When the wine cellar is getting low and the mouth a bit dry, the call to grape-growing country gets all too hard to resist. Luckily for Wellingtonians, a journey over the Remutaka Range to the Wairarapa Region is all it takes to resolve those vino-less issues, swapping windbreakers and reusable coffee cups for the sunhats and wine glasses you’re going to need in your idyllic destination of Martinborough. This roadie itinerary will see you discover mountaintop lookouts, cheesy treasure troves, astronomical wonders, organic Meccas and, most importantly, a deep and divine glass of red.
If you’re a nature-loving EV driver, all the spots you need to stop off at to recharge your trusty wheels are included in this weekend itinerary, making your travels that much more carefree. And so they should be, you’ve got more important things to worry about... Like whether to bring home two or twenty bottles. To be enjoyed responsibly, of course.
Nowhere makes your first meal of the day easier to digest than Loretta, who are up with the sparrows six mornings a week to put lip-smacking breakfasts in front of hungry Wellingtonians. Located smack bang in the middle of Wellington’s creative nucleus, Cuba Street, Loretta combines classy with cool, cosmopolitan with homely. If you’re craving savory, try the tasty porchetta open sandwich; or if you want something a little sweeter, the crumpets with coconut yoghurt and curd are just as good as they sound. For the non-drivers in your party, maybe a morning Spritz to get the day started could be just what the doctor ordered.
While away your early morning with an exploration of downtown Wellington, in all its vibrant and artsy glory. The proud capital of caffeine and craft beer (as well as that other capital title), Wellington, particularly Cuba Street, is chock full of buskers, thrifted fashion and diversity, making it a pretty groovy place to spend a couple of hours. Galleries, museums and theatres galore, downtown Wellington is a haven of creativity and imagination. For a bit of artisanal inspiration, the Underground Market happens every Saturday morning in the heart of the waterfront, creating a space for the best art, craft and design (not to mention food and live music) the city can offer.
On a good day, a drive through the Remutaka Pass can be a dramatic landscape with steep ravines and loads of bush. On a not-so-good day, the road is notorious for being a challenge to navigate safely, so always drive to the conditions and keep your eyes on the (very narrow and winding) road. However, the view from the summit makes it all worth it, the lookout point blessing you with views across the mountain range and Wairarapa Valley. With a small loop track to stretch your legs on, it’s the perfect spot to have a quick break before descending to flatter pastures. See that green oasis in the distance? That’s where you’re headed.
An essential stop for any non-lactose-intolerant roadtripper, C’est Cheese is an artisan deli filled from floor to ceiling with Aotearoa’s best cheesy goodness, including its witty name. Chic and sophisticated (perhaps not what you would expect, coming into this quaint rural town), the cheese deli is one of Featherston’s biggest draw-cards, and one taste of their addictive chunks will tell you why. Make yourself a brag-worthy picnic hamper with C’est Cheese’s gourmet meats, chutneys, breads and, of course, cheese, and find a scenic spot to devour it. A few post-lunch treats from neighbouring Sweet wouldn’t go amiss either.
Sitting pretty in the heart of the Wairarapa, Martinborough is a magnetic field that attracts hundreds of wine connoisseurs (both sincere and wannabe) every day, with its prime grape-growing micro-climate. While the vines are certainly the drawing factor, there’s actually much more to this quintessential colonial town (the town centre is in the shape of a Union Jack - does it get any more patriotic than that?), with insta-worthy architecture, kilometres of walking and cycling tracks, luscious greenery and a whole lot of small-town charm. There must be something in the wine.
The beauty of Martinborough as the spot for your next cellar door crawl is the close proximity of vineyards; basically all vineyards are located on the streets that run from the town’s main square. This is great news for the oft-designated drivers among us, as it’s not at all too big of an ask to cycle or even walk between tastings. Green Jersey Cycle Tours are a popular local option for cycle hire, who can offer great advice on which vineyards to include in your self-guided tour. Spend your afternoon leisurely enjoying the world-class wine and scenery, and, whatever you do, make sure to stock yourself with enough bottles to safely last until your next visit to the region.
Among the many restaurants in Martinborough, one that stands out as being consistently great is Tirohana Estate, so save your visit here until last on your wine tour so you can enjoy a beautiful dinner amongst the vines. The prix fixe is more than reasonable for the first-class range of menu choices, and with the entire range of Tirohana wine available, it goes without saying that your meal will find its perfect match. Try the Fillet of Beef if you know what’s good for you… With accompaniments like blue cheese soufflé and wine jus, food envy won’t come knocking any time soon. If you do plan on dining here, be sure to reserve a table well in advance as, unsurprisingly, Tirohana Estate is always booked out.
While your trusty EV charges overnight, you won’t be lacking any kind of luxury whilst staying in at the Martinborough TOP 10 Holiday Park. Options range from self-contained apartments, to cabins with shared facilities, to powered and non-powered sites; so there’s something to match whatever level of fancy you’re feeling. If you’re a forward planner, there’ll be a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir you’ve been saving, just waiting to be sipped on.
Morning coffee in Martinborough has to come from In the Neighbourhood, the café and roastery that gives locals their daily buzz. Their focus on great coffee means you can sip away with the peace of mind that the beans have been ethically sourced and locally blended. Find a spot to peacefully devour one of their simple-but-top-notch breakfast options… With loads of outdoor seating so you can make the most of that sunshine the vines so love, In the Neighbourhood has all the makings of a morning in (coffee-scented) paradise.
Thought you knew all there was to know about New Zealand? You may want to think again, unless you already knew that there was a working adaptation of England’s Stonehenge in the heart of the Wairarapa… although this one was built in 2005, rather than 3000 BC. There are guided tours available at 11am on Saturdays and Sundays, but if timing doesn’t work you can also have a look around on a self-guided tour with a provided map and information sheet from 10am. Learn about the scientific, astronomical and historical importance of stone circles, so you can feel as if you’re on holiday to the United Kingdom rather than just an EV’s charge up the road.
For a place with a pretty inauspicious name, Greytown has definitely defied the odds of its designation, being crowned as ‘New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Small Town’ in 2017. A haven of Victorian architecture and small-town tranquility, Greytown’s tree-lined streets are dotted with shopping boutiques, historical buildings and artisanal cafes that would make any city dweller consider a move to the country.
One of Greytown’s most popular and eco-friendly establishments, Food Forest Organics is spreading the gospel of organic, whole-food diets with their range of products and fresh produce. Owned by Hollywood director James Cameron, who may or may not have had some part to play in Greytown’s popularity, Food Forest Organics is the spot to stop for lunch if you’re on a healthy eating buzz, you like repurposed historic buildings, or you think you’ve got a movie pitch that could rival Titanic. Friendly and easygoing, with light and delicious food, you will leave feeling energised, light-footed and at ease with the planet.
Amidst (actually, inside) Greytown’s colonial heritage buildings are a few stores worth poking your nose into. From the sophisticated Taylor Road Homewares, to the clean-cut Nirvana Interiors, to vintage lovers’ paradise Encore Designer Recycle, there’s something to keep everyone occupied. But the must-must-visit amongst all of these gems is Schoc Chocolates, which proves that the Wairarapa isn’t just about wine tastings… You can also savour a bit of chocolate too. With over 60 flavours, all created by resident ‘chocologist’ Murray Langham, heaven most definitely is a place on earth.
EV drivers need to stop back off at Featherston on your way back to Welly, filling up your battery at the SuperValue one last time. With just over 60 km to go on your journey, this recharge should get you back without any qualms, but there’s another rapid charge station at the Queen Street car park in Upper Hutt if the Remutaka Range drains a bit more of your battery than expected. Or maybe it was all that wine, cheese and chocolate in your boot…
On the other side of the Remutaka Range, turn off towards Kaitoke Regional Park for a slice of natural wonder. Nearly 2500 hectares of native forest in the foothills of the Tararua Ranges, if you were thinking this place has a sort of otherworldly beauty about it, you’re not alone. In fact, the makers of Lord of the Rings thought it was such a magical spot, with all its ancient trees, stony streams and mystical light, they chose it to be the location of Rivendell. Pull up by one of the many deep, clear pools of the Hutt or Pakuratahi Rivers and jump in for a refreshing swim, or set up a picnic rug and gobble some chocolates surrounded by the ethereal nature of Kaitoke. There’s also a popular campground here, just in case you decide you’re not ready to part with the peaceful seclusion that exists in wider Wellington just yet. We wouldn’t blame you.
You’ve already been to the UK on this road trip, now how about a trip to Italy? This Cuba Street locale brings easy-living Venetian charm to Wellington, both through its lightly-hued, minimalist decor and eye-wateringly good sharing dishes. Food comes out when it’s ready at Ombra, giving you the chance to dine European-style and draw it out like a long, summer Mediterranean evening. It may be tempting to order the entire menu (we’ve all been there), but if you’re looking for a few goodies to share you’d be mad to go past the paella arancini and brussel sprouts, and the duck and mascarpone risotto is fit for a road tripping king. Wash it down with a Peroni or a few, and you’ve had yourself the perfect weekend.