Take a Roadtrip to Wairarapa’s Southern Coast

The rugged coastline Credit: J McLellan

The rugged coastline Credit: J McLellan

A day trip to the Wairarapa’s southern coast is an unforgettable experience for young and old alike. A must-see location, complete with a Fur Seal colony. Cape Palliser is 70kms from Martinborough, in the South Wairarapa. While the area is distant from townships, the roads are fantastic, and the scenery breathtaking. All visitors should consider a day trip to the coast on the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island. The area has a rugged beauty. You may recognize a great deal of the landscape from scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The day will only cost you the gas in your car, and the food in your stomach.


Cape Palliser Lighthouse Credit: J McLellan

Cape Palliser Lighthouse Credit: J McLellan

The Wairarapa is approximately 1 hour from Wellington. The drive will take you through the Hutt Valley, over the Rimutaka Ranges, and into the Wairarapa Valley. Heading out towards Lake Ferry is a brilliant road trip for the whole family. Follow State Highway 2 from Wellington, and State Highway 53 from Featherston. In Martinborough, head out on Lake Ferry Road, and follow your nose. There is no going wrong in this rural are. Pack a picnic lunch, and head out for the day. The key locations to visit in the South Wairarapa coastal route are Lake Ferry, Ngawhi, and Cape Palliser.

Cape Palliser

Cape Palliser is the end of the line. At the Cape, there is a lighthouse. There are also 252 steps leading up to the magnificent view at the top. A climb up the steps is difficult but achievable for older people, with hand rail on the side. Most people stop for a breather along the way, so do not be worried if you need a rest. At the top, expect winds direct from Antarctica. Wear a windbreaker. The view makes the trial of climbing the stairs worthwhile.

Not far from the lighthouse is a magnificent waterfall. The water falls into 3 pools before landing in the bottom. The water is clean, pure and cold. On a hot day it is a nice place for a dip.

The Seal Colony

The view changes along the road Credit: J McLellan

The view changes along the road Credit: J McLellan

About a 5 minute drive from Cape Palliser towards Ngawhi is a seal colony. Here you can stop your car, and view the New Zealand Fur Seal in its natural environment. The seals will move away when you get too close, but the guideline is generally stay on the greenery, and the seals will stay on the rocks. If they have cubs, you will not be able to get too close. Enjoy the crashing of the waves and the seals being themselves.

The Pinnacles

A short trip along the road brings you to the Pinnacles. The Pinnacles are a limestone rock formation. They have to be seen to be believed. Walk up the dry river bed into the centre of the Pinnacles themselves. You will need sturdy walking shoes for this leg of the journey, and a water bottle on a hot day.


Ngawhi is a fishing village on the coast. Some residents are permanent, and other places are weekend homes or batches. The town is small, but has a cafe for refreshments. Food carts can also be found in summer months. The beach is pleasant, but beware of the fishing boats and the giant graders used to haul the boats ashore. Ngawhi has a stunning 9 hole golf course on the beach. You may need to move sheep, and expect to lose a ball or 2 on a windy day, but it has to be the prettiest links course in the world. Pay your green fee donation at the first tee.

The Pinnacles Credit: J McLellan

The Pinnacles Credit: J McLellan

Lake Ferry

Lake Ferry is so named because once upon a time there was a ferry that took people across the lake. Now, the small township is home to a few fishermen and whitebaiters. The beach is too dangerous to swim in, but fishing is a popular activity along the sand spit. Enjoy a meal of freshly caught fish at the Lake Ferry Hotel right on the waterfront.

Taking Children to Cape Palliser

Children can have a great day out at the coast. There are plenty of beaches to swim, fish or surf at. Encourage them to count the steps up to the lighthouse. The seals will fascinate kids of all ages. Lake Ferry has a terrific park with a playground and basketball facilities. Be prepared with a towel and a change of clothing in case the weather turns, and take your rubbish away with you. It is recommended to take food with you, and that way you can stop right along the coast for your own picnic. Take a camera and encourage them to capture what they see.

Wairarapa’s southern coastline is rugged and untamed. The sights seem other-worldly and exotic. Make a day trip to the coast, or take a tent. There are many camping grounds along the road to Cape Palliser. Alternatively, book a batch or a room at the Holiday Camp at Lake Ferry. Either way, the coast is a lovely place to visit, and your children will sleep the whole drive home.

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