Skip to main content

20141213_124855Liv­ing in the most south­ern part of south­ern Wair­ar­apa (aka Upper Hutt), the many attrac­tions of Greytown, Mar­tin­bor­ough, Mas­ter­ton et al. are but a stone’s throw away for me and my fam­ily, and it’s fair to say we make the most of that fact with reg­u­lar jaunts to the wilds.

Here, then, are what we have found to be the high­lights of that massive expanse of New Zea­l­and that is bed­ded down between the Tararu­as and the coast, non­chal­antly glan­cing south to the Rimu­ta­kas and north to Man­awatu. As with pre­vi­ous fea­tures (Wel­ling­ton City in March 2014; Hutt Val­ley in July and Pori­rua in Octo­ber) there are but two basic guidelines:


  1. All of the included activ­it­ies must be child- and fam­ily-friendly; and
  2. Top of mind for most is the cost versus enter­tain­ment ratio.


At least two of the many Wair­ar­apa vil­lages are fam­ous for the eat­er­ies they boast, so let’s go through the stom­ach to get to the rest of the region because, if your kids are any­thing like mine, it doesn’t mat­ter how little time they’ve spent in the car, by the time they get to wherever you’re going they’re “so hungry” or “starving” and you almost cer­tainly need caffeine.

Greytown has many pos­sib­il­it­ies but we have two favour­ites. Bar Saluté doesn’t sound like the kind of place you’d take the under-teens, but it caters to kids bril­liantly. Man­ager Ash Thomas has three of his own and seems to get what’s needed. They have a $16 box that includes activ­it­ies and there’s plenty of out­door seat­ing, so that on a sunny day you can sit out­side — or per­haps put the kids out­side while you stay indoors with a flat white.

Loc­al insti­tu­tion The French Baker has recently been bought by former Boul­cott Bis­tro maître d’ and Wel­ling­ton food iden­tity Rusty Don­worth. He’s kept everything pretty much as is, and with an out­door area, plenty of chocol­ate-filled pastries and good cof­fee, there’s some­thing to keep every mem­ber of the fam­ily happy.

While you’re in Greytown, there’s a cool, recently upgraded play­ground in Sol­diers Memori­al Park, on Kur­atawhiti Street (off Main Street). As long as the weather’s good — and I’m led to believe that the weather’s always good in Greytown — that’s a decent run around for an hour.

If, on the oth­er hand, you’ve veered left in Feath­er­ston and headed to where the vines are call­ing your name, there’s a good spot for fam­ily graz­ing in Mar­tin­bor­ough too. Pinoc­chio has toys and a kids’ menu, and last time we were there they didn’t even seem to mind that my three-year-old twin daugh­ters were play­ing tag on the bench seats.


Now, appet­ite sated, there’s much to do. Let’s go.

20141213_131017   20141213_131148

I’m not going to try to pull the alpaca wool over your eyes here; the day my friend Ben and I took our three pre-teen test­ers from vari­ous parts of the Hutt Val­ley, loaded them into the car and headed over the hill to see what they made of the best attrac­tions Wair­ar­apa had to offer, it was hos­ing down and the exper­i­ence was both abbre­vi­ated and hydrated. We had three places on a fun-look­ing agenda, but the weath­er gods cast a mock­ing eye in our dir­ec­tion and laughed at that agenda before sat­ur­at­ing it and ren­der­ing it use­less. Of the three places on the list, we actu­ally made it to only one. That said, as well pulled off soaked socks in the car after­ward, we all agreed the trip had been worth it.

Kahi­katea Gar­dens is about five minutes off the main drag in Greytown. It’s a vast expanse of beau­ti­fully main­tained gar­dens and a pet­ting farm, through which you get a guided tour from hosts Neil and Greg Montgomerie-Crowe.

Neil’s fam­ily has been on the land since it went all the way up into the moun­tains. His fath­er and grand­fath­er farmed this place and he grew up among the wal­nut trees and sheep. This is his spir­itu­al as well as actu­al home, and he knows it so well he can feel its pulse. The beat­ing heart of Kahi­katea Gar­dens is the enorm­ous kahi­katea tree that Neil tells us is over 900 years old. It towers over everything, gar­gan­tu­an, guard­ing, noble.

As much as the grown-ups are fas­cin­ated by the his­tory of this place, the kids light up con­sid­er­ably when we’re taken through to where the anim­als are. Even weighed down by umbrel­las and sod­den shoes, we’re delighted to see two of the sheep come bound­ing over when Neil calls their names (Sweat­pea and Viol­et) and shakes an ice-cream con­tain­er of feed in their direction.20141213_125749

My son Theo is quickly fleeced by the less than sheep­ish pair and we move on to the don­keys. At the end of the tour I buy a huge bag of wal­nuts for $10. They ask that you call before you go; I sug­gest you take your time, and maybe wait for a sunny day. Folks who live there insist that the days are almost always sunny and that rain is the rarest of things. Halley’s Comet passes over­head more often than dark clouds, they are at pains to say.

If farm vis­its and coun­try walks are your thing — or more import­antly your kids’ thing — then Wair­ar­apa is prob­ably the best place in New Zea­l­and for you to vis­it. Purely depend­ent on where your final des­tin­a­tion is, a couple of oth­er options with alpacas and sheep to pet and chut­neys to buy include:


  • Mar­tin­bor­ough Man­or, which has more of its focus on the orch­ard­ing of fruit and the mak­ing of jams, but does a fine, fun farm tour too; and
  • Wal­low­ing Heights in Carter­ton, with its pigs and ponies and a play area espe­cially for kids.


20141213_131321Once you’re farmed out, the region also does a pretty good line in train rides for kids. In Feath­er­ston, try the Mini Fell Engine Rides. They choo-choose to hit the tracks on fine Sundays and cost only $2 a ride. Queen Eliza­beth Park at the north­ern end of Mas­ter­ton also has a train that runs a cir­cuit through it on week­ends and school hol­i­days. Tick­ets are avail­able on site.

Now that we’re in Mas­ter­ton — Wairarapa’s big smoke — let’s stick around, because as far as attrac­tions for kids go in this par­tic­u­lar neck of the woods, this is where the action is. If you’re in town on a fine week­end — and the advice I get from loc­als is that Masterton’s week­ends are nev­er any­thing but fine — there’s plenty to do in this oft-over­shad­owed town. Sure, Greytown has the boutique stores full of cush­ions and col­our and antique fur­niture, and it’s true that Mar­tin­bor­ough has wine and fest­ivals and Thun­der­pants, but if you want a day full of fun for the kids, then it’s tough to go past this place.

Using Queen Eliza­beth Park as your geo­graph­ic­al start point — and ongo­ing ref­er­ence — once you’ve played at the park, pic­nicked on the grass, done your dash of foot­ball or crick­et or tag in the wide-open spaces and, of course, cir­cum­nav­ig­ated it all by tiny train, it’s worth wan­der­ing south down Dix­on Street to Mas­ter Putt.

Or per­haps you’d like to forgo the more man­i­cured and form­al Queen Eliza­beth Park alto­geth­er and head for Hen­ley Lake and it’s self-described Leis­ure­land. Wander the wet­lands, get the kayak off the roof and go for a paddle in the lake, grab a cof­fee while the kids burn off enough energy to keep them sit­ting rel­at­ively still in the car for 10 or 12 minutes. With two parks so close to each oth­er that a crick­et ball hit from one could be caught in the oth­er, Mas­ter­ton is well served for things to do with the kids when the weath­er is warm. And I’m led to believe that the weath­er is warm without fail…

So what if — and I am aware that Rich­ie McCaw wan­der­ing up Chapel Street in his Y‑fronts is more likely than a wet day, but just go with me for a moment here — it rains? What if, in that week you’re stay­ing in Mas­ter­ton look­ing for fam­ily-friendly activ­it­ies, water falls from the sky? What then?

Don’t fret. Help is at hand. The Mas­ter­ton pools (offi­cially called the Gen­es­is Energy Recre­ation Centre) has swim­ming and slides and all that you’d expect of a city-sized indoor swim­ming com­plex. There’s half a day done already.

Mas­ter­ton also has plenty of options in the ‘boutique museum’ cat­egory. A couple of quick pos­sib­il­it­ies before we get to the star of the show:


  • Aratoi — Wair­ar­apa Museum of Art and His­tory. It’s a long and grand name for what is a small, but beau­ti­fully put togeth­er space. The his­tor­ic­al focus is Māori and the art is ever-changing.
  • The Wool Shed. This is the nation­al museum of sheep and shear­ing, and every Kiwi knows what a vital role sheep have always played in this coun­try. That makes The Wool Shed fairly sig­ni­fic­ant, his­tor­ic­ally speak­ing, and extremely cool activ­ity-wise. Lunches are avail­able, shear­ing demos can be arranged or you can just wander through with the fam­ily. Abso­lutely worth rous­ing the gang and tak­ing them in.


And so to this: The Vin­tage Avi­at­or at Hood Aero­drome. Kids of all ages will love this place. It’s steeped in his­tory, it smells (as prom­ised on the web­site) of leath­er and oil, and it’s full of the coolest old stuff: fight­er planes and train­ing planes and fly­ing equip­ment and bril­liantly clev­er posters from the First World War, as well as uni­forms, pho­to­graphs, restored parts and plenty more. It has the right mix of the his­tor­ic­al for grown-ups who are into that sort of thing, and fas­cin­at­ing machinery for the kids.

The aero­drome played host to the icon­ic Wings Over Wair­ar­apa show in mid-Janu­ary and this is where a lot of the air­craft and sup­port gear spend the rest of the year. If you’re lucky and the weath­er is right (which it pretty much always is, accord­ing Mas­ter­ton people), and your tim­ing is good, you might even catch an aer­i­al display.

The only way to fit all of this in, obvi­ously, is to stay in town for a few days. Prob­ably the best-known and most kid-friendly accom­mod­a­tion is at the Copthorne Hotel and Resort Sol­way Park. There’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of it, and maybe even stayed there. What you might not know is how far they’re going to keep the smal­ler mem­bers of the fam­ily happy while you’re there. Yes, you could do the bush walk, try the sports facil­it­ies and watch a movie dur­ing school hol­i­days (free pop­corn!), but the piece de résist­ance is the golf driv­ing range, café and kids’ adven­ture park just behind the hotel.

The range itself is open even when it’s rain­ing. Which, they tell me, nev­er hap­pens. Except when I visit.


When you’re plan­ning a trip to the Wair­ar­apa with kids, it’s worth cast­ing an eye over the Wai Kids Play site (, which has a great list of activ­it­ies and events. Many thanks to Kat for some of the pho­tos we’ve used.

Steve Joll

Steve works as part of the breakfast show on wellington's The Breeze radio station. In past lives he's been a sports journalist for ONE News, a presenter on iconic children's show What Now and one heck of a forecourt attendant. He has three kids: a talkative son (Theo), aged six, and twin daughters (Margaux and Lila), aged three. He adores them and yet is counting down the days until they leave home. It seems a long way off.