Summer highlights from the Wairarapa

Just over an hour’s drive from Wellington, over the Remutaka Hill, is the sprawling countryside of the Wairarapa, comprising of the villages of Featherston (famous for the number of book shops per head of population), Martinborough (wine village), Greytown (boutique shops), Carterton (with Stone Henge Aotearoa close by) and the larger town of Masterton.

This summer, after celebrating Christmas Day in Wellington, we headed over the hill for a few days, enjoying plunging into crystal clear rivers for a dip, dining on tasty sensations in Martinborough restaurants and vineyards, taking time to enjoy yard games together and relax with a good book.

We returned for New Year’s Eve, as one of our daughters had a party to be at, and then on New Year’s Day I took a young guest and another young friend over the hill for some fun days sight seeing. It was lovely to take them on the Pinnacles Walk, to see Cape Palliser Lighthouse, the seal colony, Waiohine Gorge and the vineyards. We had so much fun!

Here’s some of our highlights…

Swimming in the emerald green and crystal clear waters of the Waiohine River.

We parked up at Waiohine Gorge, near the campsite, and the gateway to many beautiful hikes in Tararua Forest Park. From the carpark there are two trails, one leading across the swing bridge – which is the starting point of many exciting walks, and the other path leads down toward an idyllic spot for swimming in the river. The views from the swing bridge are stunning.

The short bush walk down to the swimming area envelops you in nature, the trees and ferns providing a sense of calm and I could feel myself deeply inhaling all the green goodness and breathing out any tension I was holding (mostly from the drive along the narrow gravel road to where we parked up!).

When we got to the rocky beach area we didn’t hang about, but dumped our clothes and dived into the crystal cold waters of the river before we wimped out. The water is cold, but we are used to swimming off the south coast of Wellington and getting in quick and keeping the body moving is a well practiced art for us! The water was so clear and clean that it felt like we were being cleansed in a giant bath (just what we needed after a little seasonal over indulgence!). Our daughter Sophie swam to the other side and climbed up the rocks to dive off. She managed to persuade me to climb up too, but not as high, and then I nervously jumped off (but didn’t win any style points!).

Visiting a lavender farm.

Summer is the time for picking berries and visiting lavender farms and on this trip we headed to the beautiful Ranui Essentials Lavender Farm, which is set back on an elevated position looking toward to the wine village of Martinborough.

We walked through the beautiful rows of lavender, listening to the melodic hum of contented bees, and admiring the varieties of lavender. The owners have planted over 30 different varieties in amongst their 3000 plants and make some beautiful products from the lavender oil, which they harvest in their distillery mid January.

Dining at vineyards and scrumptious restaurants.

We always enjoy dining out when we visit the Wairarapa and the Martinborough wine village has some excellent places to dine, as well as the wonderful vineyards. On this occasion we enjoyed a lovely meal at the Crouching Tiger, located in Martinborough village, and a very special evening, the night before New Year’s Eve, at ‘York Bistro‘, which is part of the Parehua Resort.

With my young friends we visited Columbo for a lovely platter and flight of wine, followed by an impromptu yoga pose in the vines (the wine was good!). I also took our visitors to Waiohine Gorge (the first dip with my family was so good that I had to go back!), followed by a scrumptious seasonal platter at beautiful Poppies vineyard.

Walking the Putangirua Pinnacles

An hour’s drive south of Martinborough the Putangirua Pinnacles Reserve is a stunning spot with incredible geological rock formations, captured in The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King. The rock formations are one of New Zealand’s best examples of badlands erosion. They consist of a large number of earth pillars or hoodoos located at the head of a valley in the Aorangi Ranges, on the North Island of New Zealand, in the Wellington region.

Visiting a seal colony and historic lighthouse

Further along the coast road from the Pinnacles is Cape Palliser, home to the North Island’s largest seal colony and a lighthouse that’s worth climbing the 253 steps for views along the coastline. The cast iron Cape Palliser lighthouse has stood on the cliffs here since 1897. Early lighthouse keepers had to haul oil and kerosene cans up a dirt track before the steps went in! 

The coastline here is stunningly beautiful and very rugged in parts, the coast road frequently experiences wash outs.

Seals in the foreground and ruggedly stunning coastline of Cape Palliser

We saw so many seals on our visit, and there were so many adorable pups.

The Wairarapa is a stunningly rural area with so much charm and we always enjoy our visits there. When we aren’t sight seeing we enjoy relaxing and strolling the quiet roads of Martinborough, playing in the park as the sunsets and swimming in the outdoor community pool, which is free and open from November to March.

From bush-clad ranges to the west, and sweeping flat plains with charming villages in the centre, to a rugged coast on the east, the Wairarapa offers a perfect getaway from Wellington and provides lots of inspiration for my nature journal too.