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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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: 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.

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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.

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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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Free things to do in Whanganui: Gordon Park Scenic Reserve (local content)

Gordon Park Scenic Reserve is also known by locals as ‘Gordon’s Bush’ or ‘Gordon Park’.  Situated on the corner of No. 3 Line and Kaimatira Road, Gordon Park is a 10 minute drive from downtown Whanganui.  There is a small car park on Kaimatira Road, and there is a picnic table near the entrance to the walkway.

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The reserve is small, only 14.5 hectares, but it is the perfect place to take your tots on a nature walk.  Despite the small size, I still felt like I was away from the hubbub of the city. Oh, the entire walkway is wheelchair accessible.  Let me say that again. THE ENTIRE WALKWAY IS WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE!!!  How awesome is that?  The track is perfect for people with mobility issues, or tots in a stroller.

Off we go

Off we go

The reserve has a wide loop track that meanders around the bush.  Normally you could probably walk it in 10 minutes, but with little kids it might take you 30 minutes or more, depending on how much they want to explore.

There are many wonderful things to see and hear during your visit.

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The forest has Kahikatea, Tawa, Matai and Kowhai, and is a popular place for native birds to hang out, judging by the raucous birdsong on the day we visited.

A perfect wee spot to stretch wriggly little legs.  I can see us going back here again and again.

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Virginia Lake, Whanganui

If you are a visitor to Whanganui, or merely a local in need of a nature fix, Virginia Lake is a must.  The lake is most certainly my happy place; my favourite bit of my home town since childhood.  On the rare occasion I get some time to myself, a walk around the lake does wonders for my soul.  It’s also my go-to place when I have scratchy kids as the lake never fails to cast its spell of fun and excitement.  And it’s free, of course.

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Situated in St John’s Hill on Great North Road, Virginia Lake is a 5 minute drive from the centre of town.  Popular with locals, it’s the number one place in town to have wedding photos taken.  For good reason.  It’s blimmin’ beautiful!  There are three walking paths around the lake, with the most popular path being the lakeside path which meanders all around the lake and would take most adults 25 minutes.  If you’re with kids, expect to take much, much longer.

The water fowl alone will amuse most kids.   There are ducks, geese, swans, pukeko and more.  The birds are used to being fed bread by their daily visitors so if you take the lower path PREPARE TO BE BESIEGED BY BIRDS.  Sausage loves it until they get too close for comfort and scolds them vociferously.  The birds are a great part of the lake experience, but I find if I want a nice, peaceful, meditative sort of stroll, then I take the middle path.

Who can resist this face?

Who can resist this face?

A cheeky pukeko

A cheeky pukeko

I like this sort of black swan a lot more than the movie...

I like this sort of black swan a lot more than the movie…

There’s plenty at Virginia Lake to keep everyone happy.  Besides the beauty of the lake itself, there is a bird aviary, a child-friendly cafe, free gas barbeques, a fountain which lights up like fireworks at night, an amazing Winter Garden complete with a wishing well and a tunnel(!), a band rotunda, a small pier, and a toddler playground.

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The Winter Garden (image credit)

The Winter Garden
(image credit)

I love visiting the lake at any time of year as the greenery never fails to delight me.  Sausage is flower-mad and we spent a good hour at the lake just looking at all the different flowers on show, and touching tree bark.  Because tree bark is just begging to be touched.

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Basically, Virginia Lake is awesome.  Go there.

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xxx

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Whanganui Playground Review: Virginia Lake

This is part of a series where I review local playgrounds in and around Whanganui.  Non-locals will want to skip this!

Virginia Lake is the crowning jewel in Whanganui’s tiara.  It is my  favourite place to go in Whanganui and probably our best-loved tourist destination.  I will do a review on the lake itself at a later date, but for now I’m focusing on the cool playground at the Lake.

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In my opinion, Virginia Lake playground is the best playground for toddlers in Whanganui.  Tucked away behind the bird aviary and free barbeque to the left of the main car park, the playground can also be accessed from the Babbage Place entrance and car park (lots of people don’t know this car park exists, keep going a bit further along the road past the main car park). 

Look!  Shade and benches

Look! Shade and benches

If like many parents, you have a baby as well as a toddler – this is the playground for you.  The playground is fully fenced so there’s no chance of your tot doing a runner to terrorize the ducks.  There are two picnic tables, conveniently located in the shade where you can plonk yourself and your baby if need be.  There are rubbish bins just outside the play area.

There is a standard climbing frame with slide that is exciting enough for most toddlers, and I think it’s the best climbing frame I’ve come across in a Whanganui Playground for tots who are crawling/furniture-surfing/climbing/just learning to walk.  When we first came to Whanganui, Sausage was 10 months old and was only crawling, but she loved this climbing frame and was able to haul herself onto it with only a tiny bit of help from me.

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There are two sets of swings – one with two bucket swings, and one with a bucket and a regular swing, although the day we visited the regular swing was out of action (aside from this, everything else was in good nick).

E at the lake

There are three different types of see-saw which is a bit over-kill, but two of them will appeal to slightly older children.

See-saw 1

See-Saw 1

See-Saw 2

See-Saw 2

See-Saw 3

See-Saw 3

There’s not heaps of play equipment, and definitely nothing to grab the attention of older kids, but it doesn’t have to because there’s the lake, ducks, the bird aviary, a fountain, some Winter Gardens, a Cafe , a grassy dell with stage, a band rotunda, several different paths to take around the lake…I could go on.

Pros:

  • Fully fenced
  • Shade, picnic tables and rubbish bins
  • Toddler-friendly play equipment
  • Close to the lake, aviary and cafe
  • Generally plenty of parking

Cons:

  • Not very exciting for school-aged kids

Tots in Tawhero rating: 7/10

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Whanganui Playground Review: Rogers Street

This is part of a series where I review local playgrounds in and around Whanganui.  Non-locals will want to skip this!

If you’ve spent an hour or so at Titoki Wetland, you might want to follow it up with a quick visit to the playground just down the road.

Located on the corner of Rogers St and Titoki Street, the playground is opposite Barsanti Kindergarten.

Rogers St playground

Rogers St playground

The playground is small but perfectly formed.  It’s fully fenced as it is located on an island that divides one side of Rogers Street from the other.  It has two regular swings and one bucket swing, a slide and an awesome spider-web climbing frame.

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Normally I would have said the frame would be suitable for 4+, but actually 2 year-old Sausage managed it just fine!  (Getting down was an issue…)

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Pros:

  • Fully fenced to corral tots who like to roam
  • Has the basics – swings and a slide
  • Cool spider-web frame!

Cons:

  • Not heaps of play equipment to keep older kids happy for long
  • No shade
  • No benches for parents to sit on
  • No rubbish bin

 

Tots in Tawhero rating: 5/10

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Free things to do in Whanganui: Titoki Wetland (local content)

Just on the Tawhero/Castlecliff border lies a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by gaggle of tiny explorers: Titoki Wetland.  I don’t know why this place isn’t to be found in any ‘what to do in Whanganui‘ blurb because these wetlands are a great place to take your kids as soon as they can walk.

Titoki Wetlands entrance on Titoki St, Tawhero/Castlecliff

Titoki Wetlands entrance on Titoki St, Tawhero/Castlecliff

The entrance to Titoki Wetland is located on Titoki St, and was developed into an area for all to enjoy by the residents of Titoki Street and the Whanganui District Council.  I had no idea this place existed until we drove past it a few weeks ago when I accompanied some friends who were looking to buy a house in that area.  I filed it away as a ‘thing to possibly do with my toddler’, et voila!  Today was the day.

The wetland is not huge, about the size of a couple of generous paddocks.  Sausage and I had loads of fun and I’m sure we will come back many, many times as she gets older to look at the different foliage, bugs and to stomp on the boardwalk like the Billy Goats Gruff.

Here we go stomping, stomping, stomping...

Here we go stomping, stomping, stomping…

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The boardwalk goes off in a loop around the wetlands and is in definite need of repair.  It looks like a giant stomped a little too hard on several boards as they are very broken.  However, Sausage is fairly deft on her feet so the broken boards weren’t a hindrance to her fun (I must ring the Council though…).

Because of its small size the wetland is perfect to take very young children to.  There’s no chance they will get tired or lost walking around.  I’m sure it gets boggy in Winter, but at other times the boardwalk isn’t necessary.  You don’t have to worry about your tot falling off the edge into water because the boardwalk is almost entirely surrounded by grass.  We went ‘off piste’ and had no trouble at all.

Look Mum, no boardwalk!

Look Mum, no boardwalk! 

The wetland is teeming with wildlife and filled with all the interesting plants that just love swampy ground.  Sausage spent ages touching the ‘spiky’ flax and bracken, and went home clutching an array of flowers in her little fist.DSCN9591

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There is a pond (although hard for little ones to see over the foliage) which had several water birds taking a dip.

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And when you’re done exploring, there’s even a picnic table to rest on and recover.

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Pros: 

  • Quiet and peaceful
  • A really different environment for kids to explore in all seasons
  • Reasonably safe for those new to walking
  • Should keep toddlers and primary school aged kids quite happy

Cons:

  • Broken boards are a bit of a hazard
  • Probably not exciting enough for 10 years +

 

 

Tots in Tawhero rating: 9/10