In the midst of Wairarapa’s rolling green hills, sprawling vineyards, and charming small towns, Jeff and I discovered hidden gems and seemingly endless views. With so many things to do in Wairarapa, it’s surprising how many travellers just pass through this picturesque region.
The region unfolds to the east of Wellington, extending to both the south and east coasts of New Zealand’s North Island, framed by the Remutaka and Tararua ranges marking its western border.
Instead of treating it as a transit, Jeff and I made Wairarapa the focal point of our recent visit—and we’re thrilled that we did. The region unveiled a wealth of unique and enjoyable activities that left us yearning for more time.
For me, it became a haven to relax, explore, and revel in, a bit of a romantic getaway in Wairarapa. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a tranquillity enthusiast, or a history buff, the region caters to you. Not only is it home to one of the country’s top wine-growing regions, but we also discovered delightful culinary experiences, scenic hikes, and engaging museums.
Below we share some of the highlights of our Wairarapa adventure as we encourage you to stay at least a few days and enjoy, like we did. We’ve also included recommendations on where to dine and where to stay—get ready to fall in love with another captivating region of New Zealand.
As American expats who have been living in and exploring NZ for over 20 years, we see things from both a local’s perspective and from that of a visitor. Therefore, we understand what it’s like to come here and have things be similar, but not always exactly what we are used to. We share the information on this page from this perspective.
Map of our favourite things to do in Wairarapa
The suggested stops in this article are featured on the map either in red (we did visit here) or orange (it was recommended to us, but we haven’t personally been yet).
Our 5 must-see things to do in Wairarapa
Although there are plenty of things to do in Wairarapa, these are what we consider the must-sees:
- Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre
- Le Grá Vineyard and Winery
- Castlepoint Lighthouse
- Cobblestones Museum
- Stonehenge Aotearoa
Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre
Beginning our journey at the interpretive boards, Jeff and I discovered the interesting history of the land before entering a world reminiscent of New Zealand before people arrived.
Although the name translates to “windy mountain”, we found the well-manicured path through lush native forest peaceful. The forest itself is teeming with rare and endangered bird life. We also passed several aviaries housing bird species like kākāriki and kōkako, and others with lizards or tuatara.
Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre is proud of its successful breed and release kiwi programme. There is plenty of educational material on kiwi birds as well as a nocturnal house allowing us to see these elusive birds in their natural habitat. Pūkaha is home to New Zealand’s only white kiwi, a genetic abnormality and a bird we did not see.
The park’s range of activities includes guided tours, feeding experiences, and a Māori carving studio. For more on the feeding times, entrance fee, on-site campervan parking (includes a night tour), or longer-term volunteer spots, check their official website.
Le Grá Vineyard, Winery, and B&B
At Le Grá, the Gaelic phrase “le grá” meaning “with love” is more than a mere inscription inside the wedding band of owner Nicky; it’s the essence of everything they do.
As owner-partners, Brian and Nicky run this boutique winery with a dedication to growing and processing grapes meticulously, earning the prestigious sustainability label from New Zealand Sustainable Wine Growing.
This small winery cultivates Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Pinot Gris and crafts a chardonnay using grapes from a neighbouring vineyard.
During our visit, Jeff indulged in a wine tasting while I savoured a homemade ginger beer. We lingered outdoors, appreciating the peaceful surroundings as we relished in the culinary excellence displayed in the expansive food platter, which even had a few substitutes to meet my gluten and dairy-free dietary requirements.
From homemade chutneys (I couldn’t resist buying a jar of the delightful lemon one) to cheeses, meats, pesto, olives, mushrooms, and even salmon, it was a smorgasbord of little treats, each crafted with love. For us, this was one of the more romantic things to do in Wairarapa.
The Castlepoint Lighthouse, perched 23m high on a cliff and 52m above sea level, beckons irresistibly.
Ignoring suggestions from others to choose a less windy day, we embarked on a windy climb up to the lighthouse. Buffeted by gusts at the ⅓ point, I felt the need to hold on to the rail. I turned back at the ⅔ mark, fatigued from recent surgery. Jeff, however, went on to capture photos from the top.
Yet, the Castlepoint Scenic Reserve offered stunning views, proving the journey from Masterton was worth it. It’s also lovely from the sand flats near the Castlepoint Reef memorial plaque commemorating all the people who were swept off this section of cliff by rogue waves.
Despite limited amenities, the area’s beauty surpassed expectations. Lesson learned; check the weather for a more enjoyable visit.
Cobblestones Museum, Greytown
At Cobblestones, we didn’t just observe but stepped into the past, immersing in the daily life of early settlers. The village blends authentic artifacts with replicas, offering a hands-on experience.
The entry building holds historical information, but the real magic unfolded as we strolled through structures of the old village — a stable, schoolhouse, hospital, and homes. Some stand where they were first built, others moved here from nearby, and a few were replicas.
We encountered relics like a 1954 fire truck, vintage farm tools, century-old medical instruments, and a foundry. Cobblestones isn’t just a museum; it’s a tangible journey into history.
Stonehenge Aotearoa isn’t a mere replica of England’s ancient stone circle. This unique structure provides similar astrological and spiritual benefits found in stone circles worldwide.
If you haven’t experienced it yet, a visit is truly worthwhile. We wrote much more about our visit to Stonehenge Aotearoa here.
More outdoor things to do in Wairarapa
We were based just outside Masterton and, therefore, spent much of our time here, finding plenty of things to do in Masterton.
- Queen Elizabeth Park, Masterton
This quiet retreat in the middle of town has it all. There are walking paths, an island in a small lake, a cricket pitch, a croquet club, a new skate park, and possibly the best playground we have seen in New Zealand. If you visit on the weekend, be sure to walk over the red bridge and take a train ride around Motu Rēhia (the park island) in the centre of the Lake of Remembrance (renamed after WWII).
- Henley Lake, Masterton
We took a relaxing stroll around a portion of Henley Lake as some of its inhabitants (swans and ducks) enjoyed time floating on the water or waddling in the grass. It’s known for lovely sunsets, but we were happy with our afternoon stroll.
- Explore the small towns and discover their diverse personalities
Some of our favourites are Martinborough (cycling tours and wine tastings), Featherston (New Zealand’s book town), Greytown (the oldest town in Wairarapa), Masterton (where we were based), and Eketāhuna (kiwi country).
Other indoor things to do in Wairarapa
Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Masterton
The interesting artwork leans towards contemporary. To me, it felt more like a gallery than a museum. As for the architecture, my favourite was the Wesley Wing, situated in a former 1878 Methodist church. Before you leave, be sure to check out the sculpture in the courtyard.
The Wool Shed – National Museum of Sheep and Shearing, Masterton
A far more comprehensive and bigger museum than we expected, it took us through the history of shearing, sheep farming, and different wools. There are hands-on opportunities to feel the different wool types. The museum is also home to the Knitters and Spinners Guild, and many of their handmade items are for sale in the gift shop.
Jubilee Fire Museum, Masterton
A small museum accessed through The Wool Shed, we found a few early model fire trucks as well as the progression of uniforms and safety gear over time.
Tui Brewery, Mangatainoka
I am not sure why it surprised me, but the first time we visited Tui Brewery, we found that the grounds looked just like they did in the old commercials. We find it a fun stop for, at minimum, the cafe. If time allows, we enjoy the tour, which has changed quite a bit over the years, and we wrote about our visits to Tui Brewery here.
Schoc Chocolates, Greytown
Possibly the finest chocolate in New Zealand, each piece is meticulously handmade. While we couldn’t photo the process, we watched a skilled artisan expertly hand-pouring and shaping peppermint chocolate bars. We enjoyed several samples and even took home some treats as nearly all of it is coeliac-safe, offering plenty of dairy-free options.
Recommended to us, but we didn’t get here: more things to do in Wairarapa
- Cape Palliser and Putangirua Pinnacles
As New Zealanders, we know we will be back, so we opted to save this stunning area for a future visit due to a major slip (landslide) that currently prevents visitors from seeing the Putangirua Pinnacles.
- Fell Locomotive Museum, Featherston
Open only on weekends, the museum is best known for the locomotive H199, unique to New Zealand and used to climb the steep Remutaka Ranges.
- Featherston Heritage Museum, Featherston
Open only on weekends, the museum features photos, audiovisuals, and artifacts of the town during the WWI and WWII eras.
- Mt Bruce Pioneer Museum, Masterton
Also open only on the weekends, this vintage museum is a throwback to yesteryear.
- Trust House Recreation Centre, Masterton
It was the huge waterslides that caught our eye at the public pool. It also features the “lazy river” that kids love to drift along.
- Pipinui Falls, Pahiatua
A short 200m walk from the carpark, this three-tiered cascade waterfall is viewed from a lookout point.
- Mangatiti Falls, Pongaroa
A stunning waterfall located on private land. Pre-arrangement to view is required from the owners.
Where to stay for a romantic getaway in Wairarapa
We came to relax and unwind. It was important to us to be somewhere special, and we sure found it.
Kaituna Riverside Cottages
Two nights in the Glade Cottage was exactly what we needed to recharge. Surrounded by forest, river, and even a small waterfall, it was a rustic sanctuary off the beaten path. The cabin itself is a small hideaway, and the surrounding nature makes it special.
Off the grid, yet solar-powered, we had everything we needed for a romantic getaway in Wairarapa. It’s perfect for someone looking for a bit of luxury glamping in Wairarapa. There’s a BBQ or indoor stove along with the kitchenette, enough lights to keep us happy, a super comfortable loft bed, and plenty of windows to look out at nature.
More than a mere place to sleep, it’s an experience. We explored the well-signposted trail to the river, waterfall, and “magnificent tree” and even stumbled upon surprises like a chair hammock and a riverside wood fire romantic bath. Our hosts thoughtfully provided a brazier for a nighttime bonfire, even leaving a bag of marshmallows. While a river dip was recommended, the weather didn’t quite warm up enough for us to indulge. Reserve your cottage here.
Le Grá B&B
If rustic isn’t your thing, there is a lovely B&B accommodation at Le Grá. While it has no kitchen facilities of its own, breakfast is included, and we can personally assure you that Nicky can cook! Guests have access to the pool and spa. Reserve your night here.
Where to eat (gluten-free) in Wairarapa
We are sure there are plenty more great places to eat, but we did find a few we loved, so we thought we would share them here:
- Le Grá
This was so great that we put it in our must-do section above. Skip up to it here.
- Entice Cafe, Masterton
Super popular with locals, there is both indoor and outdoor seating. I had a delicious coffee, while Jeff also enjoyed a treat. The food in the cabinet looked great, and there were a few gluten-free options, but not coeliac-safe.
- Lone Star, Masterton
Classic Texas menu and best known for its ribs, Lone Star has several franchises throughout the country, and we have never been disappointed by any of them. I had a chicken dish with their famous buffalo chips – made in a separate gluten-free fryer. They go to great lengths to be allergy-safe, even providing an allergy checklist of every item on the menu if you ask for it.
- Clareville Bakery, Clareville, just outside Carterton
We got here just after they closed, but it was recommended by several members of Explore New Zealand, so we were sad we missed it.
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For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …
Disclaimer: We worked alongside Destination Wairarapa and were provided with some complimentary entrances, tours, and accommodation in Wairarapa to aid in the writing of Albom Adventures. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.