THE WAIRARAPA REGION
Inland from this eastern coastline of the North Island, south of Hawkes Bay, lies the rugged Ruahine and Tararua Ranges. In the early nineteenth century the plains and hill country between the coast and these ranges were covered in dense forests. The early European settlers struggled to establish farms here, cutting down the forests and eventually bringing in flocks of sheep, from as far away as Australia. They gradually built up their sheep stations and dairy farms which were followed by towns which sprang up to service the growing farming industry. These farms eventually prospered on the rich soils in the area, these same conditions also proving ideal for growing grapes, which lead to the establishment of many successful wineries. As transport improved, the Wairarapa became more easily accessible and today its towns have retained their charming rural character.
Masterton is the largest town in Wairarapa region and hosts the annual Golden Shears competition, an international sheep-shearing event that attracts the top shearers every year in the first week of March. From here you can head out to Castlepoint, one of the most picturesque locations on the coast. There are a number of walks including a climb to the summit of Castle Rock for impressive views along the coast. You can also cross the bridge on a short boardwalk to the old Castlepoint lighthouse built in 1913. This is a popular holiday and fishing destination and features a safe swimming beach and tidal lagoon often frequented by dolphins and seals. The settlement at Castlepoint is also famous for its annual horse races which have been held on the beach since the late 19th century.
South from Masterton there are a number of historic towns including Carterton, which was originally known as Three Mile Bush. The town has styled itself as the ‘Daffodil Capital of New Zealand’, so it’s a joy to visit in spring with a The Daffodil Festival, which has been held every September since the 1920s. Another gem on SH2 south to Wellington is Greytown, the first settlement in the Wairarapa area and New Zealand’s first planned inland town. Established in 1854 it was named after Governor Sir George Grey. The main street is a charming and functional showcase of Victorian colonial architecture with beautiful wooden buildings, many of which house art and antiques shops as well as excellent cafes. The Cobblestones Museum, on Main Street, displays farming equipment, transport and household items inside a restored 1850s cottage. The countryside around Greytown is well known for its rich alluvial soils which produce some of the tastiest fruit and vegetables you’ll ever find. It’s not far to Featherstonand the Fell Engine Museum which features the last of the locomotives that made the 1 in 5 grade climb over the Rimutaka Incline from 1890 until a tunnel was opened in 1955. The museum also has one of the original incline brake vans as well as a range of railway memorabilia. The old railway line is now an excellent walking and mountain bike trail over the hills towards Wellington.