Palliser road trip

Whenever I hear Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast car’ I get the urge to drive and head off to anywhere the roads take me.  This was exactly the case one early morning when the radio played her song, guitar strumming soulfully ‘…you got a fast car, I want a ticket to anywhere…’.

And so it was that I found myself driving through the Wairarapa coast on a clear day, through straight roads that seemed to never end, then onto winding roads that had beaches and blue waters on one side and rugged cliffs on the other. Except for a handful of tourists at Cape Palliser, for most of the journey to the lighthouse there was almost no other soul around.

From here I drove to the Putangirua Pinnacles, about 15 minutes drive from Cape Palliser. The pinnacles are  huge towering rock formations that attract many visitors because of their brief appearance in the Lord of the Rings movies. At the car park I was given three choices to get there: a 45-minute trek through a ridge, the same amount of time by the streambed, or a three-hour loop through hills and lookouts.  Taking the loop, I got to the site feeling like I was on another planet – the sheer height of the rocks and the greyness of the surroundings obliterated all else. Or perhaps it was just my stomach grumbling, as it was already 2pm and I hadn’t had anything to eat except one pancake at breakfast seven hours ago.

A tip if you’re traveling here. Bring food and water because there’s not much around the area in terms of cafes and restaurants. The best option is Lake Ferry Hotel, but you’ll have to drive about 30 minutes from the pinnacles.

Road trips best represent the saying ‘it’s the journey not the destination’. Cavafy observed this long before though, when he wrote ‘Ithaca’:

Always in your mind keep Ithaca.
To arrive there is your destiny.
But do not hurry your trip in any way.
Better that it lasts for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man.
Rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Road trips can be soothing or electrifying.
No sweat. There are about 250+ steps up to Cape Palliser lighthouse. From the top are great views, all the way to the South Island if the day is clear.
Seal’d with a kiss. Colonies abound along the coast at Palliser road.

For LOTR fans, the Pinnacles are better known as Dimholt Road or the Paths of the Dead.
Onoke Spit opposite Lake Ferry is a bird watcher’s paradise (rumour has it). Though there was not a single one when I was there.
Burnside Church in Pirinoa, a Presbyterian church established in 1875, is now interdenominational.
The cafe at Lake Ferry Hotel. Here’s another saying: the best appetiser is hunger. I had loads of that before my 3pm lunch.
Retrato and Travel Hub NZ love adventure as much as you do are keen to help you plan your trips (no matter how crazy or far-fetched they are). The journey doesn’t begin when you get there – it starts when you have a chat with us. For more info, contact me or email:

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