Wairarapa Media Facts
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Wairarapa Media Facts
The population of Wairarapa is 44,905.
The Wairarapa is one of the longest-settled regions of New Zealand, and the southern coastline has the remnants of once extensive Maori garden plots. European settlers established the first New Zealand sheep station on the plains south of Martinborough, and the townships of Greytown and Masterton were the first planned inland towns in the country. Lake Wairarapa, in the south of the region, is referred to as one of the eyes of Maui’s fish in Maori mythology while its surrounding land has a fascinating and complex history: www.library.mstn.govt.nz/history/index.html
Getting to the Wairarapa:
The Wairarapa is just over an hour’s drive from the Wellington International Airport and inter-Island ferry connections. Palmerston North airport is just 90 minutes from masterton which makes the Wairarapa one of very few regions in the country which can talk of such airport accessibility. There is also a train service between Wellington and the Wairarapa towns of Featherston, Greytown Carterton and Masterton while a bus operates between the Featherston Railway Station and Martinborough and Greytown. The region is ideal for a day trip from Wellington - here's how.
The Wairarapa is a region of big skies, wide valleys and characterful small towns. As you arrive via the Remutaka Pass the Wairarapa valley opens up before you, fringed by mountains to the west and rugged coast to the east. The place Maori called “Land of Glistening Waters” is made up of five towns: Martinborough, Featherston, Greytown, Carterton and Masterton. Wairarapa is considered to be one of New Zealand’s top food and wine destinations and is at the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. The region is at the very centre of one of NZ's Great Rides - the Remutaka Cycle Trail.
Packed with colonial charm, Martinborough features over 20 wineries, most within walking distance of the quaint village square which is laid out in a Union Jack pattern. Some of New Zealand’s best pinot noir comes from the town’s friendly family-owned vineyards. With the small vineyards being so close to each other cycling-the-vines is a very popular thing to do in the town: this and the colonial style of the village make Martinborough special for wine tourists.
The town is a popular weekend destination for Wellingtonians, who enjoy the premium wines, vineyard cafes, boutique stores, quality accommodation, olive groves and award-winning restaurants. Small group guided wine tours include Martinborough Gourmet Wine tour. Guided or self guided cycling tours are available.
Featherston is home to the world’s only Fell Engine, and the gateway to the wild stretch of cliffs, rocks and water that is Palliser Bay. It’s one of the region’s highlights with an historic lighthouse, native fur seals and the Putangirua Pinnacles, which provided an eerie backdrop in Sir Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King movie. Featherston is a Booktown: home to an annual festival celebrating everything to do with books, writers and reading. Featherston Booktown is part of a global concept, with the most famous booktown being Hay-on-Wye in the UK. Check out the growing number of book stores open all year round Featherston.
Greytown is a Victorian country village with metropolitan style. It’s the kind of place where you don’t want to forget your credit card because its eclectic mix of independent boutiques, art galleries, antique stores and cafes make it one of New Zealand’s premiere shopping destinations. Gourmet chocolate studio, Schoc Chocolates, is based here. The Soldiers Memorial Park is another feature - 117 lime trees were planted here in 1922 to commemorate the 117 soldiers from the Greytown community that died in WW1.
Carterton is a hot spot for art and craft lovers and near Stonehenge Aotearoa, a modern, working version of England’s Stonehenge. It is also the gateway to the northern Wairarapa town’s of Gladstone, a wine producing area.
Masterton is the Wairarapa’s largest town. There you can find the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park, The Wool Shed - the National Museum of Sheep and Shearing and Aratoi: Wairarapa Museum of Art & History. Masterton is also a great base to explore nearby Castlepoint, Wairarapa’s most spectacular beach. The road north offers rich pickings with Pukaha National Wildlife Centre, where you'll learn about their conservation work and possibly see birds with their chicks in the aviaries. You may also come across wild birds in the forest such as the titipounamu (rifleman), kārearea (New Zealand falcon) and the kererū (wood pigeon). You may also see advocacy birds like Kahurangi the kōkako.
Must do’s in the Wairarapa
Wine & Food
The Wairarapa is recognised as a boutique food producer and wine tourism destination. It is central to the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, an unforgettable wine and food experience along a signposted 380km (240 mile) route. Download more information about the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail from Hawkes Bay to Marlborough here. Wairarapa’s food highlights include Schoc Chocolates, Olivo olive oil, Medici Cafe in Martinborough, Tirohana, Union Square and The White Swan.
The region offers wine lovers the unique experience of buying directly from the person who makes them through the cellar door. Martinborough, which is internationally renown for its Pinot Noir, features over 20 vineyards – many with cellar doors – while further up the valley in the wine growing areas of Gladstone, Opaki and Masterton around 10 wineries offer the same relaxed appeal.
Several Wairarapa food producers offer short, interesting tours and tastings. A great small group tour, starting with a train trip from Wellington is the Martinborough Gourmet Wine tour.
Highlights of the Wairarapa’s wild and diverse landscape include:
•The southern coastline boasts Cape Palliser which has the largest colony of native fur seals easily viewed from the roadside. The nearby Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve with its unique geological rock formations is an unusual half-day walk. The Cape Palliser lighthouse, with its red and white stripes, was recently voted one of 15 New Zealand sights that make the 100 top-10 lists of the world's must-sees by global travel guide publisher Lonely Planet.
•The Castlepoint Scenic Reserve, 45 minutes from Masterton, this distinctive lighthouse is easy accessible via a short walk. The soft white sand, lagoon and reef are popular as is the track up to Castle Rock.
•Mataikona: is a 10-minute drive north from Castlepoint. Its rocks are set like waves of stone. The beach is a favourite for crayfish and paua collectors and for school children to study the rocky shore. There are a handful of baches available.
•Riversdale: a wide sweeping beach south of Castlepoint. At low tide many hectares of rocks are exposed at either end of the bay creating a family playground for fishing, snorkelling and cray fishing or larger rocky outcrops creating sheltered inlets and rock pools, which are ideal for launching small boats to fish the many reefs. There is also a golf course, general store and the Whareama Coastal Walk www.whareamawalk.co.nz, which sit alongside the more established Tora Coastal Walk www.toracoastalwalk, which celebrated 15 years of operation in 2010.
•Pukaha National Wildlife Centre, 20 minutes north of Masterton, is conserving some of New Zealand’s most rare and endangered wildlife and is of nationwide significance. It also features a Kiwi House which includes enlarged Kiwi enclosures, a Kiwi incubator and brooding rooms where Kiwi hatch, are hand raised and fed from October to April (breeding season). The facility also includes a 50 seat theatre continuously screening three short films. Visitors can walk tour through native bush, enjoy talk, and take in comprehensive information and the café. www.pukaha.org.nz
•The Tararua Forest Park provides the people of Wellington, Wairarapa, Horowhenua and Manawatu an outstanding variety of tramping, hunting and walking opportunities. There are several access points from the Wairarapa including the main entrance to Mt Holdsworth.
Dark Sky Tourism
The stars are aligning for Wairarapa as we become astro-tourism central. Just an hour over the spectacular Remutaka Hill from Wellington, Wairarapa is possibly the most accessible dark sky destination in the world. With remarkably low light pollution, some pretty cool star-crazy locals and the region's location at the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail SH2, the sky is the limit.
In January 2023 the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) signed off accreditation for an area covering the South Wairarapa and Carterton districts as a Dark Sky Reserve. Wairarapa's proximity to Wellington is an exceptional point of difference for star lovers – the new Reserve (one of only two in NZ) is one that's not off the beaten track and arguably, the most accessible of the 21 protected Dark Sky Reserves in the world.
- Stonehenge - New Zealand's only open air hands-on astronomical observatory, providing insight into star signs, navigation and the seasons by the stars.
- Star Safari - Learn about the universe from experienced space science communicators Hari and Sam, with powerful telescopes that enable you to take a fascinating tour of the night sky.
- Under the Stars - Nomadic astronomy tours in the Wairarapa with professional astronomer for stargazing, consultations, and education for special events. They come to you with all the equipment needed for a memorable night.
Other night sky attractions
Although Wairarapa's pristine night skies are there to be enjoyed by everyone, some tourism operators are making it an even more memorable experience because of their stunning location – Whitimanuka Retreat, Palliser Ridge, Wharekauhau Lodge.
Wine, walking, cycling . . . there's nothing that can't be linked to the skies if you use a bit of imagination.
- At Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre the stars will more likely be glow worms on a night tour which brings the native nightlife out for a different side of New Zealand's natural bush.
New Zealand Cycle Trail and Touring Routes
The 115km Remutaka Cycle Trail) a ‘Great Ride’ on Nga Haerenga, the NZ Cycle Trail, begins at Petone’s Foreshore in Wellington and features four stages that takes riders in a clockwise loop north up the Hutt Valley, through the Remutaka Ranges via the historic railway route know as the Remutaka Rail Trail before entering the Wairarapa Valley at Cross Creek. Riders can then turn left and follow the 9km limestone cycle way to the township of Featherston where they can refuel at one of the many cafes. Or they can turn south following the shore of Lake Wairarapa before coming out at Ocean Beach and weaving around the stunning South Coast to the end of the trail at Orongorongo. Here they can be met by either Rimutaka Shuttles or Hutt City Taxis who make the trip out the meeting point via Coast Road from Wainuiomata. Riders are encouraged to plan their journey as either a one-day, two-day or three-day ride, this way they can see more of the region including the nearby wine village of Martinborough.
Connecting touring routes to the Remutaka Cycle Trail include the 190km Wairarapa Valley Trail from the Palmerston North Square to the Remutaka Rail Trail; the 202km Route 52 Trail linking Waipukurau to Masterton and the 67km Wairarapa Valley Cycleway linking Masterton with the Remutaka (Rimutaka) Cycle Trail via Gladstone, Martinborough and Lake Wairarapa.
The Wairarapa is one of New Zealand’s most popular road cycling destinations thanks to its quiet, rolling country roads that weave through farmland, vineyards and olive groves.
Each week local cycling clubs hold races at different locations throughout the Wairarapa, and the established Wellington based Port Nicholson Poneke Cycle Club regularly visits the region for their group rides.
Cycle the Vines
Visitors can discover Martinborough’s vineyards and olive groves by biking the short distance between them all. There are bike hire companies in the wine village. Opaki, 5 minutes north of Masterton has vineyards, groves and orchards. Hire a bike, grab a map and head off on a self-guided cycle tour.
Rivenrock is a Mountain Bike Park designed and built by specilist trail builders and in conjunction with professional downhill riders. Located 15 minutes from Carterton and Masterton and 90 minutes from Wellington, it offers kilometres of exhilarating trails catering for all riding levels. Rivenrock details are here.
Family Friendly Rides
The 10km (return trip) Greytown-Woodside Trail follows the original branch line that connects Greytown with the historic Woodside Station. It is well signposted from the centre of town in Cotter Street. It is a flat, limestone path that weaves under an avenue of oak trees and has beautiful views of the Tararua Range and Gladstone hills.
The Masterton Recreation Trail network is a shared use path for walkers and cyclists. The network stretches from Akura Road and follows the south bank of the Waipoua River winding past the Queen Elizabeth Park swing bridge, the deer park and the BMX track. At Colombo Road, it’s just a quick hop across the road to enter the Henley Lake walkways trail. These flat tracks snake around the lake, surrounding wetlands and Kids Park. This trail also links to the Lansdowne Recreational Trail.
The Carterton Mountain Biking Track is at the end of Dalefield Road in Carterton. This is a fantastic mountain bike track suitable for the whole family.
Blackwell & Sons cycling lifestyle merchants
Global brand Pashley Cycles, England’s longest established bicycle manufacturer, are available in NZ exclusively through the exquisite Blackwell and Sons store in Greytown. www.blackwellandsons.nz
Only in the Wairarapa
Situated 10 minutes from Carterton, Stonehenge Aotearoa is a window into the past where visitors can rediscover the knowledge of their ancestors. Built on the same scale as Stonehenge in England, Stonehenge Aotearoa is not a replica. It is a complete and working structure designed and built for its precise location. People can explore the mysteries of our past and learn how early cultures, including New Zealand Maori, used the Sun, Moon and stars for life and survival. Stonehenge Aotearoa is often used for seasonal celebrations and festivals. www.stonehenge-aotearoa.co.nz
Drive north of Masterton to Mangatainoka, home of Tui HQ, a legendary Kiwi brewery. You can take a tour (needs to be booked), enjoy a tasting and a browse through the museum and store. There is also a café and retail outlet. www.tuihq.co.nz
Wairarapa hosts a huge range of events: highlights are;
Wings Over Wairarapa, held at Hood Aerodrome in Masterton, features rarely seen vintage aircraft from last century including original WWI and WWII aircraft as well as fantastic displays of contemporary aircraft. Held every second year. www.wings.org.nz
Toast Martinborough, is held on the third Sunday in November in the wine village of Martinborough. Toast celebrates the release of the new vintage and pairs each of the 12 participating vineyards with some of the finest restaurants from Wellington and Wairarapa and live music. Festival goers can stroll easily between wineries or jump on free shuttle buses that circulate constantly. With each vineyard encouraged to express its own personality, punters can soak up a variety of atmospheres during the day - from sophisticated and stylish through to relaxed or pumping with energy. www.toastmartinborough.co.nz
Wairarapa Wines Harvest Festival, held each March at the spectacular ‘Cliffs’ riverside reserve in Gladstone, showcases award winning Wairarapa wineries and high profile restaurants and local food producers. Its laid back atmosphere, stunning setting and memorable entertainment provides an opportunity for town and country to come together. www.wairarapaharvestfestival.co.nz
The annual Wairarapa Balloon Festival attracts hot air balloons from throughout New Zealand for four days of spectacular competitions and displays. Uncontrolled airspace and the absence of a major airport in the Wairarapa gives balloon pilots more freedom than at many other events. www.nzballoons.co.nz
A unique country horse racing experience awaits visitors every year at the picturesque Tauherenikau Racecourse near Featherston. Visitors can picnic under Kahikatea and Totara trees and watch the racing each November, January and February.
The region’s wineries also provide a stunning backdrop for many outdoor concerts or theatrical show, especially during the summer months. These feature both international and national musicians and draw large crowds to the Wairarapa.
Arts & Crafts
ARATOI: Wairarapa's Museum of Art and History, Masterton
Aratoi is a modern museum and art gallery in the centre of Masterton. It continually delights with its interesting and diverse collections of exhibitions that showcase the region’s past, present and future. www.aratoi.org.nz
Over the last decade Carterton has established a thriving arts and crafts community. Many sculptors, artists, painters, potters and writers have been attracted here and to the stunning and varied landscape and inclusive community spirit.