes as he waited for me to formulate an answer. "Er, well a little far away." I said. "Whataya mean? It's just over the hill." I got it. "You mean Martinborough Fair." "That's what I said," he said, looking at me as if I were slightly strange. Even though he'd muddled the name the old man had planted the idea and the next morning saw Bill and me 'over the hill' by 10am. Already parking was clogging up the roads outside the town. We joined the stream of market goers, which gathered momentum as we strode towards Martinborough Square. The once-a-year Martinborough Fair is touted as the largest in Australasia. I can't be sure about the claim but I can now vouch for the fact that 280 stalls were crammed together in and around the little Wairarapa village. Bill set off to walk the perimeter of the market. He told me later it took him almost an hour without stopping. I dived into the melee and for the next two hours whirled around among the colourful chaos bumping into bulging bags and avoiding eye-gouging sunhats. Never have I seen such a collection of innovative ideas and creations – weird, wonderful, useful, tacky and trendy. Among the trinkets and baubles, the home-made cakes and curios, the ball gowns and bikinis, I discovered things like giant wooden pencils designed to be garden sculptures, a full range of dog clothing, and whiteboards in the shape of jandals. There were clocks and bags made from old records, cured calf skins, jewellery made of hardened kina shells, a new take on garden gnomes, raw wool stuffed into sacks to make doggy beds, and unending stalls selling jams, chutneys and sauces. Among the flooding crowds appeared occasional droplets of calm, like the man in a pink shirt oblivious to the crowds who was calmly flying his kite, a woman dressed shades of bright purple drawing portraits in a shady corner, and a man in a kaftan who sat cross-legged on the ground stroking humming sounds from a bell drum. Everywhere I heard snatches market speak: "Oh look, I love that. I need one of those. John has one like that, isn't that clever, try it on and see if it fits…" And wafting through the hot morning air came aromas of butter chicken, tacos, Moroccan lamb, Polish peogies, sushi, sausages, curry, coffee and donuts. The Martinborough Fair is a seductive marketplace. Prices are down and for those of us who love a bargain, temptation is up but I have learnt a trick or two about markets. One of them is how to keep my acquisitive instincts under control by taking very little money with me. I ate a Morrocan roll and left the market with a headache and a bracelet that cost me a dollar.
  • The Martinborough Fair is held annually on the first Saturday in February and the first Saturday in March, The Square, Martinborough South Wairarapa 8am to 4pm
Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide. Read here column in every issue.
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