21. Visit Martinborough: New Zealand's wine town
Wine and dine your way through New Zealand with these magnificent locations: here is No. 21 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
If you’re keen to test the maxim that New Zealand effortlessly squeezes in diverse experiences for travellers, it’s time to visit the Wairarapa region. Journey across the Remutaka Range from Wellington/Te Whanganui-a-Tara to Martinborough and use the charming town, anointed as the world’s only true wine village, as a base to discover world-beating pinot noir, a remote coastline and an idiosyncratic landscape given a starring role in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Factor in luxury accommodation and fine dining enjoyed by royalty, and Wairarapa definitely punches above its weight.
Cycling between cellar doors through Martinborough’s flat terrain is recommended, with Green Jersey Explorer Tours the local experts for guided experiences and independent bike hire. There are about 30 wineries to discover in and around the town, many family owned and run. If you are in town – or even anywhere near it – on the third Sunday of every November you can join in the fun of the annual Toast Martinborough festival, showcasing the wares of local cellar doors, wineries, restaurants and producers.
Another option to explore this remote coastal area is by car from Martinborough, an interesting drive of around 90 minutes each way. En route, a four-kilometre loop track explores the otherworldly crags and valleys of the Putangirua Pinnacles, a natural landscape harnessed by Kiwi filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson as the foreboding Dimholt Road in Return of the King. Beyond the Pinnacles, the road continues through Ngawi, a tiny coastal hamlet where rusted tractors are lined up to transport fishing boats to the often-windswept southern Pacific.
Continuing past the North Island/Te Ika-a-Māui’s biggest fur seal/kekeno colony, the road ends at the candy-striped Cape Palliser lighthouse, crafted in cast iron in 1897. After knocking off the lighthouse’s 253 steps, you’ll definitely need lunch. Options include fish and chips or a burger at the Lake Ferry Hotel, or the farm-to-table Trust the Chef menu at Wharekauhau Lodge. Located on a 1300-hectare working sheep station, the luxury property was a Kiwi escape for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2014. There’s no record of them making it to the Lake Ferry pub for a cold one, but you definitely should.