Winter Wonders in Wairarapa

The miniature train in Queens Elizabeth park in the Wairarapa.

Seeking a picturesque escape with family fun? Welcome to the Wairarapa!

For a region famous for its world-class wine and food, it’s surprising just how much fun there is to be had for youngsters in the Wairarapa. It’s just a short drive from Wellington (over the spectacular Remutaka Hill) and a few hours away by car from Palmerston North or Hawke’s Bay. From incredible outdoor experiences, encounters with nature and lots of characterful towns, exploring the Wairarapa is a must-do for the family — and there are plenty of added attractions over the winter school holidays too.

Greytown lights up

Christmas is coming early to South Wairarapa visitor hot spot, Greytown. The Festival of Christmas runs through July, with the school holidays in the middle weeks. Created last year as a way of kick-starting retail following the Covid lockdown, the Festival was a huge success.

Beautiful Greytown provides the perfect backdrop for a winter celebration, including spectacular lighting displays, interactive family activities, night markets, Matariki activities, Christmas parties and more. And parents, let’s not forget that Greytown has some fabulous shopping opportunities too. For chocolate lovers (that’s all of us, right?), Schoc Chocolates has more than 80 different flavours, and if you time your visit over the school holidays there are chocolate-making lessons for the kids.

Cobblestones Museum in Greytown, Wairarapa

Cool as ice in Carterton

Greytown’s nearest neighbour, Carterton, is turning it on these school holidays with another festive lure for visitors, The Carterton Heart of Winter Festival – a programme of wonderful events, with many pitched at young people. One of the highlights is sure to be the outdoor real ice skating rink, which you’ll find at the edge of Carrington Park in the centre of town. The open-air, 160m2, 100 percent pure ice rink provides revelry for all ages. Explore, create, learn, glide and have fun in this winter wonderland!

Carterton Ice rink in the Wairarapa

Much to do in Masterton

Rounding out a trifecta of towns to visit, play and stay is Masterton. Her “jewel in the crown” is Queen Elizabeth Park – one of the best family parks in New Zealand, featuring a huge kids’ playground, fabulous flying fox, pedal boats, mini-golf, BMX, skate park, and a very cool miniature train just waiting for you and the family to climb aboard.

After going wild in the park, cool off in the “lazy- river” pools, directly opposite the park. For a shot of culture check out Aratoi, Wairarapa Museum of Art & History, the Wool Shed and ConART, a walk-through working arts precinct and gallery right next door to QE Park. If there’s any energy left in the tank, just around the corner is Masterbowl where you can get competitive with ten-pin bowling, bumper cars and arcade games.

Wonderful wildlife

Recognised as New Zealand’s number one mainland indigenous wildlife sanctuary, Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre is home to some of our most rare and endangered wildlife. Daily talks, bird and eel feeds and a “weta motel” let the kids really get up close with nature, while easy-to-walk trails weave through lush native forest. For something a bit more orderly, there are several organised tours to choose from, the 45-minute Family Tour is designed with children in mind encouraging kids of all ages to get excited about our beautiful fauna and flora!

Te Wahi Weta Pukaha National Wildlife Centre, in the Wairarapa

Coastal adventure

Wairarapa boasts an extraordinary coast, so brace yourself for jaw-dropping natural scenery at Castlepoint, a 50-minute drive east of Masterton. The iconic lighthouse, jagged limestone reef, golden sand beach and the imposing Castle Rock is spellbinding and will draw you to your phone for the ultimate Instagram selfie. On the south coast, the quirky fishing village of Ngawi (an hour from Martinborough) has more tractors per head of population than anywhere else in the world. Just past Ngawi you’ll spot a large, fur seal colony and the magnificent cast-iron Cape Palliser lighthouse. On the way there (or back), it’s worth checking out the Putangirua Pinnacles: the amazing rock formations where Peter Jackson filmed The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Lighthouse at Castlepoint in the Wairarapa

where to Stay in wairarapa

Masterton has great options for family accommodation, such as Copthorne Solway Park Hotel & Resort , with an indoor pool, gymnasium and squash court. Or the iconic White Swan Hotel in Greytown has family units and you’ll be right in the middle of the town, the place where you want to be during the Festival of Christmas.

More family holiday inspiration from Tots to Teens:

5 Places To Go For A Winter Holiday Without Snow

46 Of The Best Activities To Do In Canterbury

How To Spend 48 Hours In New Plymouth With Kids

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