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Featherston develops into a page-turner

This weekend Featherston was the star of the region’s show, with thousands turning out for the most recent of a number of highly anticipated literary events.

Up to 9,000 lovers of all things bookish were expected to descend on Wairarapa’s gateway town for the three-day multi-media extravaganza. This, the eighth Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival, is the current edition of the annual festival that has steadily grown in popularity.

This year the event featured 51 separate events, 89 presenters, and 25 booksellers in multiple venues across town. Founded by Lincoln Gould, the Featherston Booktown Trust is now chaired by Peter Biggs, with much of the day-to-day operations overseen by operations manager Mary Biggs. Preparations for the festival start months in advance, with many unseen hours of hard work going on behind the scenes to make it all happen.

A testament to the popularity of the event was revealed by a quick accommodation search on some of the major booking sites. On Saturday night, Booking.com was completely sold out in Featherston and Greytown, with just two rooms available in Martinborough. There was only one room left in each of Featherston and Greytown on Airbnb, with 25 places in Martinborough.

The book lovers will have brought welcome business to the region, with hospitality, retail and others set to benefit along with the accommodation providers.

The event shows what is possible not only in the region but more particularly in Featherston itself. Martinborough has its vineyards and colonial town centre, and Greytown has many similar appealing features. But Featherston oozes with potential.

Situated at the entrance to the region at the bottom of ‘the Hill,’ there is possibly no end to what could be achieved in this gateway town with the right sort of ideas, planning and follow through. C’est Cheese and the recently refurbished Royal Hotel are just two examples of highly successful and creative businesses taking advantage of Featherston’s strategic placement.

I know many people who regularly stop in Featherston just to buy cheese. Similarly, plenty of visitors [and locals] on their way to and from Martinborough stop at Brac n’ Bow at the Royal Hotel for lunch, or even coffee and a muffin. With good parking and good food, the sky could be the limit for businesses wanting to set up shop in this strategic transport hub town.

Another major advantage Featherston has over other regional towns is the location of its station. It is the only town with a station within a short walk of the town centre. If Featherston became a sought-after weekend destination from Wellington in its own right, similar to, for example, Martinborough, people could easily take the train across after work on Friday and go back on Sunday. This would of course mean KiwiRail ramping up its weekend offering, which would be a bonus for reducing both emissions and pressure on the road over the hill.

A few more centrally located accommodation options, good restaurants and a facelift for some of the buildings would go a long way to putting Featherston on the map more than once a year for Booktown.

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