Whiling away a weekend amid the bounty of Greytown, Wairarapa is a winning pastime for many a Wellingtonian. But no matter where you are the in country, grazing lustily from Greytown’s platter, warrants a trip in its own right.
But before consuming Greytown’s rich blessings, my first stop was Featherston, the southern gateway into Wairarapa. I arrived from Wellington by train, after tootling through the 8km long Rimutaka Tunnel (the country’s longest tunnel for regular passenger trains), and soaking up supreme vistas of the lush and undulating countryside.
Featherston’s story is intimately entwined with the railway which you can immerse yourself in by visiting the Fell Locomotive Museum. Learn about the Rimutaka Incline – the steepest railway track in New Zealand and admire the world’s sole-surviving Fell engine, which serviced the railway until the tunnel opened in 1955. (The incline now forms a particularly thigh-burning part of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail.)
Opposite the grand old Royal Hotel in Featherston, C’est Cheese is a compulsive artisanal stop, specialising in superlative New Zealand cheeses. Owner Paul Broughton presented me with a stunning tasting platter ranging from Red Leicester, New Zealand’s first raw milk cheese, to magnificent Maasdam Meyer Gouda from the Waikato and Moliterno Al Tartufo, an Italian cheese with truffle and garlic.
Just three years old, Paul repurposed a pint-sized 1875 shop into an irresistible artisan deli. He will soon be producing his very own cheeses on-site, adding to the tantalising product range of over 100 cheeses, along with cured meats, chutneys, local olive oils and picnic pleasers aplenty. Right next door, dive into Sweet Kitchen and Delights, another little charmer, brimming with indulgence, vintage kitchenware and curios.
Satisfy your sweet tooth by stocking up on genuine Turkish delight, licorice, candy and tangy citrus curd. Then venture into Mr Feather’s Den, a stylish ‘cabinet of curiosities’ , bursting with local art, books, homewares and taxidermy. Ten minutes north, my next stop was Kahikatea Gardens, a hidden gem, studded with immaculately maintained country garden displays and a grove of ancient specimens like towering Totara and a 900-year-old Kahikatea tree. (A self-styled tree whisperer recently claimed it was 1063 years old, because “the tree told me.”)
Owned by the Montgomerie family for three generations, Neil and Greg greeted me warmly in the driveway, with one of their friendly farm animals, Tongariro the sheep. I engaged with much of the menagerie throughout the visit, including alpacas, donkeys and miniature horses. The storied history of this sublime country garden and orchard is shared with endearing effervescence – Neil and Greg are hilariously entertaining, like the Hudson and Halls of country garden tours. Neil pointed out how Japanese POWs grew crops for US troops during World War II. They’re rightly proud of their latest installation – sacred standing stones, which add to the soothing Zen-like atmosphere suffusing this veritable garden of Eden.
The orchard yields much abundance, with excess fruit sold onsite as jam and chutney, alongside the plethora of nuts. Viewing is by appointment only, with the focus on group tours. www.kahikateagardens.co.nz Drop-dead gorgeous Greytown is like the Arrowtown of the north – with an added distinction. It’s the only New Zealand town with a fully complete main street of original Victorian buildings.
Greytown’s arsenal of artisans is headlined by Schoc Chocolate, a runaway success story since it was established in 2002, in a tiny turn-of-the century cottage. Founder and owner, Murray Langham, continues to be showered with accolades for his delectable morsels, which tend to be more savoury than sweet. Schoc are not chocolate makers, but chocolatiers, using the base product to dream up knock-out taste sensations.
Showcasing over 85 flavours, lime chilli chocolate remains their signature seller, although other standouts include salted caramel & lavender, apricot &rosemary (Murray’s favourite), curry & poppadums and pink peppercorn. As I ducked inside their boutique chocolate studio, the heart-melting fragrance of Christmas swept me up and freshly-crafted Christmas Pudding rum truffles eye-balled me with intent.
You must also try a cake of their Christmas tablet chocolate, brimming with cranberries, green cherries and mixed spice bound in silky white chocolate. It is unmistakably like licking the bowl of the raw pudding mix. Twinkling festive nostalgia with every bite! www.schoc.co.nz
After devouring far too many samples, a lunch break beckoned at the recently-opened 2 Short Whites Café. Under the command of larger-than-life sisters, Nicky and Sue, Nicky is Le Cordon Bleu trained, while Sue and her husband developed the Mela fruit juice brand and helped establish the award-winning Lighthouse Gin. 2 Short Whites is all about local, seasonal good honest food. Everything is made fresh – aside from Watties tomato sauce, because as Nicky says, “you can’t beat it.” I ordered slow-cooked lamb for lunch, which was melt-in-your-mouth divine.
You’ll love this eye-catching eatery. Also on the Main Street, Bar Salute enjoys a fiendish following, specialising in gourmet pizza, tapas, hearty beef and lamb, with a cooking school to boot. If you have a soft-spot for top-notch artisan pastries and breads, produced in true French fashion, don’t miss The French Baker. Rachel Priestly’s La Pancetta Wine bar, deli and home of Prodigal Daughter cured meats is another local favourite.
Lording over the heart of town, the White Swan is a charming creamy-coloured country pub, which began life in Lower Hutt as a railway building. Cut in half and teleported to Greytown in 2002, one of the pieces slipped off the transport truck, nearly hurtling into the oblivion of the Rimutaka Gorge. Mercifully, it didn’t. This main street landmark boasts nine elegant guestrooms, thoughtfully furnished in period themes.
Blackwell & Sons is another Greytown legend, the exclusive New Zealand stockist of Pashley Cycles, England’s oldest established bicycle manufacturer. Trust me, step inside this alluring store and you’ll be wanting to pedal out, complete with Nantucket wire basket and picnic ware. More grazing awaited me at James Cameron’s Forest Food Organics. Virtually everything in this organic plant-based store is cultivated from the family farm in South Wairarapa.
Shelves are lined with a cornucopia of goods, from walnut oil and gluten-free flours to Manuka honey and organic yogurt. Fashionistas and style-hunters must pinch themselves, on arrival in Greytown, given the incomparable spoil of offerings, in small-town New Zealand. Star specimens include the Retro Room, crammed with high-quality mid-century furniture and retro knick-knacks.
Emporos Antiques & Interiors is equally alluring for a browse, brimming with exquisite French fabric, superb homewares and decorative accessories. The newest opening in town is Linarte, an emporium of Latvian fabrics, jewellery, paintings and ceramics. There’s pint-sized Imperial Productions, producing hand-painted metal toy soldiers from their Victorian toy-shop, exporting their works to collectors worldwide.
I paid to a visit to Oggi Domani, a ceramic art and design studio, where I met Jo Durkin. After training in the ceramic powerhouse of Deruta, Umbria under an Italian master, Josephine specialises in creating exceptionally beautiful pieces, blending traditional Italian design with her own creative prowess. I wanted to buy up her studio!
A clutch of designer boutiques showcasing New Zealand labels span Greytown, headlined by fashion designers, Nicola Screen and Lorraine Hall, who live in town. While chatting to Lorraine about her shop expansion, the affable designer behind the HALL label regaled me with her ghostly encounters earlier in the week. Had the building work disturbed something or someone? Just ask her about it. It all happens here!
Greytown was New Zealand’s first planned inland town established in 1854 by settlers from Wellington, in search of affordable parcels of farmland. The town was named in honour of Governor Sir George Grey, who greatly assisted their endeavours. You can discover more about this endearing town’s rich history at Cobblestones Museum, where a contemporary visitor centre adjoins six Heritage-listed buildings located onsite. www.wairarapanz.com
While in the Wairarapa, I stayed at another heritage blockbuster, the Martinborough Hotel. This landmark property overlooking the town square hasn’t forgotten its past, its sense of place nor its reputation for elegant accommodations and paddock-to-plate culinary verve. www.martinboroughhotel.co.nz