Story: Wairarapa places

Page 4. Castlepoint

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Beach settlement 69 km north-east of Masterton. Castlepoint is famous for its lighthouse, annual horse races on the beach, and 160-metre-high Castle Point rock. It is popular for holidays and fishing, and has a safe swimming beach and tidal lagoon.

The reef, lagoon, sand dunes and Castle Point form the Castlepoint scenic reserve. Dolphins and fur seals often visit, and the reserve is home to white-fronted terns, red-billed gulls and black shags. It is also the only location of the rare Castlepoint daisy (Brachyglottis compactus).


In Māori tradition, Castlepoint was visited by Kupe, the great Polynesian navigator. He arrived from the homeland of Hawaiki, chasing an octopus that hid in a cave at Castlepoint. The Ngāti Kahungunu tribe had a settlement there, called Rangiwhakaoma.

Castlepoint takes its name from Castle Point, the impressive rock outcrop at the settlement's southern end. The rock was named by the British navigator James Cook in 1770, presumably because the landform resembled a fortress. In 1843 the missionaries William Williams and William Colenso stepped ashore, followed five years later by Thomas Guthrie, who established a sheep and cattle run. Until the early 20th century, Castlepoint was Wairarapa’s main port. But improved roading led to the port’s decline and eventual closure.

Castle Point

Castle Point is one of Wairarapa’s most spectacular landforms. It is made of successive layers of lime and sandstone, deposited over the last two million years. On the seaward side it sits on an older base of siltstone. As the land rose from the sea, the encircling softer mudstone was eroded, exposing harder limestone. The offshore reef is also limestone. Its elongated shape is due to faults that run either side.

A day at the races

Horse races have been run on Castlepoint beach since the late 19th century. Plenty of alcohol was drunk and events were often lively. One year, a Wellingtonian hustled a station hand out of his pay packet. When the crowd turned on him, he hid in a patch of gorse – which the punters set on fire. Another time, a policeman drinking at Whakataki’s Marine Hotel fell asleep while sitting next to an elderly Māori woman, also asleep. The pair woke to find themselves handcuffed together, with no key in sight.

Castlepoint lighthouse

With its strong winds, shallows, reefs and currents, the eastern Wairarapa coast can be dangerous. Since 1849, 31 vessels have foundered there, and 31 lives have been lost. In 1913, a 23-metre-high lighthouse was built on Castlepoint reef. It is New Zealand’s third highest lighthouse, and sends three flashes every 45 seconds, visible for 30 kilometres.


Coastal settlement near the Ākitio River mouth, 85 km south-east of Dannevirke. Ākitio’s attractions include boating, surf casting, deep-sea fishing, mountain biking, and swimming. It started as a small settlement of the Ngāti Kahungunu tribe. From the 1850s the surrounding land was converted to sheep and cattle farming. The main access was from the sea. Wool and meat were loaded from the beach onto surf boats and rowed to waiting ships. Produce is now transported by road.


Township at the Motuwaireka River mouth, 55 km south-east of Masterton. Riversdale was founded in the 1950s by Masterton businessman Basil Bodle, who bought 40 hectares of beachfront land from Riversdale Station to set up the resort. As coastal property prices have risen, Riversdale has attracted wealthy Wellingtonians, some of whom have built substantial baches (holiday homes).

Closing up camp

Riversdale had two campgrounds for many years. However one closed in 2006 and the second was about to close in early 2007 – the owners decided to capitalise on soaring land prices. The 2006 camp closure spurred a group of long-time campers to band together, raising more than $1 million to buy back part of the land.

Kaiwhata River mouth

At low tide at the Kaiwhata River mouth, 15 km south of Riversdale, more than 20 tree stumps can be seen poking out of the sand. These formed part of a coastal forest that was drowned and buried by rising sea levels over 8,000 years ago. With the coast now rising, the ancient forest has been eerily re-exposed. The stumps have been identified as tōtara.


Sheep farming settlement 48 km north-east of Masterton, on the road to Castlepoint. Tīnui was founded in the 1860s. It thrived in the late 19th century, but today is a quiet farming village. New Zealand’s first civic Anzac Day ceremony, commemorating the Australian and New Zealand troops’ landing at Gallipoli in 1915, was held in Tīnui on 25 April 1916. A memorial cross was built on the Tīnui Taipo rock outcrop above the village.

How to cite this page:

Ben Schrader, 'Wairarapa places - Castlepoint', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 April 2024)

Story by Ben Schrader, published 29 Mar 2007, updated 11 Jun 2015