Wairarapa

Wairarapa – what a ripper

Elisabeth Easther signed up for a six-day 300km cycle journey with Green Jersey Tours to ride their Remutaka, Palliser, Tora Tour, and declared the experience gold class.

When writing travel stories about week-long tours, it can be tempting to relate the experience in the order things unfolded. But I’m going to buck that convention and skip from highlight to highlight instead. Although be warned readers, this trip was highlight-heavy, so hang on to your handlebars.

Pōwhiri at Kohunui Marae

Wairarapa
Soaking in the scenery beyond Cape Palliser

We were honoured to begin our guided journey with a pōwhiri, a traditional Māori welcome, at Kohunui Marae. With our guide Johnny Marshall (Ngāi Tūhoe) acting as our whaikōrero, when our group was called on to sing the waiata Green Jersey had asked us to learn, we sung with gusto. An incredibly powerful experience, as we sat in the whārenui where photos of the ancestors gazed down upon us; we were all moved to tears. Our tour group had only met that morning, but very quickly it was as if we’d been friends for years.

Lacewood Estate, Tuhitarata

Wairarapa
The team ready to roll for another day of pedal power

As is typical of guided rides, the first day is all about getting to know the group and your bike and for the tour leader to assess people’s capabilities. As such, on our first exploratory day, we rode an easy breezy 47km through charming Martinborough countryside. Following the handy yellow marker arrows, our first stop was Hamden Estate where we enjoyed a brief wine tasting with affable owner David. From there, we continued to 3 Little Words for lunch where a sumptuous platter was served, featuring everything from beef cheeks to venison, ceviche to wholesome salads. Saddling up for the day’s last leg, 15 more kilometres saw us arrive at Lacewood Estate, possibly one of the most exquisite accommodation and wedding venues I’ve ever laid on. Set beside a stand of original native forest, the well-groomed grounds also featured vast daisy bushes, immaculate lawns, and a handful of enchanting historic buildings, some dating back to 1870. That first night, Lacewood’s owners Janelle and Rob were on hand to serve a convivial three-course meal while simultaneously entertaining us with a conversation that was both meaningful and amusing.

Remutaka Cycle Trail, Maymorn to Featherston, 50km

We woke at Lacewood to birdsong and misty vistas, then after a hearty breakfast, we were transported by van across the Remutaka Ranges to rural Maymorn on the outskirts of Upper Hutt. Once unloaded, we took on one of Aotearoa’s most magnificent cycle trails. A route that follows historic rail lines, with hitching posts for horses, railway relics, and photogenic bridges, including the country’s oldest truss bridge. There are also several dramatic tunnels, such as portals to other worlds, and information panels that tell tales of early railway workers’ gruelling lives.

At the summit, we devoured delicious-packed lunches before descending via Featherston to Greytown. We relished this undulating single-track section as blasé stock grazed in paddocks strewn with vast round bales of hay. A quick stop at Featherston’s Fell Railway Museum, my mind was blown by a short documentary all about the railway workers, with its riveting historical footage. Vast engines puffing steam like dragons, the smoke so thick the drivers and engineers used to drop to the floor in the tunnels in search of breathable air. Us city slickers, we don’t know how lucky we are.

Wairarapa
The astonishing Cape Palliser view, looking at how far we’ve cycled

People and places

The Land Girl in Pirinoa is so much more than a café. Filled with art and knick-knacks, they also serve snacks and meals, with a flat white and scone just the ticket for morning tea. How lucky too, that we cycled with a support van, so I didn’t have to manage the enormous flamingo poster I bought there on my handlebars.

Saying farewell to Pirinoa, we pedalled on to Palliser Ridge Estate’s historic shearing shed. Built in 1918 during the flu epidemic, the shed smelt so good, of wool and wood. Greeted there by lively Lisa, we were charmed with tales of life on this regenerative farm. The Land Girl and Palliser Ridge both made lasting impressions, from the strong women who ensure these places run efficiently, to the vital roles the organisations play in ensuring their rural community thrives and stays connected.

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Explore: Waihi Beach

Waimeha Camping Village

Upon reaching the coast on day three, we were blown away by the vast ocean, where there’s nothing between the land and Antarctica. This coast is the epitome of rugged, with sections of the road eaten away by the elements, while nuggety old holiday homes hold fast to cliffs. A bold sign in one field declared prayer would bring us closer to God but trespassing would get us there faster. This wild coast is a magnet for surfers and fisher folk, seals, and cyclists. Chuffed to be spending a night at Waimeha Camping Village, our host John Priest was the personification of Christmas cheer, regaling his guests with stories, then instigating a game of Killer Pool, a round robin variation of the popular cue game with 20 players instead of two. Wonderfully lively, we eventually had to down our cues to enjoy a lavish meal that included freshly caught crayfish with a side order of sunset.

The Cookhouse @ Tora Station

Wairarapa
A feast of local goodness at Tora Cookhouse

Just 40km from Waimeha to Tora via rustic Ngāwi, this leg saw us ride along rutted roads, a dried-up riverbed, and a challenging shingle fan. Over certain corrugated sections, our bodies rattled, shuddered, and juddered but our reward was arriving at Tora Cookhouse. Dismounting in awe, we were thrilled to find a welcome repast had been laid out for us outside the 110-year-old farmhouse. This sublime spot sleeps 14 and is full of the original farming family’s treasures.

On our second night at these idyllic digs, farmer Tora stopped by to say gidday and to share a little bit about life on this station – a world where the postman not only delivers the mail, but he puts your milk in the fridge and your bread on the table; where doors are never locked and the person next door is more than just your neighbour. Tora Cookhouse is an oasis – a testament to days gone by.

The riding

Every day was an adventure, and each leg was so utterly different. With some of us on electric bikes and others on acoustic, we were mainly offroad and when we were on the roads, drivers were courteous and gave our high viz herd of humans a wide berth. Featuring coastal and rural riding, there were so many joys along the way. This has to be one of the most perfectly planned cycle itineraries in the country.

Stars in our eyes

Wairarapa
Astonishing stargazing and astronomy experiences with Under The Stars

In 2022, Wairarapa was declared a Dark Sky Reserve. We were delighted that astronomer Chris from Under the Stars stopped by after dark to take us on a tour of the heavens. Installed outside Tora Cookhouse with blankets and hot water bottles, Chris used his magic laser pointer to highlight planets, stars, and constellations. He also focused his impressive telescope on all manner of wonders, as light from across the galaxy made a rendezvous with our eyes, blowing our minds in the process.

Adorable animals

Wairarapa
A blubber seal barks on Brillo pad rocks

At Tora Cookhouse, an ewe and her lamb made a woolly welcome party of two. A chicken called Sarah also paid a visit, a wily red shaver well aware that townies are easy targets for scraps. At Waimeha Camping Village, Jack the giant pet pig ambled around, curly tail wagging, hopeful of a scratch behind the ears, while Waimeha’s resident dogs fell asleep together squished on a single armchair, waiting for their dad to put down his pool cue. We also loved the blubbery sleek bodies of surfing seals, oblivious to the Brillo pad rocks. A stampede of sheep, like a cloud of wool was also a hit, a troop of working dogs mustering them with ease. We were also entranced by a flock of frantic bumble bees pillaging pollen from poppies.

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Echoes of Waiuta's rich past

The food

Every single meal was excellent, from the build-your-own breakfasts to the packed lunches and dinners. Brac n Bow in Featherston is a magical place, with its ornate furnishings and full-size grand piano. No wonder Ed Sheeran likes to come here when he’s in town. Great food, too. The feasts at Waimeha, Lacewood, and 3 Little Words also deserve nods, as did the crayfish and pāua hors d’oeuvres at Tora cookhouse, courtesy of Johnny our host with the most

Johnny Marshall

Wairarapa
An aerial view of the stunning Ngāwi Coast

Last but not least, our guide Johnny couldn’t have been more genial, capable, or generous. With a quirky CV that includes bank manager and rugby player, this well-travelled fellow is also a fisherman, father, hunter/gatherer, and master carver. Johnny ensured we were safe and welcomed every step of the way, and I’ll never forget waking at Tora Cookhouse to spy him clad in a wetsuit holding the aforementioned crayfish and pāua. We were all just getting up as he was getting out of the ocean. Johnny’s kindness, along with the rest of the Green Jersey team, will never be forgotten. The only downside? Saying goodbye was a little emotional, but to sweeten the blow, we were all given Be Happy artisan chocolate, a handy puncture repair kit, and best of all, traditional Māori instruments, or taonga pūoro, made from shells Johnny had picked up from the beaches we’d passed.


Green Jersey, you deserve a gold star. There’s no better way to explore Wairarapa than by bicycle, with Green Jersey, a proud family-owned business offering incredibly well-thought-out tours around the region.

greenjersey.co.nz 

Wairarapa

Wairarapa is the only internationally recognised Dark Sky Reserve in the North Island and is the most accessible of the 21 protected Dark Sky Reserves in the world. Having official Dark Sky Reserve Status means the region is one of the best places in the world to view star-filled skies. Within 70 minutes of travel from the capital city, Wellington and the city’s international airport, the Dark Sky Reserve lies at the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail (State Highway 2), an exceptional food and wine trail.

Coming up

Plan your trip to Wairarapa now around one of these upcoming events:

Wairarapa Balloon Festival, Thursday 28 March to Monday 1 April 2024

A visual delight that includes lift-offs from different Wairarapa towns each morning and balloon competitions where balloonists show off their technical skills.

The National Tweed Ride, Saturday 30 March, Greytown

Dig out your finest tweed attire and cycle around Greytown’s beautiful tree-lined streets for a “jolly good” time with kindred spirits.

Hendrick’s Hootenanny, Saturday 30 March and Sunday 31 March, Greytown

Hendrick’s Hootenanny events over Easter Weekend include A Delightful Day on the Green, Razzle-Dazzle Gin Jubilation, and Hendrick’s Botanical Flash Fling on Easter Saturday and the Lusciously Long Quaffable Brunch on Easter Sunday.

Great Gladstone Plant Fair, Saturday 13 April, Gladstone

Visit four diverse gardens in and around Gladstone, meet and learn from the collective wisdom of the growers, and buy quality, hard-to-find plants grown for Wairarapa conditions.

Greytown Apple Harvest Festival at Molewood Orchard, Saturday 27 April, Greytown

A festival offering fun for adults and kids with stalls, food trucks, cider-tasting, apple cakes, games, toffee apples, pony rides, and much more, set on the Molewood Meadows – two beautiful green spaces at Molewood Orchard.

Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival 2024, Thursday 9 to Sunday 12 May

The annual Featherston Booktown Festival is a wonderful event filled with books, ideas, conversations, workshops, stories, provocation, and inspiration enjoyed by all ages with a line-up of inspiring presenters across many events.

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