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Wairarapa's wild coastline is full of adventures waiting to be explored: be captivated by an historic lighthouse, the North Island's largest fur seal colony, a quaint fishing village, and breathtaking rock formations, combined with stunning sea views as far as the eye can see. A day trip or an overnight stay is the perfect complement to your Wellington stay - and here's how to do it.
Here’s our ultimate guide on how to experience everything the region has to offer.
Wairarapa is home to a variety of artisan producers and winemakers who draw inspiration from the lush landscapes that surround the region. Their award-winning food and beverages are just the thing to pack a picnic basket full of local delights.
C'est Cheese, 19 Fitzherbert Street, Featherston
Just an hour from Wellington you’ll reach the first stop after the Remutaka Hill, Featherston's popular cheese shop C'est Cheese. Owner Paul Broughton offers something for every set of tastebuds: from cumin-flecked gouda to French-style blues. C'est Cheese also stocks New Zealand salamis and exquisite local olive oils, as well as fresh sourdough made by a local bakery.
The Wine Bank, 1-3 Memorial Square, Martinborough
Have you heard about Martinborough's famous pinot noir? At The Wine Bank you can try over 60 wines from the region and throughout New Zealand, in the graceful surrounds of a historic Bank of New Zealand building that has been refurbished into a modern wine tasting experience.
Browse from award winning labels, single vineyards, and reserve wines from boutique wineries, including some that don't have cellar doors. Serve yourself using the state-of-the-art dispensers: start with a taster and upgrade to a full glass if you find something you like. Then sit back in the luxuriously cosy lounge and enjoy tasting plates created to complement the wines.
Once you venture out of the townships, you enter a world that is untouched and remote. Stock up on coffee, lunch or picnic supplies at the last cafe before reaching the coast.
The Land Girl, Lake Ferry Road
En-route to Cape Palliser, The Land Girl is a café full of country charm, just 20 minutes south of Martinborough. This former blacksmith's shop in the small settlement of Pirinoa focuses on great coffee and simple, yet delicious home-made food. Owner Andrea Didsbury has a passion for upholstery and local craft - reflected in the upcycled furniture and jewellery, trendy homewares and quirky books for sale. Relax on the couch with an espresso and slice of cake or enjoy lunch outside and watch the farm animals while the kids explore the garden playhouse.
An hour's drive from Martinborough, the road to Cape Palliser is dramatically scenic. For the final part of the journey, the road clings to the edge of the coast, providing non-stop sea views of Palliser Bay. This area has a rich history of early Maori occupation, as well as being an important place in recent European history.
At the end of the road, you'll find the cast-iron Cape Palliser lighthouse. Standing tall on the cliffs here since 1897, it still shines to this day. Climb the 253 steps to see it up close, and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic sea views. Cape Palliser is also home to the North Island's largest fur seal colony, and you’ll see them swimming and lounging around on the rocks all along the road. If you’re visiting between November to January you might just spot some pups too.
Along the way you'll also discover the Putangirua Pinnacles, some of the most amazing rock formations you will ever see. The filmmaking legend Peter Jackson thought so, too - the Pinnacles were used as a location for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Put on some sturdy walking shoes, pack some water and snacks, and don't forget your camera, as you head out on a two-hour return walk. You have two options – an easily-graded bushwalk to a lookout above the Pinnacles, or a walk up the gently-sloping streambed to the base of the Pinnacles where you can marvel at the majestic natural wonder.
Rugged and isolated, Ngawi is a quirky fishing village on Cape Palliser Road. With more bulldozers per head of population than anywhere else in the world, watch as these trusty old machines haul fishing boats in and out of the wild waves of the Cook Strait.
Each summer, Ngawi hosts the 'Big 3' fishing competition, where locals and visitors compete for the best snapper, kahawai and kingfish catches. Ngawi is also home to the southernmost golf course in the North Island; nine holes of square greens mown into beach-side grass – a unique golfing experience.
Whether you’re self-driving or on a tour, Wairarapa is easy to get to from Wellington.
Just over an hour's drive from Wellington, Wairarapa makes a perfect day trip from the capital. Starting from the city, you'll drive out through the Hutt Valley along the picturesque Hutt River and up and over the Remutaka Hill. Stop at the summit to take in the impressive views of the Wairarapa, before you head to Featherston.
While visiting the Wairarapa is an easy day trip, why stop there? Extend your adventure into an overnight stay with the variety of quality accommodation on offer across the region. We recommend a stay at Palliser Ridge, a working sheep and beef station that offers secluded accommodation with incredible views. After a day of exploring, hop into their log-burner heated hot tub with a glass of Martinborough pinot noir, and watch the sun go down as you listen to the birdlife in the surrounding native bush. There's one word to describe this: bliss.
Or why not head back to Martinborough and spend the night surrounded by the vines at Peppers Parehua, or enjoy the character and charm of the boutique Martinborough Hotel, with everything this wine village has to offer right on your doorstep.
You don’t need your own vehicle to still enjoy all that the coast has to offer.
Book in for a guided tour from Wellington to Cape Palliser with the Hammonds Palliser Bay: Off the Beaten Track tour. This full-day tour includes a visit to the Lord of the Rings filming site for Rivendell in Kaitoke Regional Park, before continuing to see Cape Palliser lighthouse, the fur seal colony, stunning coastal views, and a stop at the local hotel for lunch. The tour also includes a stop in Martinborough for a wine tasting at a local vineyard before returning to Wellington.
Another great option is Green Jersey’s Cape Palliser Explorer tour, which includes a walk up to the Cape Palliser lighthouse, a guided walk into the Putangirua Pinnacles, a visit to the fur seal colony, plenty of photo stops along the coast, and a stop at the Lake Ferry hotel for the best fish and chips around! You can start the tour in Martinborough at Green Jersey’s base, or take the train from Wellington and Green Jersey will collect you at Featherston train station.