Story: Wairarapa places

Page 6. Greytown

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Township 15 km north-east of Featherston on the Waiohine River terraces, with a 2013 population of 2,199. Crammed with cafés, boutiques, homestays, hotels, and antique shops, Greytown has become Wairarapa’s wealthiest and most fashionable town. It is also the oldest, with New Zealand’s most complete main street of wooden Victorian buildings.

Greytown remains an important rural servicing centre, with light engineering, pip-fruit and timber processing industries.


Greytown was founded in 1854 by the Small Farms Association, which aimed to settle working people in towns and on the land. The town was named after Governor Sir George Grey. It was New Zealand’s first planned inland town, although the first settlers were greeted by dense bush.

Once this was cleared, the town developed as a market and servicing centre. It was soon the region’s largest settlement, and became a borough in 1878.

However, the railway bypassed Greytown in the 1870s because of problems with floods from the Waiohine River. The town never recovered its former prominence. One benefit of the flooding was rich alluvial soils, and a pip-fruit, berry, and market garden industry was established in the 1890s.

Greytown declined during the 20th century, but was rediscovered in the 1990s. Many Wellingtonians and others were charmed by its old buildings and settled or bought second homes in the town, initiating a new period of growth.

Tree town

Greytown was the site of New Zealand’s first Arbor Day. On 3 July 1890, children from Greytown School, residents, and dignitaries planted 153 trees at the southern end of the town. Twelve of these survive. It was a somewhat ironic gesture, as native forest had originally been felled to establish the town. Greytown is now noted for its many mature trees.


In 2013 Greytown’s residents had higher educational qualifications and income than those of other towns in the region. The town also had a high proportion of people aged over 65 – almost twice the national average – and of couples without children.

Waiohine Gorge

Situated 15 kilometres north-west of Greytown on the edge of the Tararua Forest Park, the spectacular Waiohine Gorge was carved out by the Waiohine River. It is a popular swimming, tubing, camping and picnic spot, and a long swing bridge spans the gorge.

How to cite this page:

Ben Schrader, 'Wairarapa places - Greytown', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 June 2024)

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