The day was sunny, but cool. A strong wind was buffeting sand into our faces, so that it crunched when we closed our teeth together. And Andrea and Jamie were using the floormats from our rental car as make-shift sand sleds.
This last part, of course, was not going to plan. Other than a face-full of sand and a bit of uncontrollable laughter, my friends’ efforts to “sand surf” down the dunes were unfruitful.
Good thing we didn’t drive all the way from Wellington just for this.
Instead, we had woken early to make the 2 ½-hour drive across the bottom of New Zealand’s north island to visit the rock formations and sea cliffs known as Castlepoint.
Castlepoint, New Zealand
Castlepoint is a small coastal community located about 2 hours northeast of Wellington. It's known for its lighthouse, lagoon, and sea cliffs, along with Castle Rock, which was named centuries ago by Captain James Cook for its resemblance to a castle battlement.
Castlepoint makes a fantastic weekend trip from Wellington, either as an alternative to or in conjunction with a visit to the Wairarapa wine country – which exactly what my study abroad friends and I did for my birthday weekend.
You will need a car of your own to get here, as it's definitely not on the typical NZ tourist trail. Renting a car in Wellington is pretty easy, at least, but just be sure you pay for the vehicle insurance if you aren't already covered since the roads out in middle-of-nowhere-New-Zealand can be quite windy and challenging!
What to see and do at Castlepoint
My friends and I began our visit trying to “sled” down some of the sand dunes at Castlepoint on the floor mats from our rental car. This was (unsurprisingly) unsuccessful, so we headed on to the real draw: the scenery!
We began at the lagoon, which was a brilliant turquoise color beneath the blue sky, but didn’t linger because of the sand collecting in our eyes and ears. (Castlepoint is legit the windiest place I've ever visited!) We contemplated trying to walk out on the rock/reef that separated the lagoon from the sea, but decided to forego it in light of the gale-force winds that kept us walking bent-double.
The sea cliffs
Instead, we headed up into the cliffs, where at least we escaped the sand. The wind would blow our hair around in funny ways for the rest of the afternoon, but the surrounding scenery kept us fairly well distracted.
The scenery at Castlepoint consists mostly of cliffs and super-cool rock formations. There are a good number of walking tracks to enjoy, since Castlepoint is actually a Scenic Reserve managed by the NZ Department of Conservation.
Climbing around on the cliffs should be done at your own risk (at one point we were climbing along narrow ledges of rock on our toes, which was definitely NOT safe), but I do have to say that the views out over the sea are worth it.
You should also keep an eye out for fur seals here – we spotted a few!
After having fun atop the cliffs, be sure to walk to the Castlepoint lighthouse. Views from here are by far the best, but be prepared for strong winds on the way up! (My friend Jamie lightly mocked the little fence that lined only one side of the trail, but once a big gust came along and forcefully pushed us into said fence, we were much more grateful for it.)
Castlepoint is not a place you'll hear a lot of tourists talking about in New Zealand (though its beach is a favorite among local kiwis), but I think it's a great off-the-beaten-track destination to consider.
Castlepoint is located about 2.5 hours northeast of Wellington, New Zealand, and you really do need a car to get there on your own.
While there are a few eateries at Castlepoint, there's not much lodging at or near the beach/cliffs. If you're going to stay overnight, I recommend staying in Masterton, which is only 50 minutes away. Check out Masterton hotels here.
Have you ever been to (or heard of) Castlepoint?