Ok so Martinborough has great wineries, we all know that, but if you’re not drinking or just want a break, there are plenty of options for things to do in Martinborough. I’ve enjoyed a fair few wine-fuelled girls’ weekends there but now with a partner who doesn’t drink I’m discovering all the non-alcohol-focussed activities.
Here are 21 of my favourite things to do in Martinborough, including 5 bonus seasonal events that you could time your visit for. Scroll to the bottom of this post to find details on how to get to Martinborough and my top picks for where to stay in Martinborough.
1. Spend a night amongst the stars
Given the fairly remote location, with minimal light pollution, Martinborough is a popular area for stargazing. Stargazing is offered at several locations including Ranui Essentials (see number 13) and Stonehenge Aotearoa (see number 2 below) or you can take a ‘nomadic astronomy’ tour with Under the Stars. Whichever option you go for, it’s best to book well in advance as some operators only open for pre-booked groups. Look out for the Southern Cross, the constellation on New Zealand’s flag.
2. Stonehenge Aotearoa
There’s a Stonehenge in New Zealand, I know, it’s a bit unusual. The Aotearoa Stonehenge is far more modern than the original but is built to similar dimensions. It’s designed as an open-air astronomical observatory and guided tours explaining the structure and the links to Maori and Polynesian astronomical heritage are available for $20. Entry to the henge is $15 if you prefer a self-guided tour.
The operators of Stonehenge Aotearoa really embrace the Celtic druid links with equinox and solstice celebrations held onsite. You can also ‘hire the henge’ for $250 and host your own private party.
The opening hours of Stonehenge Aotearoa can be a bit fluid so I would recommend calling ahead on (+64) 06 377 1600.
3. Do an olive oil tasting
Even if wine isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the tasting experience in Martinborough, just with olive oil instead of wine. Don’t worry you aren’t expected to drink the oil. Instead, if you head out to Olivo Estate, you’ll be treated to a range of extra virgin estate blends and innovative infused olive oils (including a sweet vanilla olive oil) with plenty of dipping bread and a few dukkha options. The owners are happy to talk you through the history of the olive plantation in Martinborough and for $20 you can do a full ‘Tree to Table’ tour of the groves.
4. Bike the Remutaka Cycle Trail
The Remutaka Cycle Trail is one of the Great Rides of New Zealand. It stretches over 100km from Wellington to the South Coast, cutting through the Wairarapa on the way. This is primarily a mountain bike trail with a mix of intermediate and advanced grading, although there are short sections of paved road through the Wairarapa. You can find the trail map here.
From Martinborough, you can cycle across to the north end of Lake Wairarapa to join the trail heading in either direction (if you organise your own car pick-up to get back to Martinborough) or book a day trip with Cycle Remutaka where they will drop you off at the Kaitoke section and you can bike the old rail trail section back to Martinborough.
5. Try a tipple of Lighthouse Gin
Ok, this is still drinking but it’s not wine, so it makes the list. Lighthouse Gin is named for the Cape Palliser Lighthouse (number 14) nearby and they use water from a spring in the Remutaka Ranges as well as native New Zealand botanicals, so it’s a very local experience.
At their distillery on Princess Street, you can taste their three small-batch gins straight, with tonic or in a cocktail. I love that their barrel-aged gin is aged in pinot noir barrels from nearby Martinborough Vineyard, it shows how collaborative the Martinborough artisan community is.
6. Down a craft beer at Martinborough Brewery
Martinborough might be known for its wine, but beer drinkers definitely won’t be let down by the options available in town. Being close to Wellington, the craft beer obsession has undeniably rubbed off on Martinborough with local microbrewery Martinborough Brewery producing a range of premium hand-crafted beers. Head down to their tasting room on Ohio Street to try stouts, ales, and IPAs.
7. Follow the Marty Murals Trail
Martinborough might not be urban but it’s not lacking in street art. There are currently 8 murals scattered around the town that are worth checking out. The artworks range from depictions of the Wairarapa area to wine-themed cartoons to abstract art. You can walk or bike between the locations following this map. My favourite for photos is the brightly coloured abstract mural outside P & K Grocery.
8. Treat yourself to a spa day
There’s not much to stress you out in Martinborough, but if you need that extra bit of relaxation or just want a self-care day, then book yourself into Brackenridge Day Spa. The spa offers facials and massages, and you can even order wine and a cheese platter to enjoy in their lounge. Prices start from approximately $70 for a facial and $60 for a massage. Turret House also offers day spa services alongside their main salon.
9. Delve into Wairarapa history
Martinborough and the surrounding Wairarapa region are home to many great examples of heritage architecture as well as significant monuments to World War I era New Zealand history. In Martinborough itself, there are the World War One Memorial Gates, the South African War Memorial, and a World War II Memorial in the Martinborough town square. You can also venture further afield following the Heritage Trail to Featherston or the Wairarapa Wide World War I trail, both self-guided.
10. Hike the Rapaki Walk
The start of the Rapaki Track is just 1km from Martinborough town, on the eastern end of Dublin Street. This relatively flat loop track takes in the vibrant green Wairarapa countryside and views of Te Muna Valley and the vineyards. The track is almost entirely over farmland so expect to climb over a few stiles and maybe dodge some cows. The walk is closed in September and October due to lambing season and dogs are prohibited year-round.
The approximately 4km track takes about 1.5 hours, depending on fitness levels.
11. Indulge your inner shopaholic in Martinborough’s boutiques
Martinborough, and the rest of the Wairarapa region, is sprinkled with boutique shops perfect for grabbing a new outfit to remember the trip or gifts for loved ones. Top picks in Martinborough include Peonies on Jellicoe Street and Mint on Ohio Street for homewares, the P&K General Store and 17Blonde, both on Kitchener Street, for fashion, and the Martinborough Bookshop on Kitchener Street (you know what for). These are boutiques and a lot of the wares are locally designed and/or made so prices are mid to higher end.
12. Visit a lavender farm
Whether you’re looking for a Martinborough Instagram photo op, gifts for family members, or even a tipple of Lavender Gin, the lavender farm Ranui Essentials is worth a trip. The lavender is in bloom in December and January, but you can stop into their shop on weekends at any time of year to pick up some lavender beauty products, homewares, or flavoured spirits.
13. Go on a food tour or design your own
Martinborough is a hotspot for foodies, not just wine lovers, so you don’t want to miss out on trying the local produce. You can either do an organised tour, Zest Tours are well known locally, or simply hop between the food stores picking up anything that looks delicious and putting it together for a picnic. The deli stores are clustered around the town square and Kitchener Street. Some of the best are the Grocer, Martinborough Wine Merchants (they have food too), and the Martinborough Sweet Shop. Just down the road in Featherston, there is C’est Cheese and in Greytown, Schoc Chocolates.
14. Visit Cape Palliser and the Putangirua Pinnacles
This one’s a little bit of a drive from Martinborough but worth it to see the spectacular rock pinnacles, straight out of Lord of the Rings. I’ve written a full post about the Cape Palliser area that you can read for all the details, and another about places to stay in Cape Palliser if you want to do an overnighter from Martinborough.
15. Have a pub meal
Martinborough is a small town and like many small towns in New Zealand, it has a thriving pub culture. However, given the foodie destination that Martinborough is, you can expect gourmet food and no subpar bangers and mash. My favourite is Union Square which is in a beautiful heritage building right on the Town Square, with outdoor seating that’s perfect for people watching. Union Square is the top spot in town but for a more laidback option try Pukemanu Bar or Cool Change Bar, each on other sides of the square.
16. Go bird watching
The Wairarapa Moana Wetlands, on the shore of nearby Lake Wairarapa, New Zealand’s third-largest lake, is a hotspot for bird watching. On a good day, you might spot all sorts of native and non-native terns, gulls, teals, bitterns, and dotterels. You can visit on your own or join one of Te Rakau Birding’s tours.
Bonus: seasonal things to do in Martinborough
17. Cruise Martinborough
One for the car enthusiasts, Cruise Martinborough is an annual Hot Rod, classic & muscle car gathering that takes place in January. All cars are entered must be from 1979 or earlier and the combination of the classic cars and Martinborough’s heritage buildings makes the experience feel like a step back in time. If you aren’t entering a car, you can enjoy the festivities by parking up at one of the pubs around the square (see number 15) and enjoying the live music and atmosphere.
18. Take in some tunes at Martinborough Music Festival
Martinborough Music Festival consists of a series of concerts by some of New Zealand’s best chamber musicians. Held in the Martinborough Town Hall over three days, it’s the event to go to for chamber music fans r those looking to add some culture to their trip. The festival is typically held in September with tickets going on sale around three months ahead of time. The organiser is a charity so ticket costs go to support the musical community.
19. Eat (some more) at WOAP events in Martinborough
The Wellington On A Plate festival takes place every year in August and the entire Wellington Region gets involved including Martinborough. You can try a Burger Wellington festival burger at one of the Martinborough pubs and restaurants (Café Medici is a past Burger Wellington winner) or go for a festival cocktail (with bonus canape) at Crouching Tiger. Each year there will usually be a festival event in the Martinborough area, head to the WOAP website for details, the programme goes live around early June.
20. Have a country day out at Martinborough Fair
The Martinborough Fair started as a country rotary fair back in the 1970s and has since evolved into a twice-yearly gathering of over 500 stallholders selling everything from baby clothes to gardening products and of course lots and lots of food. The fair has expanded to take over not just the town square but the surrounding streets. If your visit to Martinborough coincides with the first Sunday of either February or March, then this event can’t be missed (it does take over half the town).
21. Look to the sky for the Wairarapa Balloon Festival
This five-day festival sees balloons filling the sky over Martinborough, as well as nearby Masterton, Carterton, and Greytown. The event takes place in mid-April and (in non-COVID years) the highlight is the Saturday night even when the balloons are lit up. This is a great event for families, especially as kids will love the brightly coloured balloons, sometimes there are even balloons in the shape of animals or cartoon characters. While watching the balloons during the festival is free, you can pay for a hot air balloon ride year-round with Balloon Flight Specialists out of Masterton.
Getting to Martinborough
The only real way to get to Martinborough is to drive. You can hire a car in Wellington from any of the big international operators (Avis, Hertz, Budget, etc).
There is a Wairarapa line train that leaves Wellington Station. However, it does not stop in Martinborough. You have to disembark at Featherston and take the local number 200 bus to Martinborough. Bus services on that line are few and far between, at the time of writing there were only two connecting services a day on weekends. If you do take the bus-train combo it will cost $20 cash or $12 on a preloaded Snapper card. Details are on the Metlink website.
If you don’t want to organise your own logistics, several Martinborough tours do pick-ups and drop-offs in Wellington, head to Viator to browse tours.
Where to stay in Martinborough
Luxury option – you can’t go past The Martinborough Hotel which is in a beautifully maintained heritage building right on the town square. They also have a great restaurant on site (see number 15 above).
Mid-range – Martinborough has a great selection of Airbnbs, many of them holiday homes of wealthy Wellingtonians. My favourite is Honeybee Villa because they have a fireplace, spa pool, and barbeque and can fit a small group or large family.
Budget – I would still recommend getting a cheap Airbnb (try going midweek if possible). If that’s not an option, there is a Top 10 Holiday Park that has camping and basic motel rooms.
When to go to Martinborough
The best time to go to Martinborough is undoubtedly summer, it’s sunny without being too hot and you can make the most of the outdoor activities. Although, if you aren’t looking to winery hop, you can have a great experience in Martinborough nearly any time of year. Being separated from Wellington by the Remutaka Ranges, Martinborough is more sheltered and less windy, so winter is not all that unpleasant.
I would recommend the shoulder seasons from March to May (except Easter weekend which is often crowded) and from October (except Labour Day Weekend) to November for the least crowds and moderate weather.
Hopefully, this post gives you some inspiration for things to do in Martinborough that aren’t wineries. If you’re planning a trip or know someone who is, I’d love it if you pinned, saved, or shared this article.