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Things to do in Whanganui with kids: Westmere Lake/Roto Mokoia

Westmere Lake/Roto Mokoia is located on Rapanui Road, five minutes drive from the centre of Whanganui.

Westmere lake 1Westmre lake 2

Westmere Lake/Roto Mokoia is a wonderful place to take your tots, particularly if they are mobile and need to run off some steam in a pretty safe environment.  The track is mostly flat and would take an average adult 30 minutes to walk around it.

Westmere Lake/Roto Mokoia is surrounded by 20ha of native New Zealand bush and farmland, and is a wildlife refuge.  On any given day tuis, piwakwaka and kereru are evident.

The first part of the track is buggy-accessible.

Westmere lake 9

A few minutes walk leads to an isthmus, with a small clearing and a picnic table.

Westmere lake 7

After the picnic area, the track becomes less buggy-friendly.  The track can be narrow and sloping in places and has a few hilly spots (the hills are pretty small).  It is possible to lug a buggy around the whole way, but baby-wearing is a more sensible option.

On this visit, my two spent 40 minutes jumping off logs.

Playing hide-and-seek was popular too.

Westmere lake 6

You could definitely spend the better part of an afternoon exploring all there is to see at the lake.

My one criticism of this glorious place is that there are only a few spots where you can view the lake, as it is (naturally) surrounded by reeds and other tall foliage.  But there are tantalising glimpses most of the way around, and some scenic outlooks once you get to the hillier part of the track.

Westmere lake 8

Here’s a much better shot of the lake (not taken by me) on a sunnier day:

Lake-Westmere-1200x413

image credit

Get out into it folks.

Note: Do not confuse Westmere Lake/Roto Mokoia with the Westmere Walkway, which is located in Aramoho.  

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Things to do in Whanganui with kids: Cameron Blockhouse

I grew up in a house filled with history buffs.  If there was a museum to go to, we’d be there.  “Look kids, a historical marker!  Let’s check it out.”

All of this naturally rubbed off on me, and I am an unabashed history nerd.  So it was with some sense of shame that I confessed to a friend the other day that I had never visited a particular historical site that is just outside Whanganui: Cameron Blockhouse.

Cameron Blockhouse tots in tawhero.jpg

I’d driven past that beguiling historical marker many, many times, but was always in too much of a rush to stop.

Today the weather was nice, and I was looking for somewhere reasonably contained to let Chip loose.  At almost 20 months, his favourite activity is to run like the wind whilst calling out ‘Running! Running!’, hence the need for containment.  I figured Cameron Blockhouse might be a goer, and I was right.

Cameron Blockhouse is situated just off the main highway south out of Whanganui (State Highway 3), just past Kaitoke.  It’s about a 5 minute drive out of town, and is well sign-posted.  (The entrance is just past a corner, so take care as you leave the place.)

Cameron Blockhouse is situated on working farm land (there are two farmhouses nearby), so a) big ups to the kind people for letting the public on their land, and b) please be respectful of this fact when you visit.

As it turned out, the farm equipment alone was enough to enthral my machinery-obsessed son.  Because there wasn’t just a tractor, there was a TRACTOR:

tok! tots in tawhero.jpg

ain’t she pretty?

Just for scale, here’s one with my tractor-loving toddler:

tok2.jpg

It was an auspicious beginning to a good outing.

Cameron Blockhouse hails from a fascinating and often shameful era in New Zealand’s history, the New Zealand Wars, which happened over 1845-1872.  The timber blockhouse is one of the few surviving examples of a privately-built redoubt from this time.  Built in 1868, it was constructed to protect the Cameron family, from the growing threat of Maori Chief Riwha Titokowaru and his army.

The blockhouse was designed to withstand a 24-hour siege and was situated so that signals could be passed onto other blockhouses on the way to Whanganui, alerting the British troops that were garrisoned there.  The house is made of totara, and the walls were stuffed with clay to make them bullet-proof.

The house is still in remarkably good shape.

blockhouse 2 tots in tawhero.jpg

blockhouse inside tots in tawhero.jpg

One of the three rooms in the blockhouse

On the inside, the blockhouse has three rooms, and a loft, so you can imagine that it could have protected quite a number of people.  Musket holes are situated along every wall:

musket hole.jpg

Fortunately for the Cameron family, the threat of an angry army never eventuated so the blockhouse was never used for its original purpose.

If you like history, and have time to spare, Cameron Blockhouse is definitely worth a look.  Historical information is displayed throughout the blockhouse, and the design alone is enough to interest military buffs (like me!).  I think most children would find the blockhouse interesting – especially those musket holes.

plaque tots in tawhero.jpg

And if that’s not enough, is this view enticing enough for you?

cameron farm tots in tawhero.jpg

Farm valley view from the blockhouse

Free, informative fun.  What could be better?

 

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Things to do in Whanganui: Waitahinga Trails (alternative title: I’m just wild about Harry)

The Waitahinga trails are a 40 minute drive from Whanganui, and are 12km past Bushy Park Sanctuary (the road past the sanctuary to the trails is unsealed, FYI).  The land has been owned by the Whanganui City Council for many years, but it is only recently that the trails have been developed for all to enjoy (thanks Whanganui Tramping Club, you guys are awesome!).  The forest is a mix of old and regenerating flora, and in most parts you will be serenaded by tuis, piwakawakas, riroriro, cicadas, and the occasional hive of bees.

There are several trails, rated from easy to moderate.  I took the longest route to the Waitahinga Dam and found it challenging in some parts (more on that later), but mostly fine for my level of fitness.  The tracks are very well marked so there is slim chance of getting lost.

There are two easy trails – the Picnic Dell and the Chicken Run – however, to get to the start of the trails you have to walk up a ruddy great hill, so I would only recommend trying these on foot with your more active toddler.  The road to the dell is fine for strollers etc, but you will need muscle power to get that stroller up the hill.

The Chicken Run is a 30 minute loop walk that has two vista points (where you can see Mts Ruapehu and Taranaki) and is suitable for school-aged children and older toddlers.

The other tracks can be done as shorter walks, but most people will take them all in getting to and from the Waitahinga Dam.  The dam is located 250m lower than the start of the track, which means after you get there, a decent climb back UP awaits you.

The Okehu track takes you through gorgeous bush, and then it is recommended to take ‘Tom’s Ridge’ down to the dam, and ‘Harry’s Ridge’ back up.  Of the two, Tom is shorter but steeper, while Harry meanders its way back in a more leisurely fashion.

Tom’s Ridge looks newer, and the track is -for want of a better word – quite rooty.  I know, tree roots in a forest?  How very dare they!  Anyway, what I mean is, this section of the trail can be a bit tricky due to the roots, so you do have to watch your step.  I definitely recommend wearing boots for this walk.  I didn’t find Tom too challenging until the last 100m or so when the track suddenly plummets down.  This part of the ridge is less dense with bush, meaning fewer things to hang onto.  I was quietly terrified by the steep, slippery incline and ended up having to turn myself around to climb down, clutching onto roots and saplings when I could.  But I survived.

At the bottom of the hilly slip-o-rama, it is a short walk to the dam.  I made it from the carpark to the dam in 2 1/2 hours.  I’m a cautious walker (and by that I mean, I’m a naturally clumsy person, so whilst walking solo, I take my time lest I should break a leg and have to be ignominiously rescued…) but I’m surer more nimble folk could do it in two.  Anyway, here is the dam:

waitahingadam3totsintawherowaitahingadam2totsintawherowaitahingadam1totsintawhero

Beautiful, isn’t she?

It’s a wonderful spot to just sit and marvel at Creation, and I had the place (and indeed the track) all to myself.  The dam was once the source of Whanganui’s water and is absolutely worth the trouble of getting there.

And then, there’s Harry.

I so enjoyed this part of the trail.  It’s pretty steep in places, and being mostly uphill, takes more time than Tom (it took me just over three hours to get back to the carpark).  The occasional steep part aside, Harry wanders calmly back up.  There is a wonderful area called Spaghetti Flat which is filled with supplejack, and really does look like tree-made spaghetti.  I ran into several families of goats (unless it was the same group stalking me?) along here.  From there you enter the Rimu walk which then rejoins the Orehu track, taking you back to the carpark.

waitahingatrail2totsintawhero

I found the last 15 minutes of the Orehu track to be hard slog, and was relieved to see the end of the trail.

What a great day!

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Dollar Diet: Less is More

At the ready! (image credit)

At the ready!
(image credit)

I kicked off this term with a vow to do less.  Fewer playgroups where we are stuck inside, in favour of unstructured time outside.

I was relieved I’d made this decision as last week ended up being very busy, with non-kid related activities taking up several evenings and all day Saturday.  Come Sunday, I was knackered.  Having had burnout in the past I am quite careful not to overload my schedule, but sometimes interesting things just happen all at once, don’t they.

I went to a free presentation on the impact of our early years on child development, which was put on by the excellent Brainwave Trust.  The Brainwave Trust is a charitable organisation founded to raise public awareness of the most recent discoveries in brain research, and to educate parents, caregivers, schools etc on the ramifications of this research.  I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know (simply because I have degrees in Psychology and Education, and specialised in human development, not because the presentation isn’t good – because it is!), but it is always great to be reminded of just how crucial the first three years of life are in shaping the people we become.  If you are interested in parenting advice based on solid, scientific research, I highly recommend signing up for their newsletter to keep updated on the latest happenings.

In tot-related stuff, instead of going to a music playgroup I decided to go for a walk along the Whanganui river with the kiddos.  I armed myself with a rubbish bag, thinking I could sneak in a little lesson about the importance of caring for creation as we picked up any rubbish we found along the way.  Things always seem so lovely and perfect in my head!  In reality, Chip fell asleep within five minutes and missed the rest of the walk entirely, while Sausage refused to get out of the stroller as her ‘legs were tired’.  She whinged and moaned most of the way.  I did manage to get in a decent workout, as power walking with a heavy stroller and 20+kg of kid gets the heart racing.

I dropped our Monday morning playgroup, which I am quite pleased about as it makes the start to the week less frantic.  This morning I did two loads of washing, changed all the sheets on the beds, gave the kids morning tea and wrangled them into the car to go grocery shopping without having to say ‘please hurry’.  I dropped this group because I must confess to picking up a new activity!  I know, I know,  I said I was doing less, but this isn’t a playgroup, per se.  On Fridays I am going to an exercise class.  It is beyond awesome.  St Luke’s Church in Castlecliff approached Plunket offering their space for a class and their volunteers to watch the children while their caregivers exercise.  I don’t know anywhere else where you can work out for $2 while some beautiful people mind your children!  It was fan-flipping-tastic to take time out for myself, and my kids enjoyed it (morning tea, singing and parachutes – what’s not to like?).  The class is over by 10:30am, so it leaves us with plenty of time to play afterwards at the Castlecliff Beach Playground.

We did spend ‘unnecessary’ money on going to a school gala.  It is difficult to put into words why I love galas so much.  I just do.  As a kid, my school gala was one of the highlights of the year, second only to the A&P show day and Guy Fawkes.  There’s just something so damn nice about seeing everyone having fun, the baking and white elephant stalls,  the sideshows, and teachers who are bravely prepared to be ‘dunked’ by gleeful students.

Once Sausage had filled up on real fruit ice cream she had a ball, and Chip was ecstatic to examine the machine blowing air into the bouncy castle (seriously, that kept him occupied for most of the time!).  Thanks to our pantry audit we underspent our grocery budget for the last few weeks, meaning we had plenty of cash to eat dinner out at the gala.  We’ve all been rather tired and cranky (Chip has just had five teeth cut through at once) so we needed a little fun injected into our week.

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Dollar Diet: Week 49, free fun and slowing down

The second week of the school holidays has whizzed by.  My tots and I have enjoyed several playdates with friends, and have either mooched about at home, visited playgrounds and headed for the beach.  I’ve managed to get through this week without spending a cent on kid-related activity (other than a bit of petrol).

Ah, home sweet home

Ah, home sweet home

The glorious weather (seriously, I’ve been swanning around in a t-shirt in October) has made it easier for us to stay at home, because our backyard is so wonderful.  At the moment Chip is greatly entertained by the garden hose, eating grapefruit that’s fallen from the tree, playing in a dirt pile left by D when he put the gate in, and trying to put everything he can in his mouth.  Sausage loves to help me put out the washing, which is quite a fun, educational experience for her.  I ask her for certain numbers of pegs – which she methodically counts out for me – or I ask her for pegs of a particular colour, or to give me a certain item of clothing.  She has even created her own washing line by clipping pegs to a nearby flax bush.

I have certainly been more productive this week.  My house is a bit cleaner, the laundry under control, and our mornings less frantic as we don’t have to rush out the door to our various play groups.  It has got me wondering if I need to scale back our play group involvement, at least until next winter.  It’s actually a tricky decision for me because I have good friends at each group, and as an extrovert I need quite a bit of face-time with people who don’t pepper me with a zillion questions before my brain has had a chance to wake up in the morning, or smear the remnants of morning tea into my cardi.  On the other hand, one of the things I adore about being a stay-at-home parent is that I can say ‘by heck it’s a sunny day…BEACH!’ and just go. [Edit: of course, when I say ‘just go’ this means conduct military-like operation to pack a bag with snacks, hats, sunscreen, towels and the kitchen sink, wrestle children into the car, and THEN go.]

It’s amazing how much my tots have made me slow down.  I used to live life at a break-neck pace until I burnt-out badly.  Even after I recovered, I was still fairly busy going out to events and seeing my friends.  Now if I have more than one event on during a weekend, that feels a bit much for me!  But when you have kids who see magic and wonder in light fittings and dirt, you realise it doesn’t take much to make them happy.  Play groups are wonderful, but so is being at home or getting out into nature.

Here’s to summer!

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Things to do in Whanganui: Westmere Walkway

westmere walkway totsintawhero

The Westmere Walkway is unhelpfully, NOT in Westmere, so don’t confuse this walk with Westmere Lake.  The entrance to the Westmere Walkway is by the Savemart car park in Kelvin Street, Aramoho.  I know a few people who haven’t been able to find the place, but if you see these gates you’re in the right place.

entrance to westmere walkway

The walkway opened last year thanks to a local farmer who granted access to his farmland, and Rotary Whanganui.  You can find a brochure about this walk and others around Whanganui here.  The blurb said it included hill climbing (I need all the practice I can get for Tongariro in December…), went through farmland, and included ‘rewarding views of the city’.  The walk supposedly takes 1hr 30mins.

My husband D had kindly offered to watch the kids while I went out walking, so I headed off on my own.  First mistake.

The walk started off pleasantly.

toi toi tots in tawhero

totsintawhero westmere walkway

style westmere walkway tots in tawhero

But then I was greeted with this:

Oh hi, you want to get past us?

Oh hi, you want to get past us?

I was not daunted by the slips along the track (there are many).  I was initially undaunted by the herd of cows in the first field that the track meanders through.  I have been around cows before and they don’t bother me.  Until now.

As I got near them, some got skittish and ran away.  The field spread out to the right, and there was a sharp drop off a cliff to the left.  The ground was extremely wet and boggy, because a) it’s September and b) it’s rained a lot lately.  The remaining cows got in a line between me and the open field.  One looked particularly ornery, and it gave a little bellow and charged.

Did I mention that I was on my own, feet sinking in the mud, right next to a sharp drop?  It was a tad terrifying.

I gave my best Xena, Warrior Princess yell which stopped the cow (I’m calling her Mad Martha) in her tracks.  Thank God, because I reckon getting charged over a cliff by a cow would hurt.  I high-tailed it outta there along the track as fast as my legs could carry me.  Phew.

The walk gives the promised lovely views of Whanganui early on into the walk, not too far past Mad Martha and her cronies.

Looking towards Bastia Hill

Looking towards Bastia Hill…

and looking towards Durie Hill

and looking towards Durie Hill

An awa runs through my life (the Whanganui River)

An awa runs through my life (the Whanganui River)

The track is well marked, and aside from detours over or around slips created after the last flooding, it is in good condition.  There was no warning about the slips posted on the sign at the entrance and I feel there should be, as some of the slips are quite significant.

A recent slip along the track

A recent slip along the track

Marker poles along the track

Marker poles along the track

City views and mad cows aside, I was rather underwhelmed by this track.  The description is correct – it does cut through farmland.  And that’s it.

I enjoyed being in the great outdoors, but there are much more beautiful walks to be had.  I’ve been around this sort of farmland most of my life so it wasn’t particularly exciting.  There are a couple of pretty spots along the way:

westmere walkway view tots in tawhero

But mostly it’s this:

farmland tots in tawhero

and this:

The cows o' doom are coming for you

The cows o’ doom are coming for you

Eeek!

The walk took me two hours to complete, due to cow detours, slip detours, and mud.  Lots of glorious mud.

muddy boots tots in tawhero

I am moderately fit and found the track pretty easy, although there are lots of steep hills to climb.  But as I said, that’s what I was there for.

Unfortunately it is a loop track so I had to go past Mad Martha and the Gang again.  And again, I was charged at.  Mad Martha was clearly having a very, very bad day.

After scrambling down part of the cliff to avoid her, I made it home alive.

All in all I would NOT recommend this track to families, unless you are dairy farmers who know how to keep stroppy cows in line.  Except for the great views of the city, the track has little to recommend it.  See you around Mad Martha.

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How to have fun for free

I live in ‘provincial’ New Zealand.

Whanganui has about 43,000 people.  It’s not huge.  I spent most of my teenage years dying to get out of it, so it was with some sense of irony that I found myself voluntarily moving back here with my own family after a 20 year absence.  There were many reasons that D and I moved from Wellington, the coolest little capital on the planet.  The cheap house prices were one.  The family-friendly vibe was another.  The fact that you can always find a parking space is an added bonus.

Moving to our home in Tawhero was definitely counter-cultural.  People seem to think that if you live in a big city, you have ‘made it’.  If you have a corporate job and a nice house, your life is a ‘success’.  By this measure, D and I were indeed successful. The fact that we wanted to give up the trappings of success and move to small-town NZ blew some people’s minds.  “You’ll get bored” I was told.  “It’s career-suicide” someone said.  “Why on earth would you want to move there?” challenged a friend.

Well guess what?

I’m never bored here.

I have, for some reason, always been one of those people who knows about all the cool stuff there is to do.  I’ve lived in small towns, big cities and in three different countries, and I have always, always, always found plenty of ways to pass the time.  For example, when I lived in London you’d rarely find me at home.  Come Monday morning my colleagues would ask “So where did you end up this time Angela?” and I always had lots to tell them.  I didn’t have a fat bank account.  Much of the things my friends and I did for fun were free.  I just knew where to find out the inside scoop.

Now of course, Whanganui is a far cry from London.  But if I wanted to, I could do really interesting things every day of the week.  There are family-friendly events on almost every weekend here, too many for me to keep up with.  This past weekend alone there was an open day at the Fire Station (which had been refurbished) and a family dance party in the middle of town with dancing sensation, Tommy Franklin.

The firefighters put on several demonstrations

The firefighters put on several demonstrations

Tommy Franklin doing his thing

Tommy Franklin doing his thing

Getting ready for a mass high-five

Getting ready for a mass high-five

Whether you live somewhere big or small, there is always free or frugal fun to be had.

How to find all that fun stuff:

  • Community newspapers.  These are a wonderful source of information.  Lots of people don’t subscribe to their local newspaper anymore, but you can be sure that they read their local freebie paper.  You will often see events listed in here that aren’t in mainstream newspapers, as event organisers on a shoe-string go where they will get more bang for their buck due to higher readership of free community newspapers. Similarly, if an event wants to attract families or those on a low-income, they know to advertise where their target readers actually have a chance of seeing it.  Ergo, if you want a free or cheap event to go to, look in the free papers.
  • Mainstream newspapers.  If you don’t subscribe to one, check out their website or Facebook page to get up-to-date information about what’s happening in your town.
  • Local Facebook groups.  I’ve lost count of how many Whanganui-based Facebook groups there are!  I find many events on a local FB page called Whanganui Mummies where mum’s will often share what’s happening around town.  In your neck of the woods there might be other social media that are more popular, so head there first.
  • Local radio stations.  Not only will they know about all the big events happening in your town, they will often know about all the cool events (not always the same thing!) too.
  • Join email lists.  I am regularly updated as to what’s going on with several community groups, businesses, amenities and at our great Museum.  I have been invited to book launches, art gallery openings, poetry evenings, in-store VIP customer nights, lectures, workshops, comedy nights, gigs and more.  All free.
  • Community noticeboards.  Library noticeboards, supermarket noticeboards, noticeboards outside a church or cafe are all excellent places to spot posters for what’s going on in your town.
  • Ditto your local information centre if your town is big enough to have one.
  • Look around you.  Quite seriously, look around you.  Posters on lamp posts, on bus shelters, on the back of buses, billboards on the side of the road are the friend of frugulistas in need of something to do.
  • Ask around.  Simply saying ‘So, what are you up to this weekend?’ may yield instant results as your friend raves to you about an upcoming free bluegrass gig or invites you to go strawberry picking with them.
  • Make your own fun.  I once lived in a city that was very challenging due to cultural and language differences.  It was hard work.  But you know what?  It was fine because I had a good bunch of friends.  You can have fun anywhere if you have a few good people around you.  Heck, even if it’s just ONE friend.  Get together to visit an art gallery, or go hiking, to play a board game, to eat pancakes in your pyjamas at 2pm.  This weekend we are hosting a fish n’ chips/movie night with a whole gaggle of children so us parents can get a break, crack open a bottle of wine and have a good old chinwag.  Fun stuff doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.