Escape to the Wairarapa
By Gotta Love NZ
We love the Wairarapa for its spectacular scenery, great food and wine scene and its many things to do. After a memorable experience a few years ago it was time to head back and see more of the plentiful gems in this region.
This time around we decided to fly to Palmerston North Airport from Auckland and leisurely cruise the open straight highways to the Wairarapa. With Jetstar now flying the Auckland to Palmy route there’s now plentiful and inexpensive flights at all times of the day, so it really makes sense to ‘Fly Palmy’ as a contrast to the drive to the Wairarapa from Wellington. At the end of this article you’ll even find a chance to win an escape here for you and a mate!
What to do
It turns out Fly Palmy is actually a very handy location to discover a number of regions in the central and lower North Island, with a handful within a 90 minute drive including Ruapehu and Whanganui. But this time the focus was on Wairarapa, and after picking up our rental from Cross Country Rentals we were on the uncrowded straight highway to our first stop at a NZ icon.
Just 35 minutes south from Palmerston North Airport, the tiny town of Mangatainoka is famous in New Zealand for one reason alone. It is the birthplace of the famous NZ beer brand Tui. In 1889 Henry Wagstaff founded the Tui brewery on the banks of the Mangatainoka river after being attracted to the purity of its water, and set amongst lush farmland, the brewery and its distinctive tower is the only significant structure in the town.
The old brewery has had a massive makeover and is now known as Tui Brewery - we arrived just in time to experience it. Founders Nick and Rosie have poured their passion for the brand and the town into a top notch experience for domestic and international visitors alike. The original brewing tower has been retained, but visitors can now watch the brewing process take place, sample beer from the new state of the art brewery, and enjoy great food (and even wine) in a quirky and incredible location. There is even a nod to the humour that Tui marketing campaigns are known for, with a large sign on a neighbouring farm saying ‘Tui Wood’ .
After a beer tasting on the sunny lawn and a wonderful meal we did a guided brewery tour and learnt the story of this quirky town and the beer that made it famous. It’s a great place to stop off on the way to Wairarapa.
Pukaha Mt Bruce
Just 20 minutes down the road we stopped off at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre - we’d heard great things about the wildlife here and were excited to visit.
Pukaha Mount Bruce lets you get up close and personal with some of New Zealand’s most rare and endangered wildlife. As well as Tuatara and Takahe, it has the only Kokako in captivity in the country, as well as Manukura, the only white kiwi in the world!
We took a tour of the massive walk through aviary Pukaha has just opened. The aviary has eight different types of native birds and really gives you a feel for what NZ’s immense wildlife was like before the country was populated.
Pukaha is situated in native forest at the base of Mt Bruce. After making their way through a cafe and education centre, visitors can explore their way through the many tracks that lead to enclosures of rare native birds. You’ll come across staff feeding native birds such as the Kokako and Kiwi, and sharing their passion for their role in their preservation. For the adventurous, there’s also plenty of walks that begin here including one that will take you to the summit of Mt Bruce in a four hour round trip.
Pukaha’s a real community success story with volunteers and conservationists working together tirelessly to create a haven for some of New Zealand’s most endangered wildlife. It’s a must do, and if you’re lucky you may just see a Kiwi hatch!
Where to stay
After a great afternoon we checked into the Copthorne Solway Park Wairarapa in Masterton to get a good night’s rest before adventuring further through Wairarapa. We decided to take part in a Scottish whisky tasting before chowing down a delicious local steak at the hotel’s restaurant, The Grill before calling it a night in their very comfortably appointed rooms. The Copthorne Solway Park Wairarapa is a Country Resort style hotel with outstanding facilities including a golf driving range as well as indoor and outdoor pools.
The Clareville Bakery
Masterton’s the biggest town in the Wairarapa, and it likes to keep up with the high benchmark for food across the region. On a local recommendation we ventured to the nearby Clareville Bakery for brunch the next morning. This year the bakery took out Best Rural Cafe in NZ’s Cafe of the year awards. The owners Mike and Rose Kloeg are local foodies and also have the distinction of having won the highly coveted award for NZ’s best pie. In a country of pie aficionados, their lamb cutlet and kumara mash pie took top honours.
But the Clareville Bakery is about much more than pies. Set in a converted church, Mike and Rose have stamped their perfectionism and creativity on everything from the design of the space to the immense tastiness that is in every ounce of their food.
I sampled a buffet of cronuts and donuts that were so fresh and tasty they would have blown away anything in an Auckland Cafe. It’s little wonder the Auckland boutique supermarkets have come knocking wanting to stock their products. With damn good coffee and brunch and lunch options to match, The Clareville Bakery sets a very high standard and is a most inspiring culinary experience. Stay tuned for part two of our adventure.
To win The Wairarapa Beers and Birds Escape enter at www.wairarapanz.com/win.
Check out Destination Wairarapa for tips on what to do in the region.
Fly Palmy is the best entry point into the Wairarapa for the above experiences.