An hour north of Wellington you’ll find the good life of the Wairarapa. Farm and wine country punctuated by small towns with big character. We’ve just spent a whistle-stop weekend in the region celebrating our birthdays.
Our first stop was Greytown, which we’d stopped in briefly before and was worth a revisit. Its refined main street is lined with antiques and boutiques and beautiful Victorian buildings. We enjoyed brunch in Cahoots Cafe, who were proudly displaying their Dominion Post review from last week. For a pit stop, the cafe is a great place where the owners know all their locals.
We went onward to Carterton, which proved a fruitful stop for gift shopping. We picked up some antiques and also visited Paua World, a haven of Kiwiana souvenirs. Just outside the town, we visited Stonehenge Aotearoa – an NZ version of England’s stone structure. Built by astronomers, I’m not sure I fully appreciated the circle’s role in the equinox and solstice, but it certainly had some gravitas.
This is where we made our main vineyard stop, tasting Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and a delectable Bordeaux blend, their ‘Auld Alliance’. After the cellar door tasting, we unwound further with a platter in the mid-winter sun.
In the ‘wine village’ of the region, we spent the night in The Martinborough Hotel. It was a wonderful place to stay; a chic residence restored to its former 1880s glory. It was the first place I’ve seen proper radiators in NZ and I had my first bath while being away (not counting a medicinal one for sunburn!) Our room opened out onto a balcony overlooking the hustle of the town’s square and main street.
There are about 20 wineries in walking distance of the town, but after all our stops on Saturday, we only made it to Wine Centre. They offer tastings from a monthly guest vineyard and stock a selection of wines from the region. We were guided through them by an erudite manager from Durham.
On Sunday we drove out to the most southern point of the north island. Cape Palliser must be one of the most photogenic places in NZ. As we approached the sea, we could see the vast shadows cast by the clouds. Driving along the Cook Straight coast, layer upon layer of waves crashed onto the shore. We also drove past fur seals relaxing by the road.
Finally, we climbed the 250 steps up to the iconic lighthouse and just made it back to level ground without being blown away.