Op shops, galleries, and great cheese: six small towns you need to visit

Compiled by Francesca Emms

Frankie is Capital’s staff writer and resident jam-maker. She loves tap dancing, crochet, and gluten-free cheese scones. She gets car sick really easily, so “shotgun!”

In a few short weeks some of us may be happily bubbling outside the confines of our fair shores. Until then, here are a few little destination gems that might not be on your radar.

The best part about these places is you won’t get any of those grizzling “how much longer?” and “are we there yet?” questions because these spots are all in the Capital circulation area.

Did someone say “road trip”?


Time: 1 hour 50 mins from Wellington by car

Fan club: Alex says, “Foxton has New Zealand’s best opp shop, Junk & Disorderly. My girlfriend found an amazing orange jumpsuit and a Poole tea set. We went up for the Horowhenua Taste Trail and had an awesome time. We were really into the food, but we also just had a really fun holiday in Foxton. We drank Foxton Fizz of course, and took pictures with the windmill. Next time we’ll visit the new museum. It was created in collaboration with the local Dutch community and iwi to reflect Foxton’s heritage.”

Hot tip: Did you know that Foxton township was once a deep river port serving the Manawatu region’s flax industry? In the late 1800s, there were 50 flax mills operating within a 16km radius of Foxton. Today, one of the town’s key attractions is the Flax Stripper Museum.


Time: 2.5 hours from Wellington by car

Fan club: Cherie says, “There’s something about the mighty Whanganui awa running through the town that gives Whanganui a kind of energy. Where else can you watch someone demonstrate the art of glassblowing, then stroll down to the river market, ride in an underground elevator to the top of a hill to appreciate the view, and finish with a concert at a beautifully restored Victorian opera house? Some parts of the city are a little rough around the edges, but you’ll find lots of hidden (and not-so hidden) gems! I love Virginia Lake with its Winter Gardens. They’re like a big Art Deco glasshouse with colourful flowers and tropical plants and a kind of tunnel you walk through. They’re a garden for any weather and the building itself is a cool Art Deco design.”

Hot tip: Check out the winners and finalists of the Whanganui Arts Review at Sarjeant on the Quay. The exhibition, 2021 Pattillo Whanganui Arts Review, is at the Sarjeant Gallery until 16 May.


Time: 1 hour from Wellington by car

Fan club: Sam says, “Feddy’s actually a great place for a weekend away. You can get really nice and affordable accommodation, as long as you don’t go during wedding season (essentially that leaves winter). Go to C’est Cheese to stock up on cheese and pop over to Martinborough for wine. If you want to go out, the Royal does a good dinner (ask for potato dauphinoise, you won’t regret it). If you like tramping or cycling Featherston is the perfect home base. Highlights for me are the Remutaka Rail Trail and the walk into Waiorongomai Hut. You’ll also find heaps (like, maybe five or six) secondhand bookshops. My favourite is For the Love of Books.”

Hot tip: Jazz trio Hot Club Sandwich will be reuniting for one night only. Catch them at the Royal Hotel in Featherston on 14 April.

Palmerston North

Time: 2 hours from Wellington by car

Fan club: Georgia says, “In a single weekend you can have great Japanese food, get your nails done cheaper than anywhere in Wellington, have a panel beater fix your bumper on the same day (because you hit a pole Paraparaumu) and bump into an old friend in the Square who’s wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Doing absolutely nothing in my activewear’ because in Palmie there is no judgment.”

Hot tip: The Summerhill Framers Market happens on the first Sunday of the month. Find local produce, food stalls and live music.


Time: 1.5 hours from Wellington by car

Fan club: Hannah says, “Masterton is a really comforting place, everything feels easier and more relaxed. Masterton has one of the best bakeries in the country at 10 O’Clock Cookie Company, their opera cake is worth the trip alone. I really recommend a trip up Norfolk Rd to Paul Melser Pottery, and have a cocktail and delicious dinner at The Screening Room before going to the movies there in their two boutique cinemas.”

Hot tip: Documentary-style photographs by Catherine Russ are currently on display in Park Up at Aratoi Art Museum.


Time: 2.5 hours from Wellington by car

Fan club: Mike says, “Mainly I go out that way for fly fishing, but there’s an amazing antique shop in Woodville. The guy who owns it is crazy. I feel like I’m going into battle when I go in. It’s a challenge. But the stuff he’s got in there is really good. He is so rude. I don’t know why I keep going back there. Also, Woodville has great cheese cake, a super-cheap motel, no light pollution so the stars are brilliant, and the museum has a teapot collection lol.”

Hot tip: Did you know that portrait artist, Gottfried Lindauer had a long association with Woodville? He built a house and studio there in 1890. His last years were spent quietly in Woodville and he died on 13th June 1926 aged 87.


Sign up to our newsletter