Road trips: Rimutaka Ranges to East Coast

Stonehenge -Aotearoa -lge

Approaching Wairarapa from windy Wellington (the big smoke to the south), one must cross the winding (and often windier) Rimutakas. Locals will refer to the towering, heavily-bushed land mass (of which some credit must go to the Wairarapa earthquake of 1855, measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale) that has put paid to many a weak stomach, as ‘the hill’, and a trip to Wellington is flippantly ‘heading over the hill’.

Spilling out into an unexpectedly-still Featherston (Wairarapa’s climate is very different to Wellington’s), stop at the Fell Engine Museum while your tummy settles, and learn about the early days of transport over the Rimutakas.

From here, head down SH54 to Martinborough, where you’ll be instantly charmed by the vibrancy of this small vineyard town. Spend the day or afternoon taking in the scenery and produce, with a wine tour, before moving south on Lake Ferry Road, to the wild and beautiful southern fishing villages of Lake Ferry, Ngawi, and Cape Palliser. Here you’ll also find the unique bandlands rock formations of the Putangirua Pinnacles. Take some time out to explore.

Turning inland, following SH2 will take you through the towns of Greytown (cute and colonial with antique stores galore), Carterton, and Masterton, the biggest of Wairarapa towns.

Masterton, being the Home of the Golden Shears, is still very much a rural town but has been developed over the years, with attention being paid to Queen Elizabeth park (take a paddleboat around the lake or a miniature train ride around the island in the middle), Henley Lake Reserve, and the aquatic centre.

Mt Holdsworth, a popular camping spot with a number of hiking trails, from minutes to days long, is less than twenty minutes’ drive from Masterton.

Head in the opposite direction from town and you’ll hit the east coast. Both Castlepoint and Riversdale beaches are motorhome friendly and provide a load of activities, whether you have kids in tow or not.

Northern Wairarapa is somewhat fuzzy when it comes to regional boundaries but many of us locals will claim Pukaha Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre as ours. I have many memories of school trips to see the kiwi, tuatara, and takahe (to name a few). This native bird and reptile sanctuary offers a great opportunity to wander the bush paths and see a number of New Zealand’s endangered native species you may never otherwise see. It’s now home to Manukura, the only white kiwi in captivity in the world.

One thing I can promise — no matter what you choose to do in the sunny Wairarapa, you’ll find it hard pressed to do it amid such beauty and variety anywhere else in the country.

Things to see and do

Stonehenge Aotearoa: not far from Carterton, along Kokotau Road, lies this strange stone circle. Book a guided tour (11am Saturday, Sundays, and public holidays) or guide yourself any day. Read more about Stonehenge Aotearoa.

Martinborough: the formal layout was planned by John Martin, an enthusiastic traveller who called the streets around the square after his favourite places, such as Ohio, Panama, Oxford, Cork, New York, Venice, and Naples to name a few.

The Heritage Museum and Fell Museum: these two tributes to the past reflect 1850s life in the district, including the only remaining Fell locomotive in the world which was once used on the Rimutaka Hill.

Castlepoint: an hour’s drive east from Masterton, this rocky promontory is popular for its rugged good looks and spectacular seascape. Walk to the one-kilometre-long reef on which the lighthouse stands, climb the high sand dunes at one end or Castle Rock at the other, and swim safely in the lagoon, marvelling at the massive commercial fishing boats parked on the sand.

Cobblestones Museum, Greytown: situated on the original site of the Cobb & Co stables and terminal (hence the cobblestones) which provided a mail and passenger service to Wellington in the 1860s, take a walk around the area’s colonial past.

Walks: there are many places to stretch your legs in the Wairarapa, from the four-day long tramp in the mountains along the Holdsworth Track, to the Featherston Reserve Walkway, a series of four short walking tracks close to the town. The Rapaki Hillside loop walk in Martinborough (1–2 hours) and the Putangirua Pinnacles walk.

The Woolshed: home of the Golden Shears competition since 1961, Masterton’s interactive museum is dedicated to sheep shearing and will give you an increased appreciation for rural New Zealand’s pastime.

Kidzone Playground: in Queen Elizabeth park, let the kids run around this community-built park, with mini putt available and the aquatic centre across the road.

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