Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Wairarapa in New Zealand Is a Way Cool Place To Go

Took a trip last month from Wellington through Napier and Taupo on my way home to Auckland.

Made me realise what an under-rated destination the Wairarapa region is. To start with it's physically beautiful - soft, gently rolling grassy downlands; the main road meanders easily along the flats between two lines of hills. The farmland is absolute picture postcard stuff.

Everybody waxes lyrical about Martinborough with its big rep as a wine growing area (for good reason), but some of the other towns are equally as interesting, Greytown and Carterton especially. These are classic Kiwi country towns that everybody ignored for decades . . . thus they were never upgraded with a bulldozer and have retained that wonderful snapshot of life in Victorian and Edwardian colonial New Zealand.

Greytown, a thriving country village, is a living museum of Victoriana. It was once the leading township in the region, but the railway by-passed it in the 1870s and the town slumbered on for the next hundred years. Fortunately, because of that deep sleep, it never got modernised, so there they all are - those delightful, authentic old buildings. The advent of the Martinborough wine growing region and resulting steady stream of tipplers travelling to and fro has revived Greytown's fortunes and it is now well serviced with great accommodation options and some superb cafes and restaurants.

Here are just a few suggestions:.

The White Swan. A hotel in the town. You could be forgiven, looking at it, to think that it's been serving the needs of the road-weary for a hundred years. In fact it was a service station only a few years ago, though in fairness the building itself began life in 1890 as a railways administration block at Woburn near Wellington. It was trucked in and refurbished with 13 themed suites and studios - mostly with an Eastern flavour. Tw/dbl $139-$269 per night.

Bright House another landmark. In 1856, enterprising local blacksmith Richard Bright combined 2 small cottages to qualify for a land ballot. It is thought that this orignal lower half is the oldest remaining dwelling in Greytown. The upper storey, built in the more stately late Victorian style, was added in 1891, the staircase being artfully designed to make the transition appear quite natural. You can stay there for $NZ150 a night.

At Wakelin House Restaurant and Courtyard Cafe in Carterton you can dine in a genuine antique. The house was built in 1872,. replacing an earlier cottage on the site occupied by Richard Wakelin, NZ's first journalist and founder of the Wairarapa Standard newspaper. Menu is Italian influenced - dishes include Carpaccio (marinated beef fillet), Salmoni Affumicati Penne (salmon in a creamed dill sauce with penne). Mains $24-28.

Or how about Cuckoo Cafe. Worth the visit if only for the decor - eclectic tatt I'd call it, but another writer described it at "delightfully bohemian in pink" - pink because that's the colour they've used to tart up the tatt. Does breakfast and lunches 11-4. Just a great place to utterly waste a Sunday morning doing brunch and reading the paper.

For wildlife enthusiasts - or if you have kids (which sometimes amounts to the same thing) - or if you just want to take a timely stop try the Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre. Here you can get close to some of NZ's most precious and endangered birds like saddleback, stitchbird and kokako. Indeed with "nest-cam" you can get right inside their nest. These are some of the rarest bird species in the world and they're being patiently nursed back from the abyss of extinction. Among them, is the kaka - a natural knockabout clown who never fails to amuse watchers at feeding time.

I'm as guilty as anyone in underselling this place . . . I'll have to update the information on the Hawkes Bay / Wairarapa page on my website at http://New-Zealand-Travel-Guide.com/hawkes-bay.htm.

Give me a day or two and it shall be done.

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