The Wairarapa district covers the south-eastern corner of New Zealand's North Island. While separated from the Wellington metropolitan area by the Rimutaka Ranges, its proximity and good transport connections to the capital, and its cheap house prices, make it a popular place for Wellington day-trippers and commuters.
The Rimutaka and Tararua ranges shelter the region from the prevailing westerly winds, resulting in a warm dry climate. While the region is mostly suitable for general sheep and dairy farming, there are localities where horticulture and viticulture have been established.
- Masterton i-SITE Visitor Centre, cnr Dixon & Bruce Sts, Masterton, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Mo-Fr 09:00-17:00, Sa-Su & holidays 10:00-16:00.
- Martinborough i-SITE Visitor Centre, 18 Kitchener St, Martinborough (cnr Broadway St), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-Sa 09:00-17:00, Su-Mo & holidays 10:00-16:00.
From Palmerston North, take State Highway 3 via the Manawatu Gorge, then turn right onto State Highway 2 at Woodville. An alternative route is the 'Pahiatua Track' (actually a fairly good sealed road), which leaves State Highway 57 at Aokautere in southeastern Palmerston North and joins with State Highway 2 in Pahiatua.
There is a regular train service to and from Wellington known as the Wairarapa Connection. Primarily for commuters to Wellington from the Wairarapa, it runs 5 services daily each way on weekdays and 2 services daily each way on weekends and public holidays. There are no reserved seats, but there is a luggage compartment in the northernmost carriage and bicycles will be carried for free (space permitting). The train stops at Featherston, Woodside (for Greytown), Matarawa, Carterton and at 3 stations in Masterton. Purchase tickets at the station ticket office (if one is open) or on board the train.
Tranzit Coachlines operates a Palmerston North to Masterton service five days a week (Tu-Fr and Su). The bus departs the InterCity terminal in The Square, Palmerston North, and stops at Ashhurst, Woodville, Pahiatua, Eketahuna, Pukaha Mount Bruce (booked passengers only), and Masterton.
If you are cycling from Wellington, it is best to use the Rimutaka Rail Trail from Upper Hutt. Cycling on State Highway 2 over the Rimutakas is not recommended due to the narrow winding road and amount of traffic. An alternative is to ride around the South Coast from Wainuiomata – the track is reasonably flat, but there are a number of natural hazards, the main one being a few river crossings that can be impassable in heavy rain. Approaching from the north is more simple, using State Highway 2 from southern Hawke's Bay.
Air New Zealand cancelled its Masterton to Auckland service in February 2014, citing high costs and low passenger numbers. Alternatively you can fly to Wellington or Palmerston North and then drive/bus/train to the Wairarapa.
A car is probably a good idea if you intend to get out of town. The country is reasonably flat so bicycling is practical for short distances.
There is a regular bus service linking Masterton with Carterton, Greytown, Featherston and Martinborough. Buses also link Martinborough with trains at Featherston and Greytown with trains at Woodside. They do not operate on Sundays or public holidays.
- Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, 85379 State Highway 2, Mount Bruce (30 km north of Masterton, 11 km south of Eketahuna), ☎ . Daily 09:00-16:30. A good place to see kiwis and kaka (bush parrot), and plenty of other native birds. Inside the kiwi house is Manukura, the only white-feathered kiwi in the world! Adult $20, child $6.
- Stonehenge Aotearoa, 51 Ahiaruhe Road, Ahiaruhe (12 km east of Carterton, follow signs from High Street South), ☎ . A full sized working model of an astronomical stone circle, like Stonehenge, constructed from modern materials, opened in February 2005. Guided tours take place on weekends and holidays but you need to book in advance.
- Tui Brewery, State Highway 2, Mangatainoka (cnr Kohinui Road, 4 km north of Pahiatua), ☎ . Daily 10:00-16:00. One of New Zealand's better known beer brands, thanks to its viral marketing and its sometimes controversial "Yeah Right" billboards. Visit the Tui museum and check out the shop full of Tui-branded merchandise. Tastings are available at $20 for 3 beers, and you get to keep the glass. Tours of the 1931 heritage-listed brew tower (originally built without stairs or a lift!) and the modern brewery are available, but need to be booked in advance.
- Putangirua Pinnacles, off Cape Palliser Rd (13 km south of Lake Ferry Rd turnoff). One of New Zealand's best examples of badlands erosion, these earth pillars tower above the Putangirua Stream. The Pinnacles lookout is a 90-minute return walk from the carpark and DOC campsite.
- Cape Palliser, end of Cape Palliser Rd (37 km south of Lake Ferry Rd turnoff). The southernmost point of the North Island (it's further south than Blenheim in the South Island). Climb the 258 steps up to the red-and-white-striped Cape Palliser Lighthouse (1897) for magnificent views along the coast and across Cook Strait to the South Island. Look out for the North Island's largest fur seal colony on the coastal rocks along the road to the lighthouse.
Martinborough is a small wine-growing area. There are several wine and food festivals throughout the year.