The Wairarapa hosts most sports and leisure activities, from athletics to wrestling. Popular leisure events include Summer Hummer (an outdoor music concert in February) and the Martinborough Fair in February and March. At a national level, Wairarapa is best known for its rugby team, race meetings and back-country recreation.
Wairarapa’s first club rugby game was played at Greytown between Carterton and Greytown in 1879. Greytown won. The Wairarapa Rugby Union was formed in 1886. In 1893 a separate union was formed in the north of the region and named Bush, after the Forty Mile Bush.
Sometimes the unions combined to play visiting teams. In 1971 they amalgamated as Wairarapa–Bush, and became a formidable force. In the 1980s it had a six-year stint in the National Provincial Championship first division, before sliding into the third division. In 2005 the side won the third division title, securing promotion to the second division in 2006. The team went on to win the second division championship (now the AA Rewards Heartland championship) in 2006.
The Union’s most famous player is Sir Brian Lochore. He made his All Black debut in 1963 and played 25 tests for New Zealand, 18 as captain. In 1983 he was appointed an All Blacks selector, and was the national coach from 1985 to 1987. Lochore then became a sports administrator. In 2007 his contribution to sport was recognised when he was appointed to the Order of New Zealand, the country’s highest honour.
Horses and hāngī
The Kotahitanga Māori Racing Club was established at Akura by Ngāti Kahungunu and Rangitāne leader Hoani Parāone Tūnuiārangi and others in 1893. Both Māori and Pākehā entered horses. Māori horses represented the hapū (sub-tribe), increasing the competitive edge. Meetings were usually followed by a hāngī (meal cooked in an earth oven).
The region is celebrated for two annual race meetings at Castlepoint and Tauherenīkau. Conditions permitting, the Castlepoint races are held in March, and are run along the sandy beach. The races began in 1872, but did not become an annual event until the 1930s. The meeting has a festive ambience, attracting dozens of competitors and hundreds of spectators.
Equally buoyant is the New Year’s meeting at the Tauherenīkau racecourse. Set among mature tōtara and kahikatea trees, with ornate Victorian buildings, the course is charming and picturesque. The first meeting was in 1874, with Māori joining Pākehā for a ‘huge party’ despite the rain. The party atmosphere has survived, and the New Year meeting attracts thousands, especially from Wellington. Some are serious punters, but others come for the fun. They place the odd bet, promenade before the grandstand, and picnic under the trees.
The Tararua Range’s hardest tramp (hike) is the Shormann–Kaitoke, a north–south dash along the mountain tops. This requires trampers ‘to climb and descend a total of about 14,000 metres and battle sub-alpine scrub, tangled bush, jagged ridges, biting cold or parching heat’. In 1963 two contenders completed it in a weekend. Shortly after, the mountaineer Graeme Dingle (then aged 20) took just 18.5 hours. He went so fast he started hallucinating: ‘[I]n one place I saw a bear dashing around the hillside, and it even growled at me.’ 1
Tramping and outdoor recreation
Haurangi and Tararua forest parks are a popular destination for trampers (hikers), hunters and other outdoor recreationalists. In 1919 the Tararua Tramping Club (New Zealand’s first) was established, followed by the Masterton and South Wairarapa clubs. Members cut tracks and built huts.
The Tararua winds are so strong that some huts have been blown off their perches. The Range has also claimed over 50 lives since 1900, most from hypothermia or drowning. In recent years club activity has declined in favour of independent trampers, school groups and families.