Story: Wairarapa places

Page 5. Carterton

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Town 14 km south-west of Masterton, with a 2013 population of 4,686. Stretched along High Street (State Highway 2), Carterton promotes itself as New Zealand’s daffodil capital, hosting a spring festival where crowds flock to pick flowers in outlying fields. The town has a small manufacturing sector, and has benefited from the growth of tourism in Wairarapa. Carrington Park, nearby wineries, and antique and second-hand shops attract passing traffic. The railway station, used by Wellington commuters, is also a local history museum.

Building Black Bridge

In 1857 a contract to bridge the Waiohine River, south of Carterton, was awarded to John Ashmore. But he soon upset his workers by insisting they stick to the eight-hour day. They wanted to work longer hours and petitioned politician Charles Carter for permission. Ashmore was unable to complete the contract and Carter took over. The Black Bridge – named after the tar that sealed the wood – was finished in 1859.


Originally called Three Mile Bush, Carterton was established in 1857 as a base for workers building the road from Greytown to Masterton. In 1859 its name was changed to Carterton in recognition of Charles Rooking Carter, a strong advocate of Wairarapa’s small farm settlers and a member of the Wellington provincial council. When the road was finished, workers turned to bush cutting. The cleared land was converted to dairying and cropping. Along with timber milling, these provided Carterton’s economic base. In 1887 the town was made a borough. By 1900 it was Wairarapa’s second largest town.


Compared to national figures, in 2013 Carterton had a high proportion of residents aged over 65 and people without educational qualifications. Residents also had a lower median income.

Carter Scenic Reserve

In 1896 Charles Carter set aside 30 hectares of his estate along the Ruamāhanga River as protected land. It was made a reserve in 1921. This rare mix of grassland, wetland, shrubland, and lowland forest was once typical of the Wairarapa. On the wetland edge, kahikatea forest changes to tītoki and mataī; tōtara grows on the drier slopes. The reserve is 12 km south-east of Carterton and has several bush walks.


Farming settlement on the Mangahuia Stream, 15 km south-east of Carterton. Gladstone is part of the Wairarapa tourist and wine trail, with cafés, a winery, a wheelwright shop and several homestays. Every spring a Scarecrow Festival is held in the fields. Nearby is the Hurunui-o-Rangi marae. The settlement was named after the 19th-century British prime minister William Gladstone.

Stonehenge of the south

Stonehenge Aotearoa is a full-scale adaptation of Stonehenge in England, on privately owned land 10 km south-east of Carterton. When viewed from the centre, the stones mark the daily rising and setting positions of the sun. The stone circle also forms a Polynesian star compass, showing the bearings taken by Polynesian seafarers travelling to and from New Zealand.


The main eastern entrance to the Tararua Forest Park, 25 km north-west of Masterton. Holdsworth has short bush walks and longer tramps up Mt Holdsworth and beyond. The picturesque Atiwhakatu Stream flows through the area, providing swimming holes, with camping and picnicking spots on its banks. The locality is named after Joseph Holdsworth, commissioner of crown lands for Wellington from 1870 to 1884.


How to cite this page:

Ben Schrader, 'Wairarapa places - Carterton', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

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