Make it a Wairarapa weekend, just a short drive from Wellington!

If you’re looking for things to do in Wairarapa, the region is becoming a top-rated short-stay destination, which visitors can reach easily from Wellington. 

On New Zealand’s North Island, Wairarapa is one of the best destinations to plan a laid-back escape with family or friends, whether you’re marking a special occasion or simply ‘just because’. 

Martinborough, Greytown, Castlepoint, Featherston, Cape Palliser – if these names are familiar but you have not yet enjoyed a visit – then now is the time!  You’ll discover great food, some of the best boutique shopping, top-notch wineries with guided wine tours, attractions, exquisite nature, and native wildlife. So come and experience the relaxed vibe and great activities in Wairarapa—it’s the perfect short getaway.

Our visit to the Wairarapa was at Easter. Book early if you plan to visit over a popular period such as this, as the boutique accommodation options sell out fast. 

Loading luggage into Omega shuttle van at Wellington Airport

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars

We flew to Wellington from Auckland, and the Omega shuttle van picked us up for the short hop to the depot to collect our Wellington Airport rental car. The booking and pick up process was easy, and the friendly team had us on our way in no time!

Two people inside rental car office

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars


Driving to the Wairarapa from Wellington

Travelling from Wellington to Featherston takes about one hour. However, traffic getting out of Wellington can play its part, so pick your time to leave appropriately. The scenic drive along State Highway 2 winds through nature-packed Hutt Valley, with raging rivers and towering native trees on both sides. Then, the trip takes you past the Pakuratahi Forest and up and over the stunning Remutaka Ranges. Building the narrow and winding road must have been quite a feat!   

During World War 1, more than 30,000 soldiers took a 3-day march over what later became this road, marking the end of their training.

A lookout point at 555 metres above sea level used to house tea rooms, but after standing vacant for years, they were damaged in a fire and later demolished in 2009. So, you’ll need to wait until you get to Martinborough for your next cuppa!

View through front windscreen while driving over Remutaka Ranges

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars


The Remutaka Rail Trail

The Remutaka Rail Trail is another excellent way to see more of the Wairarapa region. A popular cycle-way follows the old Wairarapa railway line up and over the Remutakas. If you wish to cycle this route, you’ll find multiple start-finish points, depending on how long you want to spend in the saddle.

The railway line was replaced by one of the longest rail tunnels in New Zealand in 1955. In the past, the railway line was an excellent option for people working and living in the city and Wairarapa Region. Now, it’s just for the cyclists, whether you’re riding a conventional bicycle or an e-bike on guided cycle tours or you’re exploring independently.

Two cyclists emerging from a tunnel on the Remutaka cycle trail

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Featherston – Gateway to the Remutaka Rail Trail

One of the best things to do in Wairarapa is to visit the town of Featherston. Steeped in history, the village is the main entry point to the Remukaka Rail Trail. You’ll not only discover some must-try food and wine options, but Featherston is also home to not one but two popular attractions. Learn about local history at the Featherston Heritage Museum Complex and the Fell Locomotive Museum next door.

One of the best things to do in Wairarapa is to visit the town of Featherston. Steeped in history, the village is the main entry point to the Remukaka Rail Trail. You’ll not only discover some must-try food and wine options, but Featherston is also home to not one but two popular attractions. Learn about local history at the Featherston Heritage Museum Complex and the Fell Locomotive Museum next door.

 a steam locomotive inside the Fell Engine Museum in Featherston

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Dining & Book-worming in Featherston

Visit the Brac & Bow Restaurant at The Royal Hotel Featherston for classic local food and wine, including Featherston’s top cheeses, surrounded by historic Victorian architecture. Featherston is also known for its books, boasting the most bookstores per capita in New Zealand! Shop for great second-hand books, popular literary classics, bestsellers and children’s books.


Martinborough – Vineyards, great dining options and stacks of colonial charm!

Martinborough is the most popular village to stay in the Wairarapa, and on arrival, our first stop was to find accommodation at the Martinborough Hotel. When they say colonial charm, this is what I picture! The main centre features a memorial town square with well-established, shady trees contributing to the relaxed Wairarapa vibe.


Naturally, one of the best things to do in Wairarapa is to eat and drink! You’ll find delicious dining options at the Martinborough Hotel, which sits on the square. However, you’ll find more food choices as you walk around the plaza and the surrounding short streets—just follow your nose!

We enjoyed different food here and there and were able to dine at many places!  With its sunny rear courtyard and generous portions of delicious food, Cafe Medici was great value for money with excellent service. Top marks from us!

view of the Martinborough Hotel from the town square

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars


Wairarapa – Home to Vineyards Galore

Martinborough has 20 or more vineyards and wineries you can explore, plus breweries and even a gin distillery. These attractions alone led us to discover it pays to stay for at least a weekend!

Lighthouse Gin produces small batches of gin with a unique blend of nine botanicals, taking its name from the distinctive Cape Palliser Lighthouse. While the distillery is not open to the public, tastings are available at Martinborough’s iconic Te Kairanga (TK) Winery. The TK cellar door is housed in the 130-year old cottage of Martinborough’s namesake, John Martin. This rustic, inviting spot is a top place for tasting wine and artisan food sourced from New Zealand’s bountiful Wairarapa region.

cycles parked outside the TK Winery cellar door

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You can arrange to hire bicycles to visit the vineyards and wineries or take a guided cycle tour. At Olivo, the oldest commercial olive grove in the Wairarapa, you can join fun, delicious tree-to-table guided tours.

But of course, there is more to do than just wine and dine! Other activities include visiting a lavender farm, taking a horse trek, going bird watching, walking or hiking in nature, and stargazing! You’ll find so many fun things to do in the Wairarapa region!


Cape Palliser Lighthouse

Driving from Martinborough to Cape Palliser takes about an hour. On the way, you’ll pass through the tiny fishing village, Ngawi. The final section of the road is gravel, so take care and look out for the seals!

The Lighthouse itself has quite a history – it was built out of cast iron in 1897. I am not sure how they managed to hoist it up on the cliff, but an old winch sits next to the steps, so perhaps they used that. Or that could have served to help the lighthouse keepers haul the oil and kerosene cans required to power the lighthouse up the dirt track before they built the steps.

view up the Wairarapa coast from the Cape Palliser lighthouse

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars

Dramatically painted red and white to stand out from the inconspicuous cliffs, this eye-catching attraction provided a much-needed navigation aid for ships during the 19th century, where about 20 shipwrecks occurred in or near Palliser Bay.

Standing 18 metres above sea level on the southernmost tip of the North Island, the lighthouse is further south than Nelson or Blenheim on the South Island! So before you walk up the 253 steps, take a deep breath!

The seal colony at the foot of the lighthouse is also well worth a visit. It takes a moment to search for the well-camouflaged seals on the black rocks, but they are there, and soon you will spot loads!

two men stand in front of Cape Palliser lighthouse on a sunny day

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars


Ngawi – Golf with the Sheep and Fishing with the Diggers!

Fascination struck as we passed through the old fishing village, Ngawi, which sits on a notoriously rough stretch of coastline, with no boat ramps in sight! Although I’m not sure, they would help anyway. So instead, diggers with well-padded rubber tyres on the trailers haul the boats in and out.

I was hoping to participate in some fishing activities, but perhaps the waters were too calm on my trip, and it wasn’t worth the challenge. So, instead, the most popular activity seems to be golf, where quad bikes replaced the golf carts, and the sheep wander around at will!

 bulldozers ready to haul out fishing boats at Ngawi

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars


Castlepoint Lighthouse, Greytown and more

Visiting lighthouses is one of the best things to do in Wairarapa and the surrounding region. Castlepoint Lighthouse claims to be one of the most Instagrammable attractions in the Greater Wellington region. The area is also a top spot to walk around to take in the sea views.  Unfortunately, we didn’t go on this occasion, but we’re sure to visit it next time.


Castlepoint is in the opposite direction from Martinborough to Cape Palliser, heading northeast through Greytown, Carterton and Masterton. I must come back to travel around this area on my next Wairarapa weekend. Carterton is home to top artists and authors, and Masterton features some fun activities for the whole family, including the National Wildlife Centre at Pukaha, just a 20-minute trip north.

We guarantee you’ll find some of the best things to do in the Wairarapa region. Your friends and family will love the activities on offer. Great places to eat, fun attractions to tour, surprising shopping experiences and stunning nature to explore. All travel is within an easy drive of Wellington—what’s not to love about the Wairarapa!

view from window of plane as flying into Wellington

Photo Credit: Omega Rental Cars

Getting to the Wairarapa

Fly into Wellington and pick up a car from Omega Rental Car’s Wellington Airport or Wellington City locations to make it easy to explore this fantastic part of New Zealand. The attractions, activities, shopping, boutique accommodation and fun things to do in Wairarapa will leave you wanting more. So, plan your trip to Wairarapa, New Zealand, now!