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It’s 5pm and we are walking under a canopy of towering oaks and kahikatea trees. Dappled light filters through the branches casting a golden glow over the historic Tauherenikau Racecourse, which staged its first meeting in 1874 and lies only a few kilometres north of the Wairarapa township of Featherston. It’s an expansive area teeming with native birds, quaint buildings and stables. Dotted around at picturesque vantage points are clusters of campervans.

Sitting on a park bench enjoying a glass of wine and the last rays of sun are Sue and John Barnes, who are completely taken by the setting.

“Wow. Tauherenikau is a magical setting. We’re surrounded by the most beautiful old trees, historic buildings and are so close to the race track. It’s actually overwhelming how pretty this place is,” say the couple who have chosen to stay here at Tauherenikau’s Motorhome and Caravan Park while they attend Toast Martinborough, New Zealand’s premier wine and food festival.

The Barnes’ live in Taupo and say they enjoy the freedom that travelling by campervan affords them them as well as the opportunity to meet new people.

“We like that we can avoid the main holiday rush or school holidays and depending where we travel in New Zealand, have the best pick of the views. We’ve travelled to a beach that’s 2km long and been the only ones on it,” says John.

This sentiment is echoed by Bill and Gill Pendlebury, who have parked up under the old grandstand, a short walk away.

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Bill Pendlebury and Zak camping at Tauherenikau.

“We just love that you get up and go,” says Bill, whilst patting his dog Zak. “We first bought the campervan in 2013 and have done many trips since – around the East Cape and now here in the Wairarapa. We just love the freedom.”

Dave and Deanne Couchman from Havelock North are playing a game of cards in their classic tear drop caravan named CouchTrippin when we knock on their door. They welcome us in for a tour, which we all joke will take about 10 seconds due to the caravan’s compact size.

We learn that Dave, a sheet metal engineer, built the three-berth CouchTrippin three years ago to match his 1967 Holden Station Wagon. It’s seriously cute and so cleverly designed that the toilet, small kitchen complete with functional shelving designs, and seating which doubles as a bed and storage is quite literally at their fingertips. There’s even a BBQ on the front of the caravan.

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Deanne and Dave Couchman enjoy a round of cards in their tear drop caravan whilst enjoying a long weekend in the Wairarapa.

The couple, who like the majority of people we meet are members of the New Zealand Motorhome and Caravan Association, enjoy meeting up with like-minded people on their travels. They enjoy the camaraderie and that special time at the end of the day where they swap road-trip stories or travel ideas.

Tauherenikau has plenty of room for non-powered campervan and motorhome sites and its central location means it’s only a quick drive to the nearby townships of Featherston, the wine village of Martinborough and Greytown, renowned for its boutique shopping. It’s also great for those who wish to base themselves in the one place for a few days but do day trips to Cape Palliser and Lake Ferry, the beach settlements of Riversdale and Castlepoint, or drive or cycle around the pretty country roads that link Carterton with Gladstone and the nearby Tararua Ranges. Along these roads are access points to the Ruamahunga River, several vineyards, Stonehenge Aotearoa, a complete modern reworking of Stonehenge in England, and the famous Gladstone Inn, a terrific country pub.

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Tauherenikau Racecourse in the Wairarapa has plenty of room for non-powered campervan and motorhome sites and its central location means it’s only a quick drive to the region’s nearby townships and major attractions.

This summer Tauherenikau will host two horse race meetings on January 2nd 2017 and February 6th 2017 (Waitangi Day) and the Wairarapa Country Music Festival from January 13th – 15th 2017. The family friendly race days are famous for their picnic atmosphere and traditionally attract generations of families who nestle under the trees, have a flutter on the horses and enjoy the picturesque surroundings.

The three-day Wairarapa Country Music Festival has attracted headlining act The Topp Twins - aka identical twin sisters Lynda and Jools Topp – who will blend their original country music with comedic characters and wonderful yodelling on the evening of January 14th. Throughout the entire weekend there will be performances by top country and western singer Eddie Low, the Toner Sisters, Glen Moffatt, Sue Dyson, up and coming singer Molly G Paige and Murray McMichael.

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The Topp Twins will headline the 2017 Wairarapa Country Music Festival being held at Tauherenikau Racecourse.

Event organiser Matthew Sherry says audiences will be in for an evening of fast-paced hilarious entertainment when they watch the Topp Twins.

 “The Topp Twins have wowed audiences for more than two decades with their amazing songwriting and performance abilities and quirky characters Kiwis just love, such as the Kens and Camp Mother and Camp Leader,” says Mr Sherry.

“To have them headline the 2017 Wairarapa Country Music Festival is fantastic and I know festival-goers will be entertained by their unique musical style, spontaneity and effortless comic timing.”

Planning on bringing your campervan to the Wairarapa this summer? Here are five great day trip ideas:

  • After stopping off in family-friendly Masterton and exploring the wonderful Queen Elizabeth Park, Aratoi: Wairarapa Museum of Art & History and The Wool Shed, follow the signs to either Castlepoint or Riversdale beaches, both about a 45 minute drive. Each has a distinctive holiday atmosphere and landscape: Castlepoint with its limestone reef, lagoon and elegant white lighthouse and Riversdale with its sweeping curved beach, golf course and surf lifesaving club.
  • A short drive north of Masterton on SH2 is the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, home to Manukura the white kiwi. Here you can see native bird life up close, watch the eels being fed and walk through the new free flight aviary. If you are continuing north to Hawke’s Bay or Manawatu then be sure to swing by Tui Brewery, which has just opened its new start of the art brewery that brews innovative small batches of beer. Enjoy lunch and a tasting tray in the garden bar or in the Tui Brewery Tap Room and kitchen. 
  • Take a leisurely drive around to Cape Palliser and walk up to the red and white striped lighthouse. On the way you will pass the fishing village of Ngawi, the Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic reserve and a large seal colony. Finish the day off with fish and chips at the Lake Ferry Hotel.
  • Travelling with your bike? Then ride part of or all of the 115km Rimutaka Cycle Trail, which begins in Wellington and finishes in the Wairarapa. One of the best aspects of the Trail is its multiple access points meaning riders can tailor the journey to suit their needs and fitness levels.  It can be completed in one day or done over two, three or four days, allowing for side trips to the wine village of Martinborough, the pretty colonial township of Greytown or to Featherston.
  • Just north of Carterton is the main access point into the Tararua Ranges – Mt Holdsworth. Here you can park up near the river and enjoy a variety of day walks or go tramping. As with all outdoor activities, be sure to the check the weather forecast and be prepared.

How to get to the Wairarapa

The Wairarapa is located at the lower right-hand corner of New Zealandʼs North Island. It is only an hour’s drive or train ride north-east of Wellington, which has daily domestic and international flights from Australia; and just over an hour’s drive from Palmerston North’s domestic airport. Driving here is easy with The Classic New Zealand Wine Trail a self-drive experience along SH2 linking Marlborough, Wellington and Wairarapa with Hawke’s Bay. For more information visit, www.wairarapanz.com.

Related links:

5 places to see before they disappear

10 best places to visit in 2017

Why this is the best airport in Europe