The bottom-right region of New Zealand’s North Island is famous for its wineries, but there’s so much more to see. New Zealand’s very own Stonehenge, for starters! Here’s our list of what to do in the Wairarapa:
1) Go for a meal in Martinborough
Martinborough is a pleasant town surrounded by vineyards, centred on a perfectly square village green. There isn’t a lot to it, but what little there is looks lovely. Its vintage colonial buildings house a few fancy food and fashion boutiques, including a delightful Victorian-style sweet shop. It also has a handful of rather good restaurants. (We went to one with a charming courtyard called Pinnochio – the fare was divine.) Of course, if none of the restaurants in the middle of Martinborough excite you, remember all the wineries to choose from on the periphery!
2) Gander at the antique buildings in Greytown
Greytown boasts the most complete street of wooden nineteenth-century buildings in New Zealand. As such, it’s terribly picturesque to wander down. It has nice cafés and posh shops – don’t miss the tiny, yet glorious Schoc Chocolates, which makes its own chocolate onsite! (Our favourite of all their weird and wonderful flavours was the Earl Grey tea dark chocolate.) This chocolate shop happens to be next to the quaint Cobblestones Museum, which contains a whole village of more nineteenth-century buildings. It’s so idyllic that weddings are held there.
3) Trek up to the Putangirua Pinnacles
It’s a tough hike up a river to get to them, but the Putangirua Pinnacles are something else! The eerily eroded columns could almost be from another world, which is probably why they were used as a Lord of the Rings filming location. You know what strangely paced bit in The Return of the King where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli fetch that ghost army to fight at Minas Tirith? Well, even if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, the pinnacles are worth seeing. It’s simply not the sort of landscape you see every day.
4) Continue on to Cape Palliser
After walking the pinnacles track, continue driving along the North Island’s southern-most coast until you reach Cape Palliser. Here, you’ll find a colony of New Zealand fur seals and a somewhat striking lighthouse. You can climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse, but it may prove a bit much to try both this and the pinnacles in a single day! Thankfully, right on the coast between the pinnacles and the lighthouse, there’s a fantastic place you can spend the night for free, the Ngawi Camping Area. Imagine watching the wild waves from within the comfort of your campervan…
5) Ponder the meaning of Stonehenge
Yes, you can visit Stonehenge in New Zealand’s Wairarapa. I know what you’re thinking – it’s a tacky replica of the real Stonehenge in Britain, right? Nope! It’s a unique stone circle, built by astronomers to be an accurate calendar for its particular place in the world. It was built on about the same scale as the original Stonehenge, however, so it still has the wow factor. Stonehenge Aotearoa is also a great educational destination for kids.
Here’s a 3-day itinerary suggestion for the Wairarapa:
Day 1 – Visit Stonehenge in the morning, have lunch in Greytown, spend the afternoon at the museum, have dinner in Martinborough and sleep at the Martinborough Top 10 Holiday Park.
Day 2 – Trek up to the pinnacles in the morning and have a picnic lunch amongst them before trekking back down again, do some late-afternoon seal watching at Cape Palliser, have dinner in your campervan and sleep in the Ngawi Camping Area.
Day 3 – Climb the lighthouse in the morning before returning to civilisation.