You’re going to love the small town beautiful feels of Martinborough!
Despite a population of fewer than 2,000 people, there are lots of things to do in Martinborough and the surrounding area.
Be aware that the amount of people who visit Martinborough in the summer is a lot higher than in winter. This is because of various events that are put on annually, and the warmer months are the best way to enjoy the numerous wineries of course. Martinborough gets a lot of weekend visitors too as it’s less than a two-hour drive from Wellington.
I don’t think we can argue that a winery tour isn’t one of the best things to do in Martinborough, but there is more to the place.
I spent nearly two months in Martinborough. Working in the vineyards most days I made sure to explore the area when time permitted.
Let’s get to it!
1. Explore The Putangirua Pinnacles (A Lord Of The Rings Filming Location)
Note: check the comments at the bottom to see a readers (Jasmine’s) experience.
The Lord of the Rings doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. But as a filming location, it draws people in who are anywhere near the area (and know about the Pinnacles). The free camping ground also helps.
Lord of the Rings or not, the Putangirua Pinnacles are an epic little spot to go for a walk. When you arrive you have two options.
- Left: And walk up the hills to a viewing platform where you can see in the distance.
- Right: Walk along the riverbed until you’re strolling through the pinnacles, much like the scene from the movie (apparently).
We decided to go left and if you aren’t in a rush, this is the better choice. The walk isn’t strenuous with the viewing platform giving you a look into the pinnacles you are about to enter.
The loop ensures you end up halfway along the riverbed (which you’d follow if you went right at the start) so you can quickly get your best actor nomination act on as you walk through the pinnacles.
The Pinnacles tower above you thanks to erosion that’s been happening for thousands of years. There were vague tracks we could follow as let’s be honest, walking on loose river stones isn’t easy.
The best time to visit is mid-afternoon, as the pinnacles start getting shadows reasonably early which will disrupt your photos from looking as good as they could (but we only travel to store the memories in our brain….right?).
On arrival, as you make the turnoff to the Pinnacles car park, have a look a couple hundred meters down the coastline. As of my visit in Feb 2016, these two houses were precariously positioned. Definitely, take a walk along the beach to get a closer look.
Allocate 3 hours minimum to visit the Putangirua Pinnacles when leaving from Martinborough (including driving time to get there).
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2. Explore The Martinborough Rapaki Walk
I discovered the Rapaki Walk, in my last couple of weeks in Martinborough. Martinborough is full of wineries, which are scenic of course but this walk was something I was really looking forward to doing and turned out be one of my favourite things to do in Martinborough. If I lived there I’d be walking/running along there ALL THE TIME.
Luckily one day we were picking grapes at Red Bank Vineyard so myself and one of the other pickers decided to walk back to Martinborough from the other end of the track.
It’s possible to start Rapaki loop walk from Martinborough Village but if you can the best way to complete the walk is starting from Te Muna Valley (look for the faint wooden sign 200m before Red Bank Winery) on Te Muna Road for the starting point and spend 90 minutes or so wandering back into Martinborough (get someone to drop you off in the valley).
The fitness level required isn’t drastic (easy-medium) as you wander past flocks of sheep and herds of cows. They’re all harmless. Unless its got horns. Then get out of the way.
The best view is the turn around point if you were to start out from Martinborough Village. The epic view looks out over Te Muna Valley on one side and back over Martinborough to the west. Depending on what time of the day you’ll get better photos of one or other. Remember people, the sun rises in the east, sets in the west. This could well be the best place to visit in Martinborough for sunset given the elevation.
You can walk from the heart of Martinborough but the actual track starts at the end of the gravel road on Dublin St.
3. Get Blown Away At Lake Ferry
Lake Ferry is right on the cusp of the Cook Strait with a spit the only thing separating the two. Give its place on the southern coastline the weather is wild with the southerly not getting a chance to ease off before reaching you. The lake isn’t the most pleasant place to swim in, though you can cast a line in if you like with Kawhai and Red Cod the main target year round.
The magic of Lake Ferry is simply walking around the lake to the spit and seeing what you find (plan this around high tide otherwise the lake and ocean don’t connect). It’s one of those places to go in Martinborough that is going to change on every visit given the exposure to nature.
If you’re getting cold, the Lake Ferry Pub and Hotel will be waiting to warm you up when you finish checking it out.
4. Reach The Southern Tip Of The North Island At Cape Palliser
There’s something magical about getting to summits, peaks, or the end of an island like when I was at the most northern point of Borneo. Cape Palliser is another gem with the distinction of being the most southern point of the North Island.
On the way to Cape Palliser you’ll pass the pinnacles mentioned above, the small town of Ngawi, and the seal colony. As always let wild animals do their thing. Take some snaps of them sure, just don’t arouse them from their snooze. You don’t want to end up on the wrong side of a seal.
And because everyone knows not to wake you up from your nap right?
You’ll spot the lighthouse when you are a couple kilometers away as you navigate the coastal road. You can’t get into the lighthouse itself, but once you scale the 200 or so stairs the views are magical (maybe my favourite of all time?). As with everything you do from this list, you’ll be battling some severe winds a lot of the time. That’s pesky New Zealand for ya.
At the top, take in the views and snap iconic lighthouse photos as seen on postcards.
If you want, you can scale further up the hill via a track behind the lighthouse to get more epic views.
5. Visit The White Rock. Yes It’s White.
White Rock sounds like a popular tourist spot. Well, it did to me anyway. It takes a little under an hour to reach White Rock from Martinborough. For much of it, you may be wondering if you are indeed going the right way as the latter half of the drive is on gravel and other than the odd house, you don’t see much of anything. Say hi to the sheep!
You’ll be glad to know the rock is a distinctive white, contrasting against the black sand. When you arrive, you’ll see the white rocks sticking out and with few other people around you can scramble over the rocks as you please. The eastern coastline cops a battering from mother nature (I feel like this is becoming repetitive) so it all feels so rugged and untouched. There isn’t a whole lot else to do here but it’s really one of those spots you go to to be in the moment and appreciate it for what it is.
Given its location and time to get there I wouldn’t put this on your must visit places in Martinborough list, but keep it in mind if you want a bit of an adventure.
6. Glow Worms, An Alternative To Waitomo Glow Worms
The Glow Worms in Waitomo are one of the most popular attractions in New Zealand. When I was browsing around on the iTravelNZ app (a must have app for travel in New Zealand) I stumbled across the Ruakokopatau Caves also featuring glow worms.
It turns out they are located on private property and unfortunately when I gave the number provided (+6463069797) a call they’d been shut down by some suit and tie department from the Government. They said they are looking to re-open sometime soon (if they have reopened, let me know) and when they do, this will be one of the most interesting places in Martinborough.
7. Experience Annual Martinborough Events
The more substance you can give your debate with your friends and family as to why you need to visit Martinborough the better. Luckily there are some pretty popular events going on in around Martinborough (mostly during the summer).
Martinborough Fair: Taking place on the first two Saturdays of February and March each year, stall holders represent small creative companies and people from all over New Zealand. The fair takes over the whole town square and the surrounding streets for the day.
I made it to the very end of the first day in February and there were definitely some unique looking pieces of art. Given the popularity of the event, anyone who likes markets (me, not so much after seeing so many markets in Chiang Mai) will no doubt enjoy the fair.
Wairarapa Balloon Festival: Held once a year, you can get up close to these balloons as they take off from various towns in the Wairarapa, including Martinborough.
Toast Martinborough: Toast is your chance to get a bunch of friends together for a day of fun on the wineries. Most of the popular wineries in the region get onboard with the event and while I haven’t experienced the event myself yet, friends all rave about it.
There are several other events on of various kinds, no doubt something will attract your attention. The best spot upcoming events is the Martinborough Village Facebook page I’ve found.
8. How To Visit The Martinborough Wineries?
Now that we’ve covered what to see in Martinborough beyond the wine, I’ll point you in the direction to what I think is the best way to explore the wineries, by bike! Check out the recap from my friend Anita who took a bike tour of the wineries. If you’re not a bike rider, you could walk between them if you choose them strategically, or simply book a tour when you get to the information center in the town (they’re very helpful).
9. Things To Do In Martinborough At Night
There are no Martinborough attractions that are designed to be seen at night as such (unless there’s a concert on). So you’re best off heading to the village and enjoying some food and drink with the locals. They are used to people coming from how of town, so they’ll embrace you without a doubt. I mention a few places I visited further below, but just walk around the town and pick a spot you like the look of.
How To Tackle All Of These Things To Do In Martinborough
The southeast coast of New Zealand is stunning and luckily you can comfortably get to most of these sites finished in a day. If you were to miss one out, I’d have to say skip White Rock. It’s simply to far out of the way for the one attraction. Cape Palliser, Seals, Lake Ferry and the Pinnacles are essentially in the same direction (there’s a map below to help with where to go in Martinborough). Start early in the morning with the Lake, move on to the Pinnacles and finish up with Cape Palliser.
As you drive down Lake Ferry Road you’ll see a sign indicating a historic place. If you really want you can stop
Best Way To Get To Martinborough
Martinborough is niggly to get to. It’s not frequented by public transport consistently throughout the day, nor is it serviced by the major bus companies like InterCity or Mana Bus. The best place to check how to get to Martinborough from Wellington is here: MetLink TimeTables
The best solution is to have a car. Personally, I’ve never had to wait long to hitch a ride in and around the area but I can imagine the further away you get from Martinborough the less cars there’ll be. And no one likes the idea of sleeping rough in the middle of nowhere.
Hitchhiking in the Wairarapa for me personally turned out to be really simple – which is always an option.
As always, I recommend you download the Maps.Me app to help you get around when exploring a new area, especially travelling around New Zealand<. But here we go anyway, a map of all the places mentioned here. As you can see, it's not exactly easy to knock all the locations off in a short period of time.
Eating & Drinking In Martinborough
Given I was staying 10km out of town, I didn’t go out and about in Martinborough often at all. The three establishments I did enter though were all awesome: Pinocchio, Cool Change and Oh My Goodness. If you still aren’t sure what to do in Martinborough, There’s nothing better than asking the locals at these spots about where to go next.
Where To Stay In Martinborough
There isn’t a whole lot of traditional accommodation options in Martinborough but thanks to airbnb and other competitors there are now plenty of options starting from $60/night as a gateway for your Matinborough sightseeing.
Other Towns Close To Martinborough
Featherston, Carterton and Greytown are the three closest towns to Martinborough. I haven’t spent any lengthy time in each town so can’t give you any recommendations.
Come to Martinborough for the wine, stay longer to explore the other Martinborough attractions and the surrounding area.
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