How much can you see and do in 24 hours? Well, I am about to find out.
The Wairarapa is a charming region located in the south-eastern corner of New Zealand’s North Island. Through rolling hills and rural towns, an hours train ride leads from Wellington City over the Rimutaka mountain range towards The Wairarapa’s largest town, Masterton, where I stayed the night.
Named New Zealand’s most beautiful town in 2017, Masterton was the perfect place to begin my exploration of The Wairarapa, close to Martinsborough’s award winning olive groves as well as the picturesque Victorian architecture of Carterton.
As the train drew into Masterton station, hopping out the carriage was as if stepping back in time into a simple yet pleasurable life, greeted by smiling faces and somewhat quirky places. The abundance of arts was inspiring: longstanding thrift shops, magical bookstores and the town’s fancy new cinema, The Screening Room. Masterton is a creative retreat for poets, artists and photographers alike.
Our first stop (of course) was the town’s newly opened café, Don Luciano. Named after the owners’ Grandfather who worked as a coffee farmer in the Intibucá region of Honduras, Don Luciano pays homage to the owners’ routes in this Central American inspired, refurbished warehouse space. Vibrant Latino interiors are fitted out with a striking La Marzocco EP, one of only two in the country.
Sitting down with the owner, Marvin Guerrero, I began to understand the heart behind Don Luciano. Entering the café felt like opening a window into Honduras, as if memories of his childhood town were plucked from his mind and scattered throughout this beautifully bright, open space. Within minutes of chatting to Marvin, he had been greeted by several men and women, young and old; a simple reminder that Don Luciano is about more than just good coffee, it’s about relationship with the owner himself.
Tucked away at the back of the café is where the magic really happens. A pristine roaster lay surrounded by coffee from Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia which subsequently make up the current espresso blend named, Gracias Coffee.
You would be forgiven for thinking you were in Central America when ordering from the Honduras street-food-inspired menu, serving delicacies such as Huevos Rancheros (tortilla, refried beans, ranchera salsa and fried egg) with which flooded memories of my trip to El Salvador last year. Seasonal, fresh and tasty ingredients, I was pleasantly surprised by the Kiwi-Honduras infusion that just simply…works!
From Masterton we headed past golden farmland and Manuka honey plantations towards the Holdsworth gate of Taraua Forest Park, an expansive 440 square miles of forest waiting to be explored with numerous mountain biking and trekking paths. Hikes vary in size from a 40 minute ‘Donnelly Flat’ loop to a 3 day excursion on the Atiwhakatu track with stunning views of Mitre, the highest mountain of the Tararuas. I’d love to return to Masterton soon and spend a few nights trekking this mountain range, staying in mountain huts each night. Nothing can compete with such crisp, clean forest air.
There was one place in particular I couldn’t leave The Wairarapa without visiting. Just a 50 minute drive from Masterton led us to the popular surfing spot of Castle Point. A cluster of holiday homes lined the bay overlooking the elegant Castle Point Lighthouse, Deliverance Cove and finally, Castle Rock, which constitute the 61 hectare Castle Point Scenic Reserve.
I can’t recommend enough the 5km walking track to the peak of Castle Rock from which lay mesmerising views, stretching miles over the never ending rolling green hills on one side to a sheer drop to the ocean on the other. Standing at the summit of Castle Rock puts this spectacular hidden gem into perspective when even the lighthouse, that when shining can be seen for 26 nautical miles seems somewhat insignificant from this vantage point. If you’re lucky enough, you may even catch a glimpse of fur seals and dolphins!
Along with breathtaking walks and majestic surf breaks, Castle Point hosts a variety of events from famous horse races to fishing competitions. Only as we sat by the lighthouse and watched the sunset over Castle Rock did I truly begin to understand the beauty of this reserve. As I as captured the last light, surfers continued to catch the waves at Deliverance Cove before jumping on their quad bikes, board carefully balanced on their lap and drove off across the beach, back home. This serene quietness and dignified beauty is unique to this isolated wonder of The Wairarapa.
With just a couple of hours before my train departed for Wellington, there was one last stop to make. In a tastefully renovated chapel just outside Carterton, Clareville Bakery is busy winning award after award for its delicious pastry and pies. Not only does this bakery have some of the tastiest breads and pastries I have ever tried, the owners have been working tirelessly for the last 4 years to create a friendly, welcoming space serving fresh produce using natural ingredients. The perfect send off back to Wellington!
The Wairarapa is a spectacular and diverse region of the North Island not to be overlooked when planning a trip to New Zealand. Thank you to Destination Wairarapa and The Copthorne Solway Park for your generous hospitality (as well as having the faith to ‘wait it out’ for the sunset, despite the looming cloud).