1. A park for everyone
Queen Elizabeth Park is an 81-hectare jewel in the middle of Masterton. There is something for everyone. For me it’s a serene and green morning walk, passing beneath a wide boulevard of old English trees, branches touching overhead, and along the top of the Waipoua River stopbank, on an informal lush, grassy path with glimpses of the river through the foliage.
The band rotunda and the cricket oval – both still used and loved – nod to 140 years of English heritage, as does the pretty lake and gardens.
For little ones, a miniature red train chuffs and puffs around the lake on weekends and, unbelievably, it costs $1 a ride. There is also a fantastic playground with a castle, pirate ship, slides, swings and numerous climbing structures. And, for bigger kids a skate park and skating rink.
2. A hundred years of quality books
Hedleys Bookshop, opened in 1907 by William Hedley and still in the family, is a classic bookshop that specialises in exclusive new and rare second-hand books. It also offers a worldwide book search service to track down obscure titles. Hedleys has a lot of Wairarapa titles and links with a specialist British publishing company that provides access to collectable books on the history of popular music. There are beautiful but limited editions about musicians we know and love such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and more.
This unique shop offers terrific book browsing and buying for all ages.
3. Good art
Sean Duffel is one of New Zealand’s best-known street artists and now a large Masterton wall has one of his intricate, colour-saturated murals. It depicts the beauty of New Zealand forest and the birds and other creatures that inhabit it; ruru, tūī, eels, tuatara, kākā and more have their place in the rich symmetrical weave of this flat forest.
Not far away Aratoi, Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, has a huge collection of work from Wairarapa artists as well as artists of national importance. The exhibitions keep changing and it’s always worth a look – and free entry, too.
4. A woolly tale
Masterton is the home of the Golden Shears, so sheep, sheep farming, shearing and wool are important. The Woolshed Museum, based in two woolsheds that have been trucked into the centre of the city, is all about the history of sheep farming and its contemporary importance.
On Wednesdays, the Spinners and Weavers Club are in attendance so you can watch these age-old crafts in action. Exit through the gift shop which has an extensive range of locally made woollen products.
5. Flicks and fine food
The Screening Room Cinema and Eatery has two boutique cinemas that specialise in indie and arthouse flicks. Relax in armchairs and enjoy movies via the latest sound and screening technology.
The adjoining eatery has a punchy menu based around small plates for sharing, local wines and dessert treats – which you can also take into the theatre.