Don't be fooled by the quiet rural exterior and quaint, sleepy villages; there's a lot happening in the Wairarapa. This is the place of wine, warmth, and more wine. And I'm not talking hobby vineyards - Wairarapa is home to some of the world's finest boutique vineyards, and built around that draw card is the biggest array of boutique accommodations you'll find anywhere in New Zealand.

Just over an hour's drive from Wellington across the winding Rimutaka Hills (take care driving in winter), you'll find a spread of productive farmland hemmed in by the rugged Tararua Ranges to the west and the dramatic Pacific Ocean to the east.

Twenty years ago, Wellingtonians scarcely gave Wairarapa a second look; now it's one of their hottest weekend getaway spots. Most of the activity is centered on Greytown, which has become a haven of boutique stores and cafes; and in Martinborough, where Hong Kong businessman Mike Laven bought the old Martinborough Hotel and turned it on its head. It's now one of the premier accommodations in the area. Not content to rest on his laurels, our Mr. Laven simply picked up the old Station Hotel in Masterton, a little farther north, moved it to Martinborough, and turned it into a restored office, retail, and wine complex.

It's entrepreneurial action and foresight such as these that have seen Martinborough and its southern neighbors, Featherston and Greytown, really take off. Wharekauhau Country Estate at Palliser Bay is a stunning addition to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group, and there are new shops, cafes, and lodgings opening all the time. The Toast Martinborough Wine, Food & Music Festival attracts over 9,000 fans every year, the Martinborough Craft Fair is an annual favorite, and there are numerous outdoor activities to keep you amused if you ever run out of wine to taste.