Masterton is the largest town in the Wairarapa region, with a population of around 20,000. It's a place where many visitors stay for overnight and longer trips to the area.
Named after the mid-19th century pioneer, Joseph Masters, Masterton is situated on the main Wairarapa railway line and provides convenient access to Wellington and the Hutt Valley. Because of this, it's a popular commuter town. It's also fast becoming a centre for industrial expansion, with many retail and industry parks springing up around the suburbs.
Masterton was the first town in New Zealand to have an automatic telephone exchange, and it also has its own radio station and newspaper. The town is a haven for artists, so you'll find numerous galleries, artisan food shops and craft stores. Drop by Aratoi and the Wairarapa Museum of Art and History which holds permanent and visiting exhibitions of traditional local art and photographs. Then perhaps take a picnic in Queen Elizabeth Park, or down by the Ruamahanga River.
Alternatively, spend the day like a proper Kiwi, and visit The Wool Shed (formerly the New Zealand Shear Discovery Centre), home of the famous annual Golden Shears Championships. Later, head back to town, to enjoy dinner in one of the diverse restaurants, offering anything from local venison to crayfish and eels.
Summer is fantastic in Masterton. It enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with temperatures often topping 30C. This also helps produce great grape harvests, so it would be foolish not to drop by some of the wineries in the area. There are also plenty of berry farms, where you can pick your own fresh raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and any other berry you can think of. Masterton is also home to the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, every March. Watching the skies filled with balloons, and maybe taking a ride yourself, is a highlight of any visit here.
Less than half an hour north of Masterton, is the famous Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, which makes a great family day out. There are also some great valley walks and scenic reserves dotted all around Masterton, as well as seal and bird colonies out along the coast.
Make the town your base for some exploration further afield, or content yourself with staying in town for some great shopping - Masterton is the retail centre of the Wairarapa Valley. Transport links are good, so you can easily enjoy a day out at nearby Featherston and Martinborough, too.