Heading south from Martinborough, the winding road to Cape Palliser is ridiculously scenic. Wind swept hills and sheer cliffs on one side and endless ocean and black-sand beaches on the other.
Allow an hour for this terrific trip. On a clear day you can see all the way to the snow capped mountains behind Kaikoura on the South Island.
Cape Palliser highlights
- Coastal accommodation
- Putangirua Pinnacles
- Aorangi Forest Park
- Hammonds Cape Palliser Tour
- To the Coast with the Post Tour
- Kawakawa Station walk
- Lake Ferry Hotel
The Wairarapa is a bit spoiled for lighthouses with Castlepoint and Cape Palliser lighthouses being the last two remaining beam lighthouse in New Zealand.
Cape Palliser Lighthouse was named by Lonely Planet in the Top 10 'flashiest lighthouses' in the world. Installed in 1897, Cape Palliser lighthouse's glorious red and white stripes will beckon you up 253 steps to enjoy the astounding views of the entire coast; take your time walking up the steps - it's well worth the climb.
There's gravel roads out here and if you're not keen to drive them yourselves jump on a Hammonds Cape Palliser Tour, running daily from Wellington and Martinborough.
This area of New Zealand has a rich history of early Māori occupation and heritage sites are part of the fascinating landscape, including signs of an 800-year old settlement. One of the most prominent features with a Maori legend is the triangular-shaped slab of rock above the road just before you reach the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. This is Kupe's Sail. Māori legend says Kupe won a competition to make a sail faster than his fellow explorer Ngake.
The NZ fur seal colony on Cape Palliser is the North Island's largest. New Zealand fur seals have pointy noses, long whiskers, visible external ears and bodies covered with two layers of fur.
The Putangirua Pinnacles walking tracks are exceptional for their unique badlands rock formations making for an eerie walk up in among towering rock pinnacles. For some rugged tramping nearby, head to the Aorangi (Haurangi) Forest Park. Better catered for walking can be had at the historic Kawakawa Station Walk.
The fishing village of Ngawi has a distinctive fleet of tractors parked on the beach and used to launch fishing boats into Palliser Bay. There is also the tiny Ngawi golf course spread over both sides of the road.
Finally, no trip to Cape Palliser is complete without popping in to nearby Lake Ferry. Overlooking Lake Onoke, there’s plenty of exploring and birdwatching to be enjoyed. The wild coastline is brilliant for fishing. You'll find a regular crowd with their fishing lines in the water. But if your luck's running low, head to the Lake Ferry Hotel for some fish and chips and great views across Palliser Bay from the southern most pub in the North Island.
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