Most of the Wairarapa region is archetypal Kiwi sheep country, with wool-flecked green hills stretching into the distance. In recent years, however, the southern half of the region has increasingly benefited from free-spending weekenders from Wellington visiting the boutique hotels, innovative restaurants and many wineries surrounding Martinborough, the region’s current wine capital and, along with Greytown, its most appealing settlement.
North of Masterton, the region’s main commercial centre, the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre provides a wonderful opportunity to witness ongoing bird conservation work; to the south, Featherston is a base for walks up the bed of the Rimutaka Incline Railway.
Back on the coast, the laidback holiday settlement of Castlepoint is good for swimming and surfing, and Cape Palliser is the ideal spot for blustery mind-clearing walks and dramatic coastal scenery.
Cross the Rimutaka Range towards Wellington and you’re into the Hutt Valley, full of commuter-belt communities, none of which really warrants a stop until you reach Petone, on the outskirts of the capital.
The establishment of New Zealand’s earliest sheep station in the 1840s on rich alluvial lands close to present-day Martinborough paved the way for development by the progressive Small Farm Association (SFA). This was the brainchild of Joseph Masters, a Derbyshire cooper and longtime campaigner against the separation of landowner and labourer, who sought to give disenfranchised settlers the opportunity to become smallholders. Liberal governor George Grey supported him and in 1853 suggested the SFA should persuade local Maori to sell land for the establishment of two towns – Masterton and Greytown.
Initially Greytown prospered, and it retains an air of antiquity rare among New Zealand towns, but the routing of the rail line favoured Masterton, famed chiefly today for the annual Golden Shears sheepshearing competition.