Welcome to Masterton, New Zealand

Masterton is the largest city in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand. An hour north of New Zealand's capital city Wellington, Masterton offers an escape from the hustle of bustle. The Wairarapa region is becoming famous for its wine, and as one of the earliest inland settlements, has lots of historical sites to discover.

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You can see working farms, country gardens, and wild coastline complete with seal colonies. You'll be awed by the region's unique natural heritage.

The rugged Tararua Mountains to the west and the wild Pacific Ocean to the east create a sense of isolation and wonder. The untamed coastline from Palliser Bay in the south to Akitio in the north is rich in Maori mythology.

The Wairarapa region's wine and food make it a treasure trove for gourmets. Diners can sample anything from venison to mushrooms, berry fruit to crayfish, eels to olives. Discover the wine the world raves over in Martinborough Wine Village, famed for its international award-winning Pinot Noir.

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Masterton Local Information

Masterton is a town (and local government district) in the Wellington region of New Zealand. It is the largest town in the Wairarapa, a geographical region that is separated from metropolitan Wellington by the Rimutaka ranges. It is 100 kilometres north-east of Wellington, 28 kilometres south of Eketahuna, and stands on the Ruamahanga River.Masterton is a thriving community with an urban population of 19,900, and district population of 23,100 (June 2008 estimates). The Masterton Airport is located at Solway on the outrskirts of the city.

Masterton History

It did not quite qualify to be a city by 1989 when the minimum population requirement for that status was lifted from 20,000 to 50,000. The Wairarapa Line railway, which opened to Masterton on 1 November 1880, allows many residents easy access to work in the cities of Wellington, Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt.Named after pioneer Joseph Masters, it was first settled by Europeans on 21 May 1854. It gained borough status in 1877, and the Masterton District is now part of the Greater Wellington Region.Local industries involve service industries for the surrounding farming community. The town is the headquarters of the annual Golden Shears sheep-shearing competition.

Masterton Attractions

Discover New Zealand's rarest birds at Pukaha Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre, or watch seals at Cape Palliser where the famous Maori explorer 'Kupe' landed. A full range of classic kiwi adventures are on offer from jet boating to hot air ballooning, from superb fishing to surfing.Wairarapa has always lived off the land and today the region's wine and food make it a treasure trove for gourmets. Diners can sample anything from venison to mushrooms, berry fruit to crayfish, eels to olives.Discover the wine the world raves over in Martinborough Wine Village, famed for its international award-winning Pinot Noir.Celebrate at one of Wairarapa's quality events. Toast Martinborough, New Zealand's most exclusive wine, food and music event, takes place amongst the vineyards of Martinborough.Carterton Daffodil Carnival is a local tradition since 1920 with seven acres of daffodils open to the public for picking. For the complete country horse racing experience try the Tauherenikau Race Days. Or you can choose from big game fishing, river fishing and surf casting in the Fishing Contests held over summer.

Masterton, being a relatively small rural town in New Zealand, is very well served by public transport with rail, bus and air links. Despite Masterton and the Wairarapa valley being reasonably close to Wellington, they are separated by the Rimutaka Ranges with State Highway 2 cutting a winding hill road through the range and the Rimutaka railway tunnel.Unlike other parts of the country, the Wairarapa has seen passenger rail services remain largely due to it's proximity to Wellington and the Rimutaka Tunnel's advantage over the Rimutaka Hill road. There has been conjectural talk of constructing a road tunnel through the ranges for decades, but this has been ruled out due to the extremely high cost.According to the latest transportation plan from the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the only work planned is for upgrades to the existing Rimutaka Hill road and the addition of passing lanes between Featherston and Masterton.

Masterton is linked to Wellington and the Hutt Valley by the Wairarapa Connection, a Tranz Metro passenger service run by Greater Wellington Region's Metlink, primarily operating at peak times serving commuters from Masterton and the Wairarapa with five return services Monday to Thursday, six on Friday and two for weekends and public holidays. Unusually for a small town, there are three railway stations in the town with Masterton, Renall Street and Solway.

There is a local Metlink bus service in Masterton operated by Tranzit. The buses operate on 5 routes: 3 suburban routes and two regional routes.

Hood Aerodrome, Masterton is south of Masterton. Air New Zealand runs flights from Masterton to Auckland. The flights will be operated by subsidiary Eagle Air flying six days a week mainly to serve business customers in the Wairarapa.There have been a few unsuccessful attempts at commercial air travel in Masterton over the years mostly due to it's proximity to major airports in Wellington and Palmerston North. The most significant being South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand (SPANZ) who operated daily flights using DC3s out of Hood Aerodrome with during the sixties to other destinations nationwide until the airline's closure in 1966.


The Wine Institute of New Zealand names the bottom piece of the North Island as the Wellington region for statistical purposes, however this region emcompasses the important Wairarapa region which lies to the north east of Wellington city, about an hours drive along State Highway 2 over the windy Rimutaka Hills.Within the Wairarapa the main town is Masterton, while the important viticural region of Martinborough is a little to the south. Between Masterton and Martinborough, vineyards are planted along the river terraces to the west of Carterton and Greytowm and near the small farming town of Gladstone.

The Wairarapa district is important in New Zealand's vinous history for it was probably here that the first pinot noir and syrah of some repute were made. The vintner was William Beetham who found his passion for the vine in France, where he also found his wife. Beetham planted his vineyard on his farm near Masterton in 1883.The government viticulturist, Romeo Bragato, noted Beetham's vineyard and wine when he toured the country in 1895, prior to taking up his position. Bragato decided that Wairarapa and nearby Hawkes Bay was great wine country. Dr Neil McCallum, a modern Martinborough pioneer, announced at the Pinot Noir 2001 Conference that he had tasted a 1906 Pinot Noir from Beetham's vineyard 80 years after it was bottled. "It was alive and well", he said.

With the prohibitionists running rife in the Masterton area, Beetham himself did not continue for long after that historic 1906 bottle was made. If only Beetham were alive now to see how the Wairarapa region has developed.

The revival of the area came in the late 1970's. Dr Neil McCallum was one of the pioneers. But if he had had his way, he would have planted vines on the shores of Lake Taupo. Fortunately for McCallum, his friend, adviser and fellow DSIR colleague Derek Milne, persuaded him to plant in the unknown Martinborough on a stony ancient river terrace.

McCallum planted his now famous Dry River vineyard in 1979 on Puruatanga Road. The following year saw planting's by Ata Rangi almost next door, Chifney a little further down the road while closer to the town square the vines of Martinborough Vineyard, in which Milne had a share-holding, went into the ground.

These producers all released their first commercial wines in 1984. Interestingly, Dry River, now regarded as one of New Zealand's finest Pinot Noir producers, did not have pinot noir amongst his original vines. And while Stan Chifney was alive, there was no pinot noir planted there either. It was left to Ata Rangi and Martinborough Vineyards to show the world the quality of pinot noir that could be produced from the dry, cool-climate region.

Wine & Food Martinborough
Wine & Food Martinborough made its name as a one of the world’s premium pinot noir and sauvignon blanc regions, though other top wines including chardonnay, pinot gris, merlot and cabernet sauvignon are also produced here.

The long hot summers, dry autumn and gravelly soil from an ancient riverbed all add up to perfect conditions for growing cool climate grapes.First plantings of vines were made around Martinborough in the 1970s, spreading north to Masterton and Gladstone in the 1980s. There are now more than 50 vineyards, all within a short drive of Wairarapa’s main towns.

Where there’s great wine there’s great food, and the Wairarapa’s developed a reputation for first class cafés and restaurants serving delicious local produce. Some vineyards also have cafés, each with menus built around their wine list. Do phone ahead, though, as some are only open over summer.

* Most Martinborough vineyards are within walking distance of the town, though you can hire a bike or do a tour in a horse-drawn carriage.

* Ask at i-SITEs in Masterton and Martinborough for a wine trail map and cellar door opening hours.

* Guided wine tours include Tranzit Coachlines’ daily ‘Wairarapa Gourmet Wine Escape’ tour (take the morning train from Wellington and connect at Featherston) and Martinborough Wine Tours, fully-hosted, crafted tours taking you behind the scenes in the Wine Village.

* For a peek behind the scenes or to meet winemakers and chefs try one of Zest’s food and wine tours.

Look out for events at Wairarapa’s vineyards. The Wairarapa Wines Harvest Festival showcases premium local wines, food, music and art on March 21st. Toast Martinborough Wine, Food and Music Festival, held on the third Sunday in November, sees wine and food lovers celebrate the new releases. Check at the i-SITE for many other events, year-round.

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