Lay of the Land
The southern tip of the North Island is one of New Zealand’s most scenic regions. The country’s capital of Wellington, looking out onto Cook’s Straight, is famously iffy with weather – it’s similar to Seattle, with lots of blistery, rainy days, but when it’s sunny, the bustling, cultural town is a great place to be. Farther east, the Wairarapa area is scenic, with farms and large plains that run down to the beautiful coastline with wind-swept beaches (the ocean is wild here, so it’s not ideal for swimming). The wine region of Martinborough is tucked near the shores of Lake Wairarapa, about a one-hour drive from Wellington. Farther south, right on Palliser Bay, lies Wharekauhau, one of New Zealand’s top lodges, which is surrounded by a working sheep and cattle farm and has glorious views.
Indagare Tip: Driving from Wellington to Wharekauhau is incredibly scenic – it takes you straight through some of the Wairarapa’s most beautiful countryside. But near Pakuratahi Forest, there’s an eight-mile stretch of hairpin turns. It doesn’t sound long, but the road is narrow and rises up a mountain before descending back toward the valley, and this can be tiring. If you’re not comfortable driving on the left side of the road in the first place, it’s best to organize a transfer (car or helicopter) to arrive at Wharekauhau.
Wellington has a small airport with daily flights from several New Zealand towns, including Nelson, Auckland and Queenstown. From South Island, some also choose to take the 3.5-hour ferry from Picton, which is a scenic way to arrive on calm days but an unpleasant way of getting there when the sea is rough.