Cape Palliser travel guide

Cape Palliser is a headland that’s located on the Southern coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Thanks to its rich Māori history, dramatic scenery, and heritage sites, it’s one of the best places to visit in the Wairarapa region.

The highlight of this destination has to be the lighthouse, but there’s also a large fur seal colony found here and some unique geological features.

Whether you fancy hiking or wildlife-watching, or you’re looking to simply appreciate the views, this place has something for all nature lovers!

This Cape Palliser guide will introduce you to everything you need to know for your visit, including what to do, where to eat, and the best places to stay.

Panoramic view of a beach with a road going with it, a landscape that slowly slopes up until it reaches the mountain, all seen from the Cape Palliser Lighthouse.
The view from the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. Photo: Simeon W.

Things to do in Cape Palliser

These are some of the best things to do in and around Cape Palliser…

Cape Palliser Lighthouse

This iconic lighthouse has been around since 1897, and though its no longer manually operated, it’s still a very popular tourist attraction.

You can climb all the way to the top of the rocky mountainside. There are 250 steps in total but it’s 100% worth the exertion. Plus, there’s a rest platform just shy of half-way so you can have a rest if you need it.

From the top of the lighthouse platform, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding area. This spot is a must-visit so don’t leave it off your itinerary.

⛔️ The lighthouse itself is not open to the public, so you’ll need to enjoy the views from its base.

The Putangirua Pinnacles

The Putangirua Pinnacles are one of the more unique attractions on the North Island.

Thanks to over 120,000 years of erosion (known as badlands erosion), what now remains are a series of unique geological formations called hoodoos.

This spot was actually used as a filming location in Lord of the Rings.

For the best view, head up to the Pinnacles lookout within the Aorangi Forest Park.

A series of tall, thin, and jagged rock formations standing upright in a sloping landscape surrounded by trees with blue and cloudy sky in the background.
Putangirua Pinnacles. Photo: Shellie Evans.

fur seals at Cape Palliser

This beautiful area is home to the largest colony of fur seals on New Zealand’s North Island.

The breeding season is in the summertime (November to January), so this is a particularly great time to visit. Females give birth to their pups during the time and then mate – so it’s all on!

There’s a specific viewpoint where you can view them, and this can be found on Google Maps.

Just remember to give them plenty of space as these NZ natives can be feisty.

A grey fur seal facing the camera while opening its mouth and with its belly on the grassy ground.
A New Zealand fur seal at Cape Palliser. Photo: Kerrie Hollman, NZTT member.

the fishing village of NgawI

If you’ve got some extra time then head to Ngawi Village.

Although only a small fishing village, it’s a quirky place to visit as it’s home to the highest ratio of tractors per population in the world.

While here, you can visit Ngawi Golf Course, take place in the village’s ‘Big 3’ fishing competition or simply admire the breathtaking scenery.

And, of course, you’ll want to check out all of those tractors parked up by the beach!

Tractors and fishing boats on the dry ground secured on top of a trailer.
Photo: Kayleigh Leonard, NZTT member.

Aorangi Forest Park

If you’re looking to do some hiking then head to Aorangi Forest Park.

The main highlight of this park is the Aorangi Crossing which is a 2-3 day tramping track.

The views along this hike are simply breathtaking, however, as this is classified as a challenging walk, you’ll want to ensure you’re well-prepared.

Did you know? The Putangirua Pinnacles are found within Aorangi Forest Park.

Two hikers with huge backpacks walking along a rocky and dusty trail surrounded by trees and a mountain ahead of them.
Photo: Pierre Roudier.


One of the best things to do in Cape Palliser has to be fishing – with so many local fishermen and women, it’s hardly a surprise.

This area is great year-round if you’re handy with a fishing rod. Some of the most popular fishing spots include Castlepoint, Lake Ferry and Ngawi.

Ruamahanga River runs into Lake Onoke and is also a popular spot for trout fishing.

A man in green raincoat fishing with a fishing rod in his hands.

Kupe’s Sail

Kupe’s Sail is a rock formation towards the eastern end of Palliser Bay.

This relatively unique geological formation is made up of sedimentary rock. It was pushed up during an earthquake, forming a flat triangular ridge.

It looks a lot like the sails used by Pacifika and Māori explorers (like Kupe), hence its name.

Kupe's Sail Rock Formation, a striking natural rock formation standing tall near the sea with the waves crashing against it, resembling a ship's sail.
Photo: Nell Preston, NZTT member.

Places to eat in Cape Palliser

Cape Palliser Bar and Grill

If you’re after a sit-down meal then head to Cape Palliser Bar and Grill. It’s located within Waimeha Camping Village and offers delicious food. From burgers to seafood, there are options for everyone.

Favourites include the fish and chips, seafood chowder, and the crayfish & paua burger. The staff here are also really lovely!

2805 Cape Palliser Road Ngawi, Cape Palliser 5772

Captains Table Food Truck

If you’d prefer a quick meal, then head to Captains Table Food Truck. This awesome spot is located along Cape Palliser Road and is known for its tasty food.

Offering homemade burger patties, locally caught fish and ice cream, you won’t be short of options. Plus, the coffee here is pretty good too.

3111 Cape Palliser Road, Cape Palliser 5772

A trail that passes by an expanse of land with a huge mountain that looks like a wall far ahead and on the side, and a cloud of misty lingering in the morning sunrise.
Cape Palliser is a stunning North Island location to visit. Photo: Travis Nobles.

Where to stay in Cape Palliser

You won’t find many accommodations in and around Cape Palliser.

However, there are a few options in the local area.

Budget: Waimeha Camping Village

Just a 10-minute drive from Cape Palliser is Waimeha Camping Village. It’s one of the cheapest accommodation options you’ll find in the area.

There are several beachfront mobile homes here, sleeping between two and six people.

This place is the perfect option for families as there are lots of amenities here including a mini-mart, an outdoor play area, a pool table and a picnic area.

Mid-range Holiday home: 3-Bedroom Coastal Retreat

Sleeping up to six people, this coastal retreat offers an epic getaway for families or small groups. It’s especially affordable if the price is split.

This is a comfortable holiday home. It’s always kept clean and tidy and comes with many of the creature comforts you’d hope for.

You’ll also be treated to stunning sea views from the property. Plus, there’s a garden area where you can relax as well as a BBQ.

Modern holiday home: 3-Bedroom Coastal Getaway

This beautiful holiday home sleeps up to eight people and is just a 2-minute walk from the coast.

The property’s design is beautiful, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering sea views.

Even better, there’s an outdoor patio that features a picnic area!

This property also includes all the beach essentials you’ll need like an umbrella, beach blanket, beach towels and snorkelling equipment.

Cape Palliser is undeniably rough, rugged and incredibly scenic.

Though it’s only small, you won’t be short of things to do in this area, especially if you’re the outdoorsy type.

Have you ever been to this incredible destination? If you have, what was your favourite thing to do?

Let us know in our Facebook group!

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