Stonehenge Aotearoa is an entirely serious attempt to teach astronomy and celestial timekeeping: it also explains some early Maori myth about the heavens, though in general it makes a point of debunking astrology. But best of all is Richard, the enthusistic astronomer who does the guided tour (his wife says he ‘looks like he’s measuring fish…’)
Greytown is a pretty little place and is a great ‘lifestyle’ choice if you want a quiet rural life with a jazz band on a Sunday, a nice restaurant or two, a touch of culture and the option of a train ride (or possibly a daily commute) to Wellington. Actually you could say that about a lot of New Zealand, but Greytown seems to have everything rather well in balance.
Carterton and Masterton are also pleasant … but there are no photos of them yet.
Over to the east of Wellington and the Wairarapa is the Pacific Ocean: but the hills get in the way and there are no tarmac roads, so the coast is hard to reach. Thankfully a little to the north are Castlepoint and Riversdale.
Castlepoint has a lovely beach with some lively rock formations: you could well come here simply to stay for a while and play in the sea.
But the particular attraction is the lighthouse, and the lovely pile of rocks and cliffs around it.
Kiwis treasure their lighthouses, and they really freak out about Castlepoint. It’s made of steel and was shipped out in sections from Britain about 90 years ago. These days it’s all automated, so you can’t go up to the top or drink tea with the jolly lighthouse keeper, but it remains a lovely spot to walk up to and take photographs from – or for a spot of fishing.
Tinui is little more than a road junction on the way to Castlepoint and Riversdale, but after a foodless day in Castlepoint I stopped at the Tinui Cafe & Bar and had a heavenly Red Pepper & Feta Muffin.
Tinui’s claim to fame is that it was the first place ever to have an ANZAC Day service after the First World War: it marks this nowadays by including Gallipoli on the village signpost and taking Remembrance seriously at the village school.
They also do a nice line in ‘cute’, with a restored Police Station and Jail.
But the best thing of all was sitting in the sun with a good coffee, cold sparkling water and that Red Pepper & Feta Muffin.
To the east of Wellington are the Tararua Hills. These are very steep and folded-up, so travelling through them is quite difficult; but once you get beyond them you discover the Wairarapa – an undeveloped area with fields full of sheep and cows, almost no people, and the wonderful Lake Wairarapa:
The main yearly attraction round here is the ‘Golden Shears’ sheep-sheering contest at Masterton – though these days the Martinborough vineyards run it a close second. It all makes a refreshing change after little Wellington with its look at me, I’m so wonderful feel.
Down one side of the lake is a lovely little church – All Saints, Wairongomai. There’s nothing like a town around it, so I guess Wairongomai is just a gathering point; but the church is beautifully cared-for and is a real treat to visit.
Whangaimoana and the Putangirua Pinnacles, in the far south-east of New Zealand’s North Island, make a marvellous day out from Wellington.
On the way there are a couple of small attractions: the Burnside Chapel, which looks like it arrived on wheels and has a fantastic metal chimney for a spire; and the Land Girl Cafe, a very welcome stop with lovely cheerful staff, some very nice gifts and great coffee.
Then’s it’s on to Whanaimoana, where there’s almost nothing (about 6 houses) but the views of the sea take your breath away:
What we’ve really come for, though, are the Putangirua Pinnacles. These are a natural wonder which anywhere else in the world would be thronged with tourists and burger stands – but in New Zealand there’s about one visitor every half an hour. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings made the place famous, but now the excitement has worn off there don’t seem to be many extra tourists.
The idea is that this soft erodable land has been exposed for about 70,000 years and is being weathered down by the rain. This is not unusual in New Zealand, but the scale of it here is pretty impressive when you notice the trees on the top.
At the bottom you can wander freely among the pinnacles (no Kiwi would dream of defacing them or knocking them about) and you get a further impression of their size and awesomeness.