Castlepoint, 65 km east of Masterton, is a summer retreat amidst dramatic lagoon and lighthouse scenery where soul-uplifting and mind-clearing walks are de rigueur. The sandy beaches and craggy headlands, mark the only significant break in 300 km of desolate, wind-battered coastline from Cape Palliser to Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay. There is holiday park and motel accommodation and a daytime cafe. A branch road leads to the happy hamlet of Riversdale, an equally popular summer getaway.
Carterton, 15 km south, is known as New Zealand’s daffodil capital and hosts a Daffodil Carnival in September each year. It is also home to the fascinating Paua Shell Factory. Live paua (abalone) repose on smooth rocks in the aquarium and there is a treasure trove of rainbow-coloured objects fashioned from polished shell for sale. The nearby Parkvale factory shop grows legions of tasty gourmet brown mushrooms.
Greytown, 24 km south, dates from 1853, and the Victorian air of antiquity still lingers in the well-preserved main street with its wooden two-storey facades. New Zealand’s first inland town has a selection of popular cafes and restaurants, along with an interesting historical walk and the excellent Cobblestones Museum. An ideal town for lingering among art, craft and antiques shops.
Featherston, 37 km south, proudly boasts the uniqueness of its main attraction, the Fell Locomotive Museum on Lyon Street. Steam buffs roll in from far and wide to admire this last surviving example of a steep-incline fell engine. For 77 years this venerable old workhouse chugged up a one-in-fifteen slope gripping a central rail, in order to surmount the fearful Rimutaka Incline. The track bed now forms an interesting walkway leading over to the Upper Hutt Valley.
Martinborough, 18 km south of Featherston, is the focal point of a compact wine region with a reputation for producing some of New Zealand’s finest red wines. The November Toast Martinborough Festival highlights the region’s viticultural success with a fanfare, offering quality local wines and produce to the accompaniment of fine music. A refurbished historic hotel, upmarket restaurants and boutique shops add to the town’s appeal.
Cape Palliser is well worth exploring over narrow, gravel roads teetering above angry swells that lash the shore with the full fury of Antarctic seas. At times the South Island’s snow-capped peaks seem very close. Intriguing sights along the way include the desolate Lake Onoke bird-watching spit, the Putangirua Pinnacles and their bizarre weathered organ pipes, the rugged Ngawi fishing village and the Cape seal colony and the 250 step high, candy-striped lighthouse lookout. The space, seascape and solitude of this area are seductive.
Stonehenge-Aotearoa is a new must-see local attraction. The massive stone circle is built of prefabricated carbon fibre concrete and stands in solemn mystical splendour between Carterton and Martinborough.