The town's population at the 2006 census was 4,122, with a further 2,976 living in the surrounding rural district.
Founded in 1857, the town was originally known as Three Mile Bush, and served as housing for workers building the road between Wellington and Masterton. It was later renamed after Charles Rooking Carter. A commemorative statue sits on the corner of Belvedere Rd & High St.
The town describes itself as New Zealand's daffodil capital. Carterton was the birthplace of Sir Bob Charles, the first left-handed golfer to win a Major, the British Open in 1963. The Carterton District Library is the oldest purpose-built library that is still used as a library, in New Zealand.
The Matador Motel was built in 1976 and like the name suggests the exterior design has a typically Spanish theme. An additional four Superior Studio units were built in 2006.
The current owners Cath & Steve Hurley purchased the motels in October 2016. Steve returns to Carterton after an absence of 43yrs.