New Zealand’s capital city Wellington was a fitting host for the Commonwealth Judges’ and Magistrates’ Association’s (CMJA) 17th Triennial Conference (13-18 September 2015). The 217 attendees enjoyed a busy programme of education at the Michael Fowler Centre, with receptions and networking opportunities at The Beehive (New Zealand’s Parliament), the Supreme Court of New Zealand, and Government House.

The final day of the programme, however, aimed to give delegates a breath of fresh air and a taste of the real New Zealand with a day out in the Wairarapa region. “We wanted to show them a bit more of New Zealand, give them an opportunity to have some experiences outside Wellington,” says David Hancock, general manager at Destination Wairarapa.

The visitors boarded the Tranz Metro train for the 90-minute journey to Masterton, via the longest passenger train tunnel in New Zealand. Delegates travelled in their own dedicated train carriages, allowing them to continue networking as they left the city behind for picturesque rural landscapes including olive groves, rolling farmland, Lake Wairarapa and the Tararua Ranges.

Once in Masterton the group was picked up by Tranzit Coachlines, with four buses heading out in different directions to a range of activities at Wairarapa’s leading attractions.

This included visits to: Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre to see the rare white kiwi and other native birds; the Vintage Aviator, the world’s largest collection of rare and airworthy WWI fighter aircraft; Aratoi, Wairarapa’s Museum of Art and History, and The Wool Shed, New Zealand's national museum of sheep, to see some lambs and experience sheep being shorn. Hancock adds: “Aratoi was hosting a touring exhibition of the world's largest tapa cloth. It was quite timely as some of the judges from the Pacific Islands were familiar with the artist and could share more information.”

A fifth coach went to Kahikatea Gardens in Greytown, with delegates exploring the mix of native bush and contemporary gardens and visiting the sheep and alpaca on the property’s farm. This group also stopped at Schoc Chocolate for a tour and tasting of delicious local confectionary, before visiting Stonehenge Aotearoa, and the Cobblestones Museum for a slice of local history, including the original Wairarapa hospital, school and church.

“It’s amazing how many people from the groups hadn’t seen these things New Zealanders take for granted - a lemon tree, someone shearing a sheep. The guests said it was a really wonderful experience,” Hancock says. “They also had a fantastic time shopping for local artwork and woollen products.”

The groups also met up together for a ‘New Zealand-themed’ lunch at the region’s largest hotel, Copthorne Hotel & Resort Solway Park, enjoying a menu featuring local cheeses, olive oil and breads, lamb salad, and mini pavlovas.

“They were amazed with how we all work together here,” Hancock notes. “It just makes it so much easier to have a collaborative approach, it lets you pull off something bigger than you would be able to do on your own. Business Events Wellington did the city stuff and hosted the great conference and we added the day out. We work very well together.”

Dr Karen Brewer CMJA Secretary General says she had received “great feedback” about the day tours: “The participants felt they learned a great deal and were better informed about the history and culture of New Zealand as a result of their visits to various stops in both Masterton and Greytown.”

The Honourable Justice William Young KNZM of the Supreme Court of New Zealand adds: “It was a major exercise but everything went very smoothly, thanks to the organisers’ planning, efficiency and helpfulness. It was a great day and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone who participated, (including me). It was the sort of day that made us proud to be New Zealanders.”