In the south-east corner of New Zealand’s North Island lies Wairarapa, a land that time, and possibly tourists, forgot. It’s a magical land of extreme beauty, towering rock formations, crashing waves and howling gales. A place where you can watch seals at play in the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean, re-trace the steps of Lord of the Rings characters through towering monoliths and stand beside the lighthouse as it guides ships through these treacherous waters.
After a very peaceful night parked up at the DoC camp at the Pinnacles, the weather cleared as we headed off along the coast towards Cape Palliser and the lighthouse. On the way, we stopped at the small fishing village at Ngawi. It’s famous for the bulldozers that line the beach and pull the fishing boats in and out of the wild Cook Strait.
There are more bulldozers per capita here than anywhere else in the world, and they are an absolute necessity for the fisherman to be able to launch their boats into the often-raging sea. The bulldozers are a real colourful bunch, many with faces painted on them. All show the effects of being parked up in such an inhospitable environment. So cool though.
We stayed the night at the Ngawi freedom camping spot, right on the beach. Although it’s listed as a free camping area, a donation is appreciated. We gladly gave some koha to be able to park up in such a beautiful location, right beside the water.
We had another wander around the bulldozers as the sun started to set. It was cool to see an old truck rusting away in someone’s yard, with a lovely waterfall also providing a stunning backdrop.
The end of the road
The following morning dawned crisp and clear, but with a bank of cloud on the horizon. This usually gives a warning of how quickly things can change. So, we decided to hit the road early for the short drive around to Cape Palliser. Because we were unable to cross the ford in our motorhome, the end of the road for us was actually about 2km short of the lighthouse.
That was no problem though as there’s a great spot to park up and it meant that we’d get to walk past the fur seal colony that was just around the corner. First up though it was time to put our gumboots on to wade through the ford, which we then stashed in the bushes for when we returned.
Cape Palliser Seal Colony
After crossing the ford, we got our first glimpse of the seals just around the corner. They were sunning themselves on a rocky ledge. We gave them a wide berth so as not to disturb them. With my long camera lens, I took some nice close-up shots, including one gorgeous little seal pup mid-yawn.
Wairarapa’s fur seal colony is the largest in the North Island. It’s amazing to see so many, and fascinating to watch them playing in the water or sunning themselves amongst the rocks on the beautiful coastline.
The Cape Palliser Lighthouse
The road to the lighthouse meanders along the coast from the seal colony. There are also more seals dotted along the roadside and hidden among the rocks and grasses.
Eventually, we reached the rocky outcrop where the lighthouse perches, almost precariously. only 258 steps separated us from the views that we knew were waiting for us at the top.
We were right too! The views from the top were simply stunning, with a 180-degree panorama up and down the rugged coastline. Well worth the effort to drag ourselves up the steep steps.
The lighthouse was built in 1897 out of cast iron. To make it stand out against the Wairarapa’s bleak Aorangi Ranges it was painted with red and white stripes. Interestingly, it’s also only one of three lighthouses with stripes and the only one in red and white. The other two are black and white. So, it’s pretty special!
The Happiest House in New Zealand
On our way back from the lighthouse we also passed this smiling bach (holiday home) nestled into the rolling hills. It looks like one of the happiest houses in New Zealand and we can see why. If we got to live in such a stunning spot then we’d probably have a permanent grin on our faces too ☺
After retrieving our stashed gumboots and wading back across the ford, we retraced our path along the coast road once more. It was time to head for Lake Wairarapa as our CamperMate app told us we could freedom camp there. It’s such a beautiful spot to spend the night, right on the lakefront and with stunning views across to the distant rolling hills.
We were also lucky enough to park up next to a gorgeous old bus, a 1960 AEC Reliance bus named ‘Buster McBus’. Buster’s owners, Garry and Pam, have become good friends ever since.
That’s what life on the road is all about, staying in amazing places and meeting awesome people. If you’ve enjoyed reading about our travels, then please check out our blog at www.lifeontheroadnz.com. We live permanently in our motorhome and travel around New Zealand, blogging about our adventures and how we make a living on the road.