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Wairarapa

 

Wairarapa

Wairarapa, in New Zealand's southern North Island, is a premium wine destination, renowned for Kiwi hospitality and a laid-back lifestyle. The region is a weekend favourite for fine food and wines, or nature trips to a national wildlife reserve, forest parks, and vast stretches of wild coast.

 

View Wairarapa region maps   

Maps and local travel information for Wairarapa.

Classic NZ Wine Trail

Wairarapa - renowned for producing high quality pinot noir - is at the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. Many vineyards are within walking distance of Martinborough village so visitors can stroll or cycle between wineries.

The Wairarapa region has many boutique accommodation options, and a vibrant café and dining scene. Artisan food producers offer a range of delicacies from gourmet bread, to chocolate, cheese and olive oil.

Nature and wildlife attractions include the Cape Palliser seal colony, rare native bird species at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, and many nature tracks.


 

Wairarapa - Martinborough diners
Wairarapa - Martinborough diners
 

Heritage

Māori settlement in the Wairarapa goes back a long way. Archaeologists believe that parts of the Wairarapa coast have been occupied for more than 800 years.

Wairarapa means ‘land of the glistening waters’. According to Māori legend, the North Island is the fish - Te Ika a Maui - that Maui hooked from his boat (the South Island). Palliser Bay is the mouth of the fish, and Lake Wairarapa is the eye.

British explorer James Cook sailed the Wairarapa coast in 1770 and named the southern part after his friend and patron, Sir Hugh Palliser. The first European settlers arrived in 1841.

Farming, arduous work in early times, developed the region. Early farming history records how, in 1844, settlers drove a flock of sheep along Wellington’s southern coast, herded the sheep on the beach to Palliser Bay, and carried each animal through the rocks and surf at Mukamuka.

Settlers built roads and railways in the 1870s, clearing the ‘40-mile bush’ of forests for farms, roads and railways. The 1:15 gradient Rimutaka Incline - one of the world's steepest railways - was completed in 1877, linking Wairarapa to Wellington.


Wairarapa - Castlepoint lighthouse
Wairarapa - Castlepoint lighthouse
 

Food and Wine

Wairarapa is acclaimed for its pinot noir wine, but the long hot summers, dry autumn and gravelly soils also favour other varietals including aromatic riesling and pinot gris.

Martinborough and Greytown - both renowned for their artisan food producers - are popular destinations for foodies looking for a restaurant or café, or a food and wine tour that goes behind the scenes to meet producers and sample local produce.

The village of Martinborough has leisurely wine tours, with many wineries a short walk or cycle ride from the picturesque village square. Greytown is a Victorian village offering sophisticated shopping. The region is also home to Tui Brewery, a Kiwi icon with museum, café and tours.

Diners can match local food and wine at fine dining and vineyard restaurants, or casual cafés. Award-winning restaurants include Bar Saluté in Greytown.


Wairarapa - Dine in the vine
Wairarapa - Dine in the vine
 

Luxury

A slower pace of life, natural beauty and indulgent food and wine options make the Wairarapa an ideal luxury stay destination.

The Wairarapa offers accommodation options ranging from high-end lodges and luxury B&B to self-catered accommodation.

Wharekauhau Country Estate, on a 5000-acre working sheep station overlooking Palliser Bay, is one of New Zealand’s top lodges. Tailored activities include exclusive farm tours, spa treatments, horse treks and fine dining.


Wairarapa - shopping in Greytown
Wairarapa - shopping in Greytown
 

Nature and Wildlife

The Wairarapa’s great outdoors - rural farming landscape, rugged coastline and expansive forest park areas - set the scene for nature and wildlife attractions.

Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre is an important sanctuary for rare and endangered native birds - including kiwi, kokako and kaka - and a must-see nature experience. Wildlife spotters can view fur seals at Cape Palliser, especially during the October to January breeding season.

Aorangi, Rimutaka and Tararua forest parks, and the Lake Wairarapa Moana wetlands have many walking tracks. Sunrise at Castlepoint with its lighthouse and Castle Rock is a dramatic coastal experience.

Outdoor activities include surfing at Castlepoint, cycling on trails and quiet rolling country roads, and surf-casting at Riversdale and Castlepoint beaches.


Wairarapa - kaka parrot
Wairarapa - kaka parrot
 

DID YOU KNOW

  • A southern hemisphere version of Stonehenge opened near Carterton in 2005. Stonehenge Aotearoa - a full-scale replica of the original stone circle - incorporates ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and Indus Valley astronomy, Polynesian navigation, and Celtic and Māori star lore.
  • British patriot and farmer John Martin designed Martinborough’s central streets in the shape of a Union Jack.
  • Putangirua Pinnacles - seen in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - are 1000-plus years old. The formation, sculpted by heavy rain erosion on soft rocks, loses 1cm per year.
  • Toast Martinborough, a wine and food festival that attracts more than 10,000 people each November, is the Wairarapa’s best known major event.