The Wairarapa (/ˌwrəˈræpə/; Māori pronunciation: [ˈwaiɾaɾapa]), a geographical region of New Zealand, lies in the south-eastern corner of the North Island, east of metropolitan Wellington and south-west of the Hawke's Bay Region. It is lightly populated, having several rural service towns, with Masterton being the largest. It is named after its largest lake, Lake Wairarapa.

Wairarapa electorate boundaries used since the 2008 election

The region is referred to as The Wairarapa, particularly when used after a preposition (e.g., locals will say they live "in the Wairarapa", and travel "to" and "from the Wairarapa").[1]



The Wairarapa is shaped like a rectangle, about 130 kilometres (81 mi) long (from Palliser Bay north to Woodville) and 65 kilometres (40 mi) wide (from the Tararua Range east to the coast). The Ngāti Kahungunu tribe's boundary for the region is similar. Their tribal area begins at Pōrangahau and ends at Turakirae. It is the southernmost of their three rohe (homelands) running down the eastern North Island from Wairoa. For the Rangitāne tribe, the Wairarapa is part of a wider homeland that includes Manawatū and Horowhenua.[2]

The north–south divide was reinforced in 1989, when local authority boundaries changed. The new Tararua District Council covers northern Wairarapa and southern Hawke's Bay. The central and southern Wairarapa was divided into three district councils: Masterton, Carterton and the South Wairarapa. South Wairarapa District Council, based in Martinborough, is the local government authority for areas south of Carterton, encompassing the towns of Greytown, Featherston and Martinborough and the rural areas down to the Hutt. It is separated from Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt cities by the Rimutaka Ranges. Carterton District Council based in Carterton is the fastest growing area in New Zealand and the Masterton District Council covers areas up to the Tararua District. As such, the majority — but not all — of the Wairarapa lies within the Wellington Region.

In terms of national politics, after the proportional representation electoral system was introduced in 1996, the Wairarapa electorate expanded to include southern Hawke's Bay.

The area from Mount Bruce north, extending through Eketāhuna, Pahiatua, Woodville, Dannevirke, to just north of Norsewood is part of the Tararua District and is in the Manawatū-Whanganui region, because it is in the catchment of the headwaters of the Manawatū River. The river runs westward between the two mountain ranges (Tararua Range to the south and Ruahine Range to the north) via the Manawatū Gorge, to pass through Palmerston North and reach the west coast of the North Island.

The east coast contains settlements such as Tīnui, Castlepoint, and Riversdale Beach, while the main southern rivers drain through or past Lake Wairarapa to discharge into Palliser Bay east of Cook Strait.

The view of the Wairarapa from Mt Dick, Carterton



The name Wairarapa means "glistening waters" in te reo Māori. According to some oral histories, the Polynesian explorer Kupe named the wetlands after touching down in the area several times. According to other oral histories, explorer Haunui named the wetlands after the way the lake appeared to glisten from the Remutaka Ranges to the west.[3][4]

During British colonial times the region was also known colloquially as The Wydrop.[5]

Rangitane and Ngāti Kahungunu were the resident Māori tribes (iwi) when European explorers arrived in the area in the 1770s.

European settlement began in the early 1840s, initially on large grazing runs leased from Māori, and with closer settlement from the 1850s.

On 23 January 1855 the strongest earthquake recorded in New Zealand hit the region; it reached magnitude 8.2 on the Richter Scale and caused five deaths among the then sparse population.

In World War II United States Marine Corps soldiers were stationed in the Wairarapa with two battalions in Masterton.[6]



The agricultural industries, including forestry, cropping, sheep, beef and dairy farming, are major land users. The area around Martinborough, in the south, is notable for its vineyards and wine, as are the outskirts of Masterton and Carterton. Beer has been brewed at Mangatainoka, near Pahiatua, since 1889.[7] There are over 60 wineries in the region since the weather is very similar to Burgundy.[8] Deer farming is growing in importance.[9]



The region is no longer well served by different transport modes, unless traveling to Wellington. A car is helpful. The State Highway 2, via Rimutaka Hill Road connects the region to Wellington in the south and the Manawatū in the north. The Wairarapa railway line connects the region via the Rimutaka Tunnel to Wellington. A commuter rail passenger service, the Wairarapa Connection from Masterton to Wellington is operated by Metlink Wellington for Metlink. Before 2016, it was operated by Tranz Metro.

Many residents, especially in the southern towns such as Featherston and Greytown, commute to work in Wellington, either by train or over the Rimutaka Ranges by car or motorcycle.


Southern bull kelp at Manurewa Point in the Wairarapa

Many of New Zealand's endangered native bird species can be seen at the Pukaha / Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, which is just south of Eketāhuna.

International Dark Sky Reserve


In January 2023, an area of 3,665 square kilometres (1,415 sq mi), was certified as the Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association. It was the second dark sky reserve to be certified in New Zealand (after the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve was recognised in 2012). The certification of the new dark sky reserve was the result of 5 years of volunteer work by the Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve Association and local partner organisations.[10] The area covered by the reserve includes the Aorangi Forest Park, and the South Wairarapa and Carterton Districts.[11][12]

Notable people


See also



  1. ^ See for example "About the Wairarapa,"; "The Wairarapa," Lonely Planet; and "Wairarapa region," Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. All retrieved 17 February 2019.
  2. ^ "2. – Wairarapa region – Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  3. ^ Yerex, David (1991). They Came to Wydrop: The Beetham and Williams Families of Brancepeth and Te Parae, Wairarapa, 1856-1990. Hugh Beetham of Brancepeth and Tom Williams of Te Parae. ISBN 9781869560249.
  4. ^ Smith, Sophronia. "Ko ngā kōrero taketake o Wairarapa Moana". Wellington Regional Council.
  5. ^ Yerex, David (1991). They Came to Wydrop: The Beetham and Williams Families of Brancepeth and Te Parae, Wairarapa, 1856-1990. Hugh Beetham of Brancepeth and Tom Williams of Te Parae. ISBN 9781869560249.
  6. ^ Fuller, Piers (14 March 2023). "American soldiers were a welcome sight in wartime Wellington". Stuff. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
  7. ^ "Tui Brewery Tours & Tui HQ, Mangatainoka". Tui HQ. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  8. ^ "Wairarapa Wine Region". Wairarapa Wine Region. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  9. ^ McLellan, Illya (7 November 2016). "Wairarapa's newest deer farmer taking it all in her stride". Stuff. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  10. ^ "Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve Becomes New Zealand's Second International Dark Sky Reserve". International Dark-Sky Association. 18 January 2023. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  11. ^ "Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve (New Zealand)". International Dark-Sky Association. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  12. ^ Bunny, Sara (21 March 2023). "Wairarapa becomes official Dark Sky stargazing reserve". NZ Herald. Retrieved 23 May 2023.