Favourite Places: Castlepoint, New Zealand

Castlepoint is more than just a beach-side destination. It’s a quiet getaway and vast departure from the daily activities of a busy lifestyle.

Even during the cold and rainy winter, spending an evening at Castlepoint is one of my favourite places to unwind. Brett and I have been coming to his family’s bach* since we first moved to New Zealand, and regardless of the weather, it’s an ideal weekend getaway for those in the Wairapara/Wellington region.

*bach = cabin/cottage/beach house, pronounced “batch”

Getting there
The two-hour drive from Wellington is complete with a heart-palpitating cruise along the Rimutaka Highway, a snapshot of the Tararua Mountain range, and endless rolling hills of farmland. The finale of the drive is a stunning view of the South Pacific Ocean. My favourite part is just before you enter the community of Castlepoint: green hills dotted with grazing sheep. I’m pretty sure Kiwis think I’m crazy for loving sheep as much as I do!

IMG-5227

Places to stay
There’s a campground at Castlepoint, complete with a nicely developed space for tents and camper vans. If you prefer to stay indoors, however, many of the baches along the waterfront can be rented for your holiday, along with the Castlepoint Hotel (located just before the entrance to the town).

Things to do
Castle Rock
The obvious activity is to walk up to the lighthouse for a stunning 360-degree view. This trail is well-maintained, accessible from the beach, and can be accomplished in nearly any weather condition (it’s also a great spot for checking out the water clarity).

IMG-5192

IMG-5202

The Cave

Below the lighthouse is a beach-side trail – accessible at low tide – to a deep cave. Through the cave you can see light at the other end, which lets out on the opposite side of Castle Rock. Although tempting, the water on the opposite side is extremely rough and not fit for swimming! This area is also a popular hangout for the New Zealand fur seal. These cute blobs can be very territorial – especially if they have pups around – so keep a safe distance but enjoy the thrill. 😊

IMG-5174

IMG-5183
Brett about to enter the cave…

Water sports
Throughout the year, it’s common to see people out boating, surfing, paddle-boarding, scuba diving, spear-fishing, snorkeling and on jet skis. In the summer months – pending that the winds take a day off – “The Gap” (aka Deliverance Cove) is an ideal place to lay in the sun amongst the calm waters.

IMG-5263
The Gap – view from Deliverance Cove trail

Hiking
I’ll admit that we don’t often check the forecast before driving up to Castlepoint, so most of my memories here involve high winds and pelting rain. However, we’ve stumbled across a few sunny days that make every rain drop so incredibly worth it.

On one such occasion, we hiked the Deliverance Cove trail, located behind the town of Castlepoint. This hike was very steep and is quite a test for those with a fear of heights. As you walk along the hillside, be cautious of the blowing wind.

IMG-5286
Can you see the tiny lighthouse in the distance?

The view from the top is incredible – with Castlepoint Lighthouse, the beach and The Gap on one side, and a view of sprawling fields and Christmas Bay on the other. We took a long rest at the top to really soak in the sun, watch the water for activity, and gaze at the glistening waters along Christmas Bay. Since that day, I’ve been waiting for ideal weather conditions to get back to the top.

IMG-5267
Christmas Bay

In the area
Amenities
The town itself doesn’t have a lot of amenities (stock up in Masterton if you need any groceries), however, there is a café, complete with classic Kiwi fish n’ chips, hot dogs and home baking. Across the street in the parking lot, you can often find a small camper van-style coffee truck, ready to serve you up a freshly extracted espresso.

Mataikona

Mataikona is a small community of homes further up the beach from Castlepoint. This area evokes a sense of seclusion and separation from the rest of the holiday homes nearby. And although the sandy beaches do not reach this settlement, the blanket of rocks along the coast make for ideal diving conditions, and is a popular spot for spearfishing. I highly suggest taking a short drive out this way to experience the uniqueness and contrast to Castlepoint.

. . . . .

IMG-8126
Castle Rock, Lighthouse, The Gap, Deliverance Cove trail (far hill), and town of Castlepoint

Perhaps the reason I enjoy Castlepoint so much is that it’s one of the first places Brett and I visited when we moved to New Zealand. With the stress and uncertainty of relocating to another country, Castlepoint was a close destination that we could always go to for a mini retreat.

I still remember our first evening at the bach. We sat on the front porch, bundled in blankets, and drank ciders as we watched the sun set behind Castle Rock. Castlepoint always reminds me of that perfect, care-free feeling we had that day, and is why I always look forward to going back – despite the weather forecast. 😊

 

The road less traveled: Carterton, New Zealand

New Zealand’s North Island looks like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, with a splash of Dr. Seuss throw in. This is due to the rolling, green landscape, with a single tree occasionally scattered on a hilltop. It really looks like a fairy tale.

As a sendoff for my last day of Christmas vacation, Brett and I planned to go hiking nearby. We headed towards Carterton, a small town about 15 minutes from Masterton. At the end of Dalefield Road was the access point to Mount Dick Lookout, known to be one of the best viewpoints in the Wairarapa (the other is Rocky Lookout, which I’d hiked to with Brett’s dad in November).

img_5999

 

I’d read online that there was a road leading to the top, which requires 4-wheel drive unless the roads are dry. We weren’t sure where the road ended and the trail began, so Brett and I took his 2007 Corolla station wagon up the dirt road towards the Lookout.

Eventually, we realized that we were on the trail, and that if we wanted to get our exercise for the day, we’d need to park and get out. However, the momentum of driving uphill got the best of us, and we drove the entire way to the top in 2-wheel drive without any issues (*phew*).

img_6000
I think I counted about 873 blind corners on this route.

Even before we reached the peak, we were rewarded with picturesque views of the surrounding valley, including lush forests and farmland. It was quite breath-taking at the top, with very low wind levels considering the elevation of 520m above sea level. In the far distance, we could see Lake Wairarapa near the town of Featherston, which is my favourite viewpoint during the train commute to Wellington.

img_5967
Posing with Mr. Brett Gibbs himself

In hindsight, the 3.7km walk to the top would’ve been easily manageable for Brett and I, as we are quite active and the slope wasn’t very steep. However, I’d say we were not fully prepared for the trip (i.e., Brett refused to bring his own water bottle and I’m not really into sharing) so driving was likely the best option for us today. If you’re interested in a shorter walk, there is a ‘parking area’ about 2/3 up the hill, which would likely give you a 30-minute walk to the top.

Before taking the winding road back to the city, we had a mini photo shoot (as all couples do these days, especially when the boyfriend has a popular social media presence).

Pics or it didn’t happen, right?

img_5951
I’m actually just thinking about pizza.

So, regardless of our hiking fail, Brett and I have reservations at the infamous Iberia Café in Masterton for $10 pizza night. Seriously. $10. Tax is included and Kiwis don’t tip (my understanding is that wait staff are paid above minimum wage versus relying on non-guaranteed gratuities). So, you give them a $10 bill and eat the pizza. It’s amazing. And it’s so, so good.

Here’s hoping I can fling myself out of bed at 5:00am tomorrow morning to make the 6:20am train with a pizza hangover. 🙂

Jan 8, 2017 8:00PM Update:

Behold, the three glorious pizzas we ordered: Apricot Chicken (front), Pepperoni (back left) and Brie & Cranberry (back right). We’re at the point now that we get recognized as ‘regulars’. Perhaps it really is time to move. 😉

pizza