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Wairarapa Area Guide

Grapevines at Fairmont Estate Winery and vineyard,
Gladstone, Wairarapa - ©
Wellington's rural hinterland, the Wairarapa, is separated from the capital by the formidable Rimutaka ranges. State highway 2 takes you north past Upper Hutt and over the steep winding Rimutaka road before depositing you at the small town of Featherston at the foot of the range. The gardens of the historic home Fernside in Featherston provided the location for Lothlorien in the film of the Lord of the Rings, and you can visit the gardens at weekends if you join a Wairarapa Coach Lines tour.

East of Featherston is the tiny village of Martinborough, a weekend-away destination for Wellingtonians attracted by its many vineyards. Martinborough plays host to the bacchanalian Toast Martinborough Wine, Food and Music Festival, which tours the vineyards on the third Sunday each November. At other times of the year, guide yourself around the vineyards on foot, or by bicycle, using the comprehensive Wairarapa and Martinborough Wine Trail brochure from the helpful Visitor Centre in Kitchener Street. Martinborough has many weekend cottages available for rent and is a civilised place to stay and explore the surrounding towns. You could also book a room at the historic Peppers Martinborough Hotel, where Cate Blanchett and other cast members stayed while filming the Lord of the Rings.

Nearby Greytown was the country's first planned inland town, and the Victorian buildings which line the main street give the town plenty of street appeal. Good cafes and interesting antique and craft shops, and boutiques can be found in the main street.

Further north on state highway 2, Carterton is home to the Paua Shell Factory Shop, which produces all manner of objets d'art and jewellery from the blue-green iridescent shell of the paua. Ballooning New Zealand offers one-hour hot air balloon trips daily at sunrise which leave from the grounds of the Paua Shell factory.

Masterton, the Wairarapa's largest town, remains a workaday service centre for the agricultural industry. Its beautiful 32-hectare Queen Elizabeth Park is a lovely place for a stroll and has plenty of attractions for children, including a miniature railway, a lake with paddleboats, and a well-designed adventure playground. The international sheep shearing competition, the Golden Shears, is held in Masterton in the first week of March.

Visit the highly regarded Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, a sanctuary and captive breeding centre for endangered native birds, 30 kilometres north of Masterton, before leaving the area. The centre provides an opportunity to get close to some of New Zealand's most precious native birds, including the stitchbird, the kaka, the kokako, and the kiwi.

The Wairarapa holds a number of events during the year, including the Gladstone Scarecrow Festival, the Castlepoint Beach Horse Races, the Genesis Wairarapa International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, and the busy Martinborough Country Fair on the first Saturdays in February and March, so it's worth checking the Wairarapa Events Calendar before planning a visit.