Nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s stunning Wairarapa region, Carterton is a hidden gem that offers a delightful blend of natural beauty, rich heritage, and a vibrant community spirit. With a population of around 5,000 residents, Carterton may be small, but it packs a punch when it comes to things to see and do. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or simply seeking a relaxing escape, Carterton has something for everyone. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you on a journey through the best activities and attractions that Carterton has to offer.
Getting to Carterton
Before we dive into the exciting activities, let’s start with the basics: how to get to Carterton. Carterton is conveniently located just an hour’s drive from Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. If you’re flying in, Wellington International Airport is the closest major airport. From there, you can rent a car or take a scenic train ride on the Wairarapa Connection, which offers breathtaking views of the countryside.
1. Pukaha National Wildlife Centre
Begin your journey through Carterton by immersing yourself in the natural wonders of the Pukaha National Wildlife Centre. Just a short drive from Carterton, this sanctuary is a haven for native New Zealand wildlife. The star attraction is the endangered kākāpō, a large, nocturnal parrot. Guided tours and daily feeding sessions offer a chance to learn about these unique creatures and the conservation efforts being made to protect them.
The sanctuary is also home to a diverse range of native birds, including the iconic kiwi, tuatara (a reptile native to New Zealand), and many more. Wander along the boardwalks through lush forest, and you might just spot one of these elusive creatures in their natural habitat. Pukaha National Wildlife Centre provides an educational and immersive experience for visitors of all ages.
2. Stonehenge Aotearoa
Travel back in time at Stonehenge Aotearoa, a unique and intriguing attraction located in the Wairarapa countryside, just a short drive from Carterton. This full-scale replica of the famous Stonehenge in England was built with precision and astronomical accuracy. It serves as an observatory and a celestial calendar, allowing visitors to explore the wonders of the night sky.
Guided tours explain the cultural significance of this structure and how it aligns with the movements of celestial bodies. On a clear night, the stargazing experience here is unparalleled, making it a must-visit for astronomy enthusiasts and anyone interested in the mysteries of the universe.
3. Carterton Events Centre
For a taste of local culture and entertainment, check out the Carterton Events Centre. This modern facility hosts a variety of events, including live performances, art exhibitions, and community gatherings. Be sure to check the events calendar to see if there’s anything happening during your visit.
The center also houses a public library, making it a great place to relax and catch up on some reading. It’s a hub of activity and a wonderful place to connect with the friendly locals.
4. Take a Scenic Walk or Bike Ride
Carterton is surrounded by picturesque landscapes that are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. Lace up your hiking boots or hop on your bike and explore the various trails in the area. Some notable options include:
- The Rimutaka Rail Trail: This 115-kilometer trail winds its way through the Rimutaka Ranges and offers stunning views of the Wairarapa region. Whether you’re a serious cyclist or just looking for a leisurely stroll, there are sections of the trail suitable for all skill levels.
- Waiohine Gorge: Located a short drive from Carterton, this natural wonder is ideal for those seeking a more challenging hike. The trail leads you through lush forests, across swing bridges, and to the breathtaking Waiohine River. It’s a rewarding trek for experienced hikers.
- Carterton Scenic Reserve: If you prefer a shorter walk, the Carterton Scenic Reserve is an excellent choice. This tranquil reserve features easy walking tracks that take you through native bush and to a lookout with panoramic views of the region.
These outdoor adventures offer a chance to soak in the region’s natural beauty, from rolling hills and dense forests to serene rivers and meadows.
5. Visit Local Wineries
The Wairarapa region is known for its wine, and Carterton is no exception. Take a scenic drive through the countryside and visit some of the local wineries and vineyards. You can taste a variety of award-winning wines, including pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay.
Notable wineries in the region include Gladstone Vineyard, Matahiwi Estate, and StoneCutter Estate. Many of these establishments offer cellar door tastings, where you can sample wines and chat with the winemakers. It’s a delightful way to savor the flavors of the region.
6. Explore the Historical Side
Carterton has a rich history, and you can explore it by visiting several historical sites and museums:
- Cobblestones Museum: Located in Greytown, just a short drive from Carterton, this open-air museum is a step back in time. It features well-preserved historic buildings, including a schoolhouse, a church, and a blacksmith’s workshop. Stroll through the cobblestone streets and get a sense of life in the 19th century.
- Carterton Railway Station: The town’s railway station is a charming piece of history. Built in 1880, it’s a reminder of Carterton’s early days as a transportation hub for the region. While the station is no longer in use, it’s a great spot for photography and a glimpse into the past.
7. Shop Local
Carterton is home to a thriving community of artisans and boutique shops. Explore the town center and discover unique gifts, clothing, and locally crafted goods. The Saturday Farmers’ Market is a must-visit for fresh produce, artisanal products, and a taste of the region’s culinary delights.
8. Indulge in Local Cuisine
Carterton and the wider Wairarapa region offer an array of dining options to satisfy your taste buds. From charming cafes to upscale restaurants, you can savor fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Don’t miss the opportunity to try the region’s renowned cheeses, which pair perfectly with a glass of local wine.
9. Attend Local Events
Carterton hosts various events throughout the year that celebrate the local culture and community spirit. Whether it’s the Daffodil Carnival, A&P Show, or the Wairarapa Balloon Festival, these events offer a chance to connect with locals and experience the town’s vibrant atmosphere.
10. Relax and Unwind
Lastly, don’t forget to take some time to simply relax and soak in the tranquil ambiance of Carterton. Whether you’re enjoying a picnic in one of the town’s parks, taking a leisurely stroll through the streets, or finding a cozy spot to read a book, Carterton provides the perfect backdrop for unwinding and rejuvenating.
Carterton, New Zealand, is a town that surprises and delights with its diverse range of activities and attractions.