Wairarapa Wandering: A Kiwi Guide's Diary
Read all about our Wairarapa Wandering tour led by our Kiwi Guide Helen in January 2023.
Day 1: Auckland – Wairakei - Napier
Our keen group all arrived bright and early at their pick-up place, ready for adventure, but just a little apprehensive about weather prospects. All good though, as the sky brightened as we headed south.
Highlight of the day in every way was our lunch stop at Lava Glass Café where we enjoyed an excellent fresh lunch of quiche and salad before marvelling at the skills of glass artist Lyndon as he created a complex “tree” paperweight. There was then time to stroll among a spectacular array of glass creations in the sculpture garden. Favourite was the trickling waterfall cascade.
Day 2: Napier Art Deco – Pukaha National Wildlife Centre - Martinborough
Our local expert Art Deco guide gave the group great insight into Napier’s history of the Art Deco style as we toured past suburban houses as well as the impressive civic buildings in the city centre.
From Napier we headed to our main destination in the Wairarapa, stopping on the way for a close encounter with the birds at Pukaha National Wildlife Centre. One of the group attracted a very attentive (winged) female friend, and several were delighted to have their first sight of kiwi scurrying around.
Delight was definitely the reaction when we arrived at our rural retreat accommodation for three nights near Martinborough. Cottages and studios are spread in park-like grounds around a main building with dining area and bar, which we had to ourselves, and where we enjoyed amazing meals.
Day 3: Martinborough - Cape Palliser, Lake Ferry - Wine tasting Martinborough
With dire weather forecasts for most of the North Island, we were very pleased to find the day dawning fine for our trip south to Cape Palliser. The lighthouse sits imposingly on a rocky point at the top of 250 steps – nothing to daunt our intrepid group, and eight made it to the top to enjoy the expansive view before we headed back around the coast, stopping to watch the antics of a lively group of seals.
We also stopped at Ngawi, a small fishing settlement which claims to have the highest per capita ownership of bulldozers in the world! Bulldozers of every age and stage are lined up to launch and retrieve fishing boats on a steep beach with no jetty or wharf.
All that sea air gave the group a good appetite for an excellent fish and chip lunch at the historic Lake Ferry Tavern, before heading back to Martinborough for a look at the town and a visit to the Luna Winery for a tasting of some Wairarapa wines in a very elegant setting. Then “home” to our lovely accommodation and another of the splendid meals.
Day 4: Martinborough - Greytown - Stonehenge - Longbush - Martinborough
Everyone knows that, no matter how well planned a trip is, we can do nothing about the weather, and the heavy hand of the weather was certainly a big factor in our day, but failed to dash the spirits of our cheery group. We had an extra leisurely start after Neil & Greg Montgomerie-Crowe at Kahikatea Garden cancelled our visit because their garden was swamped. Off to Greytown, which was certainly grey this morning.
That didn’t dull the shopping enthusiasm for some, while others enjoyed the Early Settlers Museum, before we headed for a fascinating presentation at Stonehenge Aotearoa, where we learned a great amount about the history of how civilisations have set their lives by calendars and their beliefs through interpretation of star movements.
At our second garden Longbush Cottage, Luke Gardiner was to have provided a garden setting for the lunch which was still excellent in the shelter of a large shed (with garden view!). The hardy toured the garden with Luke, while others enjoyed an extra coffee.
We ended the afternoon with a visit to Hau Nui, New Zealand’s largest wind farm, and the day was rounded off with a hearty celebration featuring bubbly and birthday cake.
Day 5: Martinborough - Featherston - Wellington
The Fell Engine Museum in Featherston provided a fascinating start to the day. Even the least mechanically minded were intrigued with the technology and all were impressed with the quality of the display and presentation and the amount of passionate volunteer effort which had gone into it. It certainly gave us a new dimension to the trip over the steep slopes of the Remutaka Hill to Wellington, where we were delighted to see sunshine for our viewing stop on Mt Victoria.
Our city tour brought us to the Thistle Inn, New Zealand’s oldest pub on its original site from 1841. Along with a delicious lunch, we were treated to a very interesting presentation on the history of the building and the area. In the afternoon some visited Te Papa, where they enjoyed a new nature exhibit, while others tried some different museums – National Portrait Gallery, National Academy Gallery and the Museum of Wellington, and a few set out for the Wellington shops.
Our evening at our comfortable hotel ended with a surprise treat when a couple at a neighbouring table sent a round of dessert wine to the group – pleased to see them enjoying themselves. That was after we had warned them that they might find us noisy neighbours.
Day 6: Wellington – Mangaweka – Taupo
Heading North from Wellington, we checked out what our taxpayer dollars had bought in Transmission Gully.
The group enjoyed a stroll around the Feilding Friday market, before heading on through picturesque countryside to a beautiful country lunch with hosts David and Sue Sweet near Mangaweka.
The lake and surrounds were bathed in sunshine by the time we reached Taupo, where we enjoyed dinner with a spectacular lake view and glowing red sunset.
Day 7: Taupo - Waitakaruru Arboretum - Auckland
Highlight of our last day was the amazing Sculpture Park at Waitakaruru Arboretum in the Waikato. No-one in the group had visited before, but most left promising to return for more time viewing the sculptures at leisure in their stunning setting. Lunch was served in a beautifully restful spot overlooking a lake and sculptures. A blue skies memory to take home.
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Here is what one of our travellers said:
"Good group and lots of laughs. Top marks for Brackenridge Country Retreat – we would go back again. We enjoyed Cape Palliser Lighthouse, Pukaha National Wildlife Centre and visits to the cottage garden. Loved the farmhouse lunch and the leisurely "last lunch" outside under the big sail at the Sculpture Park at Tauwhare."