Where do you go for a weekend away when you live in Wellington, I hear you ask? As every Wellingtonian will tell you, you go up “over the hill” (The Rimutaka Hill) to the beautiful and rugged Wairarapa region.
Wairarapa is just an hours drive from Wellington but it feels worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of busy central Wellington. Driving to Wairarapa (hire a car from Wellington) is an adventure in itself, as you drive over windy Rimutaka Hill make sure you stop by and make time to complete the Rimutaka Trig Walk. The walk only takes about an hour and on a clear day you can see some spectacular views of Wellington and the Wairarapa region – it truly is spectacular. You can also get to Wairarapa by train (get off at Featherston) but we suggest taking your bikes and packing up your car for the weekend as the Wairarapa region is quite remote and having your own car and bikes will make this charming place more accessible.
Check out our fun video of our time in Wairarapa!
1 – Martinborough
Your first port of call should most certainly be Wairarapa’s wine capital Martinborough. A small town with a lot of charm and character plus it is home to some of the best wines in NZ! When we visited last, we stayed at The Martinborough Hotel, which if you are not staying in – you should definitely stop in for a drink before you go check out the square and the rest of the town.
Wairarapa’s vineyards in Martinborough are all in really close proximity to each other. The easiest way to go between them is with a bike or arrange a tour (Green Jersey Cycle Tours & Bike Hire are great) though I guess if you are not drinking wine then you could drive around – but where is the fun in that? You can’t really get lost in Martinborough, it’s a small town, you’ll be fine! To reach to vineyards head towards Princess Street you can do the circle in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. Most of the vineyards offer $5 tasting and serve scrumptious food – you can’t go wrong! If you are coming to Martinborough in the summer you will always find an event on – there is always Wairarapa events running almost weekly!
We also had the pleasure of visiting Poppies. Poppies is run by husband and wife team Poppy and Shayne Hammond. They have developed a destination vineyard that every Wellingtonian seems to love! We popped in (no pun intended!) for tastings and to have lunch. We enjoyed the best platter of food and a couple of fantastic glasses of wine and would strongly recommend dropping in.
Top Tip: This place is definitely worth a visit but please do book in advance especially at lunch times, as they are very busy!
2 – Driving to Cape Palliser
Wairarapa is lighthouse land! Cape Palliser is THE lighthouse to visit, it is the North Island’s most Southerly point. The road to Cape Palliser has the water on one side and breathtaking scenery on the other, we must have pulled over about 10 times to take it in and get some snaps.
Top Tip: Make sure you stop at Ngawi, a very rural fishing village right on the beach. There is a lot of scenic beauty to see here along with a large number of what looks like (but are not) neglected tractors/ parked on the beach.
Once you reach the end of the road (which turns into a dirt track) you have to climb over 250 steps to the top. Here you feel like you are literally at the end of the world
Along the drive back you will come across a fur Seal Colony they really are mesmerising to watch, especially the babies! Make sure you stop and see these smelly sea beasts. But please give the seals space, they are after all wild animals with huge teeth. Oh, by the way they are also used to a diet that doesn’t include sandwiches.
3 – The Putangirua Pinnacles
A geological formation and one of New Zealand’s best examples of bad ass badlands erosion. After Martinborough, The Pinnacles walk is the next most popular thing to do in the Wairarapa. You can do this walk by parking at the DOC campsite here. The walk/hike takes around 3-4 hours return and there are two routes you can take. The high/bush track which is shady (good for a hot, hot day) but also steep and challenging in places, the common route which is a much easier route follows the river bed. In the summer the river bed is more like a trickle so you won’t even get wet socks!
Top Tip: There is little shelter from the sun when you reach The Pinnacles, especially when the sun is high in the sky. So take some sun cream and suitable clothing.
4 – Lake Ferry
Lake Ferry is worth the drive. We went out in the evening, to watch the sunset and have a stroll along the beach. Sounds romantic ey?! We also stopped for dinner at the Lake Ferry Hotel.
There isn’t much to do at Lake Ferry – unless you have your rod and a boat. But the place is really beautiful, the beach stretches for miles and the Lake Ferry Hotel is well situated for windy days. We had some great freshly caught fish for dinner, that along with a nice refreshing pint made our excursion to Lake Ferry extra special.
5 – Castlepoint
Castlepoint is worth the detour! From Martinborough, we stopped in the quaint town of Greytown along the route for a spot of coffee before heading to Masterton and fueling up. From Masterton, Castlepoint is an hours drive.
Castlepoint is Bach haven (what the Coromandel is to Aucklanders). We arrived on a beautiful but windy day. The journey up to the lighthouse involved both walking and some gentle climbing – nothing challenging and has the most incredible views of NZ’s eastern coastline. We took a picnic, pitched up on the beach and watched the world go by.
A perfect beach day before heading back to the city lights!
Top Tip: If you need to find somewhere to stay when you visit then we highly recommend booking your accommodation in advance, it’s important not to under estimate how busy NZ gets between September and March each year. We suggest checking out BookaBach (private homes often not found on AirBnB) or this link to find out instant availability of the motels/hotels/guest houses in the area.
Want to check out more of our travelling adventures or simply want ideas on where to go next? Check out our Travel Map for more tips and advice on travelling around New Zealand!