From a unique cultural immersion tour to seeing stars, beautiful places to stay and, of course, food and wine, we've rounded some great things to do for a weekend in Wairarapa.
1. Go bush
Stop in at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre at Mount Bruce for an immersive ecological and cultural experience. Pūkaha is a 942ha native wildlife and conservation sanctuary – the largest remaining piece of native bush in Wairarapa and home to some of New Zealand’s rarest birds and an abundance of endemic flora. Here, you can join one of the centre’s new tours – Te Hīkoi o Pūkaha – where local guides explain Māori creation legends, tell the fascinating stories of Māui and how the land and life came to be.
The Pūkaha motto is Rongo te Mauri – listen and smell; be present; absorb the moment that you are in; experience the ‘mauri,’ the life force.
It’s a special experience to walk quietly, mindfully through the forest hearing the breeze rustle the leaves above, native birdsong, the crunch of your footsteps. On the tour, you’ll meet Pūkaha’s native residents – kererū and hihi, kākāriki and kōkako – who are intrigued by the guides playing their traditional Māori instruments. The tour finishes with refreshments – wickedly delicious fried bread and kawakawa tea, along with a side of waiata.
2. Look Up
Martinborough’s newest visitor attraction takes place well after dark. Star Field is the brainchild of passionate astronomer John Whitby who decided to pursue his love of astrophotography by setting up his own observatory deep in the Wairarapa countryside.
Stargazing is a weather-dependent activity. After spending four years travelling around New Zealand to assess the quality and clarity of the night sky, he decided on a spot in the Coromandel. But while the site had some of the darkest sky in the country, it soon became apparent that the weather was not favourable: it rained almost every second day. However, the same conditions that contribute to Martinborough’s thriving viticulture industry – the lowest rainfall in the North Island – also make for great stargazing.
Star Field has two observatories. The first with a roll-off roof and two computerised telescopes that can see into the darkest depths of space. The second is a 3.5-metre domed observatory with imaging equipment to take astrophotos. And the images are spectacular. Accumulated from hundreds of hours of data taken over several months, they reveal the intricacies of galaxies literally millions of light-years away from earth. Which is a staggeringly difficult concept to get your head around.
The Star Field tour times vary throughout the year with the changing seasons. Astronomical darkness happens two hours after sunset. And the two hours after that are the darkest – perfect for stargazing.
3. Wine on tap
If you’re short on time in Martinborough, or maybe the weather isn’t the best, but you’re still keen to sample some of the region’s vinous delights, head to The Wine Bank. Situated in the historic Bank of New Zealand building on the corner of the village’s union jack-shaped square, the Wine Bank is a unique self-service wine tasting experience. Set up a tab with the friendly staff, grab a swipe card, and then pour yourself a tipple from the extensive range of local and international wines by the taste, half or full glass.
An ingenious machine dispenses from 60 different bottles – preserving the wines to ensure they’re always tasting their best.
The Wine Bank also offers single-vineyard and reserve wines from several Martinborough wineries that don’t have cellar doors, making it the only place in town to taste these local drops. Grab a seat on one of the plush velvet armchairs or luxurious leather couches for a casual tasting and take a bottle or two home with you.
4. Get a taste of the region
While famous for wine, there’s no shortage of delectable eating options in Wairarapa either. From the wild and wonderful flavours at boutique chocolatier Shoc in Greytown to the subtle pinot noir barrel-aged coffee at Neighbourhood roastery and café in Martinborough, there are artisan producers galore.
Fuel up on superb sandwiches, artisan bread or a famous ‘Mikeronut’ the award-winning Clareville Bakery, which is well worth a detour, or linger for a leisurely meal at Union Square – from breakfast through to dinner – in the historic Martinborough Hotel. And, if you’re getting tired of wine (perish the thought!) pop into Martinborough Brewery behind the square for a cleansing ale.
5. Stay somewhere special
Make your accommodation a highlight of your weekend, with a unique Wairarapa stay. On the outskirts of Masterton, you’ll find Te Pāmu, a luxurious glamping experience in an idyllic countryside setting. Here, every detail has been thought of – from plush bedding and tasteful decor to delicious home-cooked meals delivered to your tent, a crackling brazier to sit by as you watch the stars and the ultimate luxury of a private outdoor bath.
In Martinborough, you can choose from a number of gorgeous self-contained properties to maximise space and relaxation. The Orange Door is a cute cottage just down from the main square. Renovated from its roots as a tiny workers cottage in the 1890s to incorporate an impeccable kitchen and outdoor entertaining area set amongst a tranquil 4.5-acre olive grove, it’s a great spot to share a local pinot with friends or family.