GO NZ: A long weekend in Wairarapa in a motorhome perfect route for a road trip
Castlepoint Lighthouse, first lit in 1913, sits atop a limestone mound and is the tallest lighthouse on the North Island. Photo / Michelle Villamin
Windswept coastlines, lonely lighthouses, and single-road towns make Wairarapa ideal for travelers with a sense of adventure and a penchant for the van life. This secluded corner of the North Island is ready to be explored on a motorhome trip from Wellington. In two nights, three days and around a seven hour drive, you can see some of the region’s wildest corners.
Day 1: Wellington to Castlepoint
The journey from Wellington to Castlepoint takes approximately two and a half hours. After crossing the Remutaka mountain range, stop at Featherston to stock up on fuel for your road trip; a cheese scone from C’est Cheese, an artisanal deli and cheese shop. This will allow you to continue to your destination.
Castlepoint looks like a world apart from the city. Fishing boats sit on the sandy shore. Sometimes someone passes by on horseback. Other than a local store, which also serves coffee and take out, there isn’t much here other than simple tarpaulins leaning against the hills.
Castlepoint Lighthouse, a monolith atop a craggy limestone mound lashed by waves, watches over the small settlement. First lit in 1913, it is the tallest lighthouse on the North Island and one of New Zealand’s last two rotating beam lighthouses. A walk climbs the fossil-studded ridge of the promontory to reach the lighthouse, then climbs past to an epic lookout.
For another vantage point, follow the Deliverance Cove Walking trail from the parking lot. It winds along a pine-covered ridge above the beach, eventually leading to the mighty Castle Rock. Climb up the golden grass until you reach the high top. At 162 meters high, it overlooks the coast and offers impressive views in all directions. Return to the parking lot along the lagoon halfpipe, where surfers catch waves crashing through a narrow hole in the rock.
Park your motorhome at Castlepoint Holiday Park (castlepoint.co.nz) for a prime location near the water, overlooking the lighthouse. It’s just as pretty at night, with the beam of light swirling above the city under a star-dusted sky.
Day 2: From Castlepoint to Cape Palliser
The journey from lighthouse to lighthouse takes a little over two hours.
To interrupt the route, stop at Pinnacles de Putangirua for a bush walk and admire the distinct rock formations. The trail follows the creek bed to the pinnacle humpback fairy chimneys, rising from the stony ground. There is a DoC campsite here if you like the quiet of the bush.
The road to Cape Palliser follows the pebble coast and is dotted with one-way bridges, slowing you down in preparation for the pace of life in Ngawi, an quirky fishing village wedged between a cliff and a gravel beach. Bulldozers tinted orange by the salt spray are lined up haphazardly along the water’s edge, where their rusty carcasses wait to haul the fishing boats back from the ocean. Rogue sheep trot across the road, slightly disturbed by passing cars.
As you continue past Ngawi, you will begin to feel like you are reaching the end of the world, and in a way you are; it is the southernmost point of the North Island.
The road becomes narrow and strewn with potholes, plunging into fords and clinging to the rocky cliff in places. Only try it if you are in a small to medium sized motorhome. On the way to the lighthouse is the largest colony of fur seals on the North Island. Seals are everywhere, hopping between bushes and crawling over rocks, giving off pungent odors as they pass. They are often spread out right next to the parking lot, so be careful and make sure to keep a distance of at least 20 meters.
The Cape Palliser Lighthouse is the last stop on the route. Boldly striped in red and white, it has stood at its fantastic vantage point since 1897. Climb the 253 steep steps to take in the views of the harakeke-covered hills and surf the pebble beaches below.
The Ngawi camping area is right in the middle of the village, next to the Captain’s Table Food Truck (facebook.com/www.captainstable.co.nz) which serves fresh fish and chips. The campsite operates on donations, so drop a few coins in the box and sit down for the evening to watch the hustle and bustle around the fishing boats.
Day 3: Cape Palliser to Wellington
On the way back to Wellington, slow down and savor the region’s distinct food scene.
Stop for coffee and cake at The Land Girl Cafe (facebook.com/thelandgirlnz) in Blink-and-you-missed-it Pirinoa. It’s the perfect amount of quirky, with recycled outdoor seating where you can enjoy countryside views, and even vintage clothing treasures to browse.
As the last port of call before making the return hike on the Remutaka Range, stop at Poppies Martinborough (poppiesmartinborough.co.nz) for lunch. You can’t cross the Wairarapa without visiting at least one winery, and Poppies is a highlight. Lunch comes in the form of decadent seasonal platters. Call ahead to reserve; it’s a treat to end a motorhome weekend.
DETAILSFor more things to see and do in the area, visit wairarapanz.com
Check alert level restrictions and advice from the Department of Health before traveling. covid19.govt.nz