Road trips: exploring Carterton

By: James Heremaia

Road trips: exploring Carterton Road trips: exploring Carterton
Road trips: exploring Carterton Road trips: exploring Carterton
Road trips: exploring Carterton Road trips: exploring Carterton
Road trips: exploring Carterton Carterton's central business district awash with colour. Road trips: exploring Carterton
Road trips: exploring Carterton Tramping on the Gentle Annie track offers up rewards like this. Road trips: exploring Carterton
Road trips: exploring Carterton Bob Wilton's Gasoline Heaven is well worth a visit for petrol heads. Road trips: exploring Carterton
Road trips: exploring Carterton Swing bridge in Tararua Forest Park. Not for the faint of heart. Road trips: exploring Carterton

Photographer James Heremaia explores the Wairarapa town of Carterton and finds unexpected delights.

First impressions really do count. Driving into Carterton for the first time I was met with an explosion of colour, from the floral sign on the outskirts of town to the hanging baskets of petunias suspended from shop verandas lining each side of the CBD.

Every traffic island and road divider was planted out with flowers softening the hard edges – in some places spilling out onto the road. Even the suburban houses that lined the main drag into town were ablaze with roses in full bloom cascading, along and over, front fences.

It was the first of three days I was to spend in Carterton and already I was in love with the place.

Exploring Carterton

Carterton is one of those towns which has retained its railway heritage, giving it both a heart and a connection to the past. It's not hard to imagine the steam trains coming and going as they did last century.

This actually happens in September during the annual Carterton Daffodil Festival. The town is always awash with flowers but during the festival the daffodil reigns supreme. It defines Carterton in much the same way as the rose does for Te Awamutu, the apple blossom for Hastings and the rhododendron for New Plymouth.

I spent the afternoon wandering around Carterton, camera in hand. One thing I noticed on my wanderings was the abundance of churches. They seemed to be on every corner from simple wooden structures to grand stone and concrete cathedrals. God, it would seem, is very much alive in Carterton.

Within Carterton itself there are a number of attractions well worth visiting. You can take a factory tour at Paua World and watch as craftsmen create beautiful gifts and jewellery from the iridescent shell of the paua, or you can browse at leisure in the well-stocked shop.

Just out of Carterton a visit to Gasoline Heaven – an automotive memorabilia and car museum – bought back fond memories of learning to drive in my uncles Mark II Zephyr as a 15 year-old. Owner Bob Wilton took me on a tour of his collection of classic and vintage cars. There was even a black and white police car on static display.

On day two, I ventured further afield with a one-hour drive to Castlepoint which I found to be an unusual place that features a lighthouse in a spectacular rocky cliff top setting and a confusing piece of coastline.

A contained inlet of water is separated from the open sea by a natural sloping rock wall. At high tide the waves crash over the wall like a tsunami and cascade down into the inlet. It's all very unsettling, especially when you read the sign telling of fatalities on the reef.

Carterton _5

On the way back to Carterton from Castlepoint, I stopped into the historic Gladstone Hotel for lunch. When I ordered scallops wrapped in bacon the waitress suggested I might like a glass of wine with my lunch. Never one to turn down a pretty girl, I agreed to have a glass.

I enjoyed the wine so much that I decided to visit the local Johner winery (pronounced like "yonder" but without the d) where it was made. Turn right by the Johner wine barrel sign about halfway between Carterton and Masterton. Drive to the Ruamahanga River, turn right again then follow the gravel road to the Johner Winery.

The vineyard is owned by Karl and Irene Johner who are proud to grow grapes organically. While Karl was busy on a new batch of champagne, Irene took me on a tour. There's no fancy restaurant, no manicured gardens or exotic animals and birds here. Just vineyards and purpose built buildings designed for the serious job of producing world-class wine.

Tararua Forest Park

My last day in Carterton was spent in the Tararua Forest Park. I wanted to see the swing bridges, especially the one in the Waiohine Gorge. Seeing it for the first time was a little unsettling but judging by the amount of people coming and going it looked safe.

Unfortunately the reality was a little different. I don't like heights and suffer from vertigo, so all the usual feelings crept in quickly: the sinking stomach, weak legs and the grabbing at the rails every time it moved. I was marginally better on the return but I was glad to reach the end.

It is without doubt a handsome structure and the way it forms a vanishing point into the bush beckoning you in is hard to resist. Not this time however; a two-hour walk and another swing bridge at Mount Holdsworth were waiting.

Mount Holdsworth is the gateway to the Tararuas, with a large car park containing toilets, picnic areas, a hut and a caretaker's residence. This is the starting point for several short walks, overnight hut stays and longer two or three-day tramps.

I chose the tramp to the Rocky Lookout on the Gentle Annie track, an easy four-hour return getting back to the car park around 5pm. This would have been the most beautiful tramp I have ever done in terms of ease (and as a photographer). There are several wooden bridges, the types that don't move and one swingbridge that does.

My time in Carterton was very special. The town contains everything I like: trains, tramps that are a photographers dream; and enough varied attractions to keep me busy for a long time. The big city and an international airport is only an hour away and there are still six nearby towns to explore, each with their own unique attractions.

If ever I were to relocate, Carterton would probably be at the top of my list.

For the latest motorhome reviews and destinations, subscribe to Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations magazine here.

Keep up to date with news by signing up to's free newsletter or by liking us on Facebook