Wining and dining in the glorious Wairarapa

By Sara Bunny

Sara Bunny heads over the Rimutakas to indulge in some winter R&R.

Martinborough vineyard.
Martinborough vineyard.

First up, we savoured velvety handmade chocolates. Next we chomped on creamy artisan cheese. After that we slurped a range of rich red wines, grazed on generous platters, guzzled gourmet pizza and sampled locally produced olive oil.

A gluttonous 48 hours later and at least two belt notches wider, this we knew for certain: you will never go hungry in the Wairarapa.

My partner and I had flown to Wellington and ventured over the Rimutaka Hill in search of a winter weekend getaway. With its laidback vibe, the Wairarapa region proved the perfect spot for some R&R - which is a good thing, as lazing about is all you feel like doing after days spent sampling the foodie delights of the area.

Just over an hour after leaving Wellington airport, we pulled up to our weekend digs at the White Swan country pub in Greytown. The jewel in the crown of the main street, this charming historic pub started life as a railway building in Lower Hutt, before being relocated over the hill in 2002.

In what has become local legend, the building was cut in two and transported on trucks to Greytown via the Rimutaka Ranges, however one of the pieces slipped off and was almost lost into the depths of the gorge. Happily, disaster was avoided and the cosy pub now boasts nine beautiful rooms upstairs, each decorated in a theme from a different era.
Under the watchful eye of new manager Dale Keith, the place has had an impressive overhaul, and we kicked off our weekend food odyssey with divine plates of fresh market fish and Wairarapa scotch fillet from the revamped menu.

We were joined by some Greytown locals for dinner and the friendly banter flowed as easily as the wine, with Dale keeping our glasses topped up with generous servings of delicious local drops.

Nursing slightly sore heads the next morning, we loaded up on coffee and hit the main street for some exploring. The town is brimming with history and almost every shop is a restored colonial-style building, complete with a bullnose veranda or Victorian facade.

As a shopping gem that often attracts style-hunters from Wellington each weekend, there are a range of clothing boutiques well worth a look. One of the best is Hall, filled with designer threads created by local fashionista Lorraine Hall. Sartorially-savvy types should also stop by Nicola Screen, Encore, and Designer Clothing Gallery for some top-quality finds.

Also on the main drag, Forest Organics is stocked with pantry fillers and beauty goodies made from produce from the farm of film-maker James Cameron, one of the famous faces to move into the area.

With a renewed thirst from the morning's wandering, we headed 15 minutes up the road to Martinborough to test out some of the area's top wines.

After paying a visit to local institution Margrain Winery, we settled in at Poppies, where we sampled the goods as winemakers Poppy and Shayne Hammond showed us around their little piece of Wairarapa paradise.

Bike tours between the vineyards are a popular way to get around: we counted several groups of peddling sightseers meandering along the leafy rural roads. With glass in hand we watched the procession, including some with bottles perched precariously in the basket at the front, and others looking decidedly unsteady on their wheels.

We whiled away the afternoon in foodie heaven; sipping vino, sampling olive oil and scoffing tapas. It would have been sensible to skip dinner but we were booked in at Greytown's Bar Salute, where we happily continued on with the weekend's theme of shameless gluttony.

Packing up to leave the next morning, we felt as if we couldn't eat another morsel. That was until we took a second spin past the cheese shop in Featherston ... just to keep the strength up.

Where to eat and drink in the Wairarapa

C'est Cheese, Featherston
This artisan deli is a treasure trove of New Zealand-made cheeses. Ask affable owner Paul Broughton for his expert picks, or choose what takes your fancy from the impressively-stocked cabinet.

Schoc Chocolate, Greytown
Chef and former hypnotherapist Murray Langham has been making chocolate for 14 years, and he can even tell you what your favourite flavour says about your personality type. Best-selling choc combinations include lime chili, carrot and coriander, and geranium.

Shopping in Graytown. Photo / Mike Heydon
Shopping in Graytown. Photo / Mike Heydon

The White Swan, Greytown
The pub serves up hearty plates of succulent, high-end fare and gourmet burgers, and the wine list is top notch, too.

Margrain Winery, Martinborough
Home to some of the oldest vines in the region and you can't go wrong with a glass from these expert wine producers. For a more in-depth experience, take a guided tour behind the scenes.

Poppies, Martinborough
Winemaker Poppy Hammond is passionate about her products and the good energy of the place is contagious. Don't worry if you're clueless about wine, Poppy gives a warm welcome and doesn't mind odd questions. Plus the wine is delicious - order a glass or two to enjoy while grazing on a sumptuous platter from the kitchen.

Olivo, Martinborough
Stop in to the oldest commercial olive grove in the Wairarapa to sample a tasty range of infused olive oils. The porcini mushroom, and smoked paprika blends are particular standouts.

Bar Salute, Greytown
A popular spot on Greytown's main street, the restaurant specialises in tapas and gourmet pizza. There are also hearty plates of lamb and beef on offer for big appetites, as well as a cooking school on site.

Main Street Deli and Cafe, Greytown
This relaxed cafe does a great coffee, and the well-stocked cabinet is loaded with cakes and savoury treats.

- Herald on Sunday

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