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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 with kids: Paloma Gardens

25 minutes out of Whanganui lies a not-so-wee gem that is perfect to explore with your kids for a day: Paloma Gardens.

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A private garden that has been a labour of love for Clive and Nicki Higgie – who are sort of like rock stars in the botanical world – Paloma Gardens boasts a staggering collection of plants and trees from all over the world, and countless fine examples of New Zealand flora.  Paloma Gardens can be found on Pohutukawa Lane, just past Fordell.

There is an entrance fee – $10 for adults, and children under 15 are free.  Compared with similar gardens I have visited overseas, I think this price is a bargain.  You really could explore this place at your leisure all day, it’s that big.

There are wonderful sculptures all around the garden, such as this:

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And this:

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And there is even a sculpture walk:

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(This bit is probably not the best for rambunctious toddlers who want to touch the precious sculptures, but there is plenty of garden left to explore.)

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The garden beckons

Paloma Gardens has many parts to it: the Desert House, the Palm Garden, the Garden of Death, a wedding lawn (they host many weddings here), a labyrinth, a lake and much, much more.  The plants and trees are incredible, and there are delightfully quirky touches all over the gardens.  It’s obvious that the owners have an irreverent sense of humour.

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I loved it.

My tots had a brilliant time exploring the wonders of the garden:

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We inadvertently took a wrong turn on our way to the lake and ended up taking a rather long hike.  The climb back up the hill from the lake is very steep, just FYI.  My two were knackered from all the hill climbing and exploring, so we didn’t get to see all the gardens before they needed to head home for a nap.  Parts of the gardens are buggy accessible, but if you have a wee one you’d be better off with a front/back pack.  Due to the gardens being situated on a very hilly site, only parts of Paloma Gardens are wheelchair accessible.

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We’re already planning our next visit.

Thanks Clive and Nicki!

 

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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: Peat Park

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

Ah, Peat Park.  It’s one of Whanganui’s oldest playgrounds as evidenced by the Art Deco entrance.

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Tucked away at the foot of St John’s Hill, the park is located on the corner of Halswell St and Peat St, and is next to Cullinane College.  The play areas are unfenced but are a reasonable distance from the road.  The streets were relatively quiet while we were there, although I imagine it gets rather busy around school drop off/pick up time.  Outside of those times you should find ample parking space.

Peat Park is sometimes used as a sports ground as the place is huge.

So much space!

So much space!

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The original playground equipment is long gone, and there are now two play areas for children.  There is a massive climbing frame structure for older kids.

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It has an obstacle course sort of feel to it, and will probably appeal to older children as there are arm grinders to test their strength on as they go from one end of a bar to another.  This structure however, left me cold.  It seems rather characterless, and is definitely more the sort of structure I would expect to find being used in a school for P.E.

 

There is a small toddlers area with two swings (one bucket, one regular), a cool bug-shaped see-saw, and a spinning pole with a platform.  Sausage needed my help to use the spinning pole, but I reckon in a few months time she will be capable of using it on her own, which is always a plus in her books.  This area could do with more play equipment, such as a slide or a toddler-sized climbing frame.

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One of the reasons I have always loved this park is it lined with really old trees (mostly oak).  The trees are huge and provide plenty of shade (hoorah!) for parents to sit and watch their children at both play areas, and for those watching team sports on the playing field.  There are two picnic tables – one near each of the two play areas.  There are toilets on-site, but they were closed when we visited and looked like they had been for some time.

 

 

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As a kid these were my favourite reason to come to Peat Park.

DSCN9557DSCN9561 The foot of the hill is used as a deer sanctuary, and it is a delight to be able to view these graceful creatures up close.  At the time of writing there were several baby deer.  The deer are quite used to people and were not in the least perturbed by my noisy toddler squealing ‘REINDEER Mummy!’ when she saw them.

 

Pros:

  • The park is beautiful.  Lovely established trees, wide open spaces, what’s not to like?
  • Deer!  A great chance to get your tots up close.
  • Shade!
  • Picnic tables
  • Play equipment suitable for toddlers and school-aged kids
  • Reasonably quiet location and good parking

Cons:

  • The play equipment is just a bit boring (but that’s just my jaded, world-weary adult opinion 🙂 )
  • No rubbish bins
  • No toilets

Tots in Tawhero rating:7/10 because I love deer…

 

 

* My eagle-eyed readers will notice the smudge on my camera lens.  The culprit shall remain nameless but I’m sure you can guess whodunnit…

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Whanganui Playground Review: Whanganui River Holiday Park

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

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The Whanganui River Top 10 Holiday Park in Aramoho on Somme Parade, is adjacent to the playground where my brother, cousins and I were allowed to play in BY OURSELVES.  We were permitted to walk there – a whole block away ON OUR OWN.  Such freedom!  My old stomping ground is now bereft of its flying fox, thus rendering it a rather limp and lukewarm version of the original.  Fortunately the holiday park next door has stepped in to fill the gap and has a pretty good playground all of its own.

Cards on the table: it will cost you $5 per person so it’s a special occasion sort of thing.  We went there in the name of research for this blog and I’m so glad we did, as Sausage and I had a ball.

Firstly, I apologise for the rubbish photos.  When we got there I realised I’d left the camera behind so these were taken on my phone.  Anyway, back to the playground.

$5 gets you all-day entry to the holiday park, which includes the playground, pool, games room, kitchen and dining facilities and use of the gas barbeque.  The holiday park is neat and tidy and was quite busy on the day that we were there.  There are plenty of picnic tables and shady trees, and fabulous views of the Whanganui River.  If you have school-aged kids you could probably hole up there all day, just for something different.

The main attraction of the playground is its gigantic ‘pillow’ trampoline.

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Sausage on the pillow, bird aviary in background

You could fit a whole classroom of kids on that trampoline and still have room for more.  It’s perfectly fine for adults to use (hurrah!) so Sausage and I spent most of our time at the park jumping up a storm while Chip slept in his pram.  Sausage LOVED being able to play with me in this way and I got an awesome workout.  The trampoline is surrounded by sand, and the park owners have thoughtfully supplied some sandpit toys for tots to play with while they are there.  There are a couple of kid-sized picnic tables and a bench nearby.  The trampoline is well-shaded by nearby trees.

There is a small bird aviary (visible in the photo above) filled with brightly coloured birds who all looked well cared for.

Next to the ‘pillow’ is a regular trampoline with mats and a safety net.  Going by the amount of injuries I inflicted upon myself on our trampoline as a kid, I think those nets are a genius idea.

There are two swings – one bucket and one regular, and a cool climbing frame which has a swinging log to access the platform, and two curly/wavy slides.

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The holiday park also has a range of trikes that can be hired ($5 for 30 mins), and offers paintball (from $30) and kayak hire ($20 an hour) as well.

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Pros: 

  • Wide range of activities on offer which would suit every age
  • Lots of shady spots to sit/have picnics
  • Access to barbeque and kitchen, showers, toilets etc.
  • GIANT PILLOW TRAMPOLINE
  • Neat, tidy place

Cons:

  • It costs money.  Fair enough, it’s a business, not a council-run playground.  But if it wasn’t for the giant pillow, I probably wouldn’t go there just to use the play equipment.  It was cool, but there are plenty of just-as-cool free playgrounds around.
  • The other cool things on offer there cost money too.  I was lucky to escape demands to go on the trikes.

Tots in Tawhero rating: 8/10 (deducting points for cost)

 

Prices correct as of Jan 2015

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Whanganui Playground Review: Kai Iwi Beach

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

Kai Iwi Beach was my favourite place to go swimming as a kid.  Situated at the small settlement of Mowhanau, Kai Iwi Beach is a mere 15 minute drive from Whanganui.  It’s very popular with young families due to the playground and gentle stream flowing out to the beach.  The stream is perfect for tots to muck about in and for older children who aren’t confident swimmers.  My  family and I whiled away many a summer’s day at this beach.

So it was with a great deal of dismay that we were greeted with this sign:

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Umm, what?  I can’t find any information online as to why the stream isn’t currently safe for swimming (Jan 2015), but I did find an article from 2012 which blamed toxic blue-green algae producing high levels of E. coli in the water.  Come on Whanganui District Council!  This is absolutely disgraceful!  Kai Iwi is by far the most popular beach in the area.

We didn’t go into the stream at all as I didn’t want to risk it with a baby in tow.

Anyhow, rant over.  Onto the playground!

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While the slide of my childhood has been replaced by a bigger, better structure, I am convinced that this witches’ hat is still the same.

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The original slide has been replaced by an awesome boat structure which has several climbing areas, a flying fox, a swing and of course, a slide.

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Ahoy me hearties!

Ahoy me hearties!

 

There is a really cool standing see-saw (see picture above in foreground) and a toddler’s area with a climbing frame and bucket swings

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Chip having a swing with his Uncle

Chip having a swing with his Uncle

 

There are regular swings and a rope climbing frame, a couple of charcoal barbeques, and several picnic tables close to all the action.

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Pros:

  • Next to Kai Iwi Stream
  • Spitting distance to Kai Iwi Beach
  • Toilets at the car park
  • The unique play equipment will keep a range of ages happy
  • Lots of seating and rubbish bins
  • Old-school barbeques
  • You must cross a footbridge to get to it – loads of fun for the little ones

Cons:

  • With the stream being out of action, this is suddenly a less attractive place to come for those of us with wee ones
  • No shade!!!  Sigh.  Once again, there are no trees anywhere near the play equipment for parents/babies/tuckered-out tots to sit and watch

Tots in Tawhero rating: 6/10 without the stream, 9/10 if stream is safe

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Whanganui Playground review: Lundon Park

This is the first in a series I will do of all the playgrounds in and around Whanganui (sorry overseas readers, you’ll want to skip reading these unless you have a burning desire to see New Zealand playgrounds 🙂 ).

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Okay.  Let’s crack on.

Lundon Park is on Carson Street and is opposite the back entrance of Castlecliff School.

The park has heaps of green space, enough for a game of cricket or an epic battle of Bullrush.  There are several areas of play equipment dotted around the park.

There is a decent climbing frame. that Sausage had a great time playing on.  It’s not too high off the ground, and is surrounded by bark for a soft landing.2015-01-03 11.05.48

It has several seesaws and swings.

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And a weird hanging hoop structure that you can see in the background of the picture above if you squint.  The park also has a slightly derelict-looking skate/scooter ramp area.

Pros:

  • Heaps of green space, lots of play equipment so it’s good for a big group of kids.
  • Toddler-friendly climbing frame
  • Play equipment is all in good working order
  • Quiet street (when school is not in session)
  • There is some seating for tired parents
  • Skate park area is attractive for older kids

Cons:

  • The playground looks TIRED.  The paint on the play equipment is faded and peeling and just looks a bit meh.  There was nothing wrong with any of the equipment when I visited, but the Council needs to tart this baby up.
  • There is NO SHADE anywhere near the play equipment.  Sigh.  This is a major grumble of mine as most of the playgrounds in Whanganui have little to no shade.  It’s not such a big deal if you have older kids who can be watched from a distance while Mum or Dad takes a break under a tree.  Unfortunately I visited on a blazing hot day with Chipolata in tow who was in need of a feed, and the only tree was quite a way from the play area.  Sausage is too little to be left to her own devices on play equipment at the moment, so Chip and I got rather hot and bothered while he fed, and I had to cut the outing short as a result.  Most parents like to play with their kids for a bit, and then chill out while watching them have fun – so come on Whanganui City Council, plant some trees!
  • There were some toilets there, but they looked scruffy and were locked when I went there, and looked like they hadn’t been in action for some time.
  • The playground is not fenced so if you have a renegade tot who likes to take off, this may not be the park for you.
  • No picnic tables (not that they are necessary, just a nice-to-have.

Tots in Tawhero rating: 4/10

I apologise for the rubbish photos, it was such a sunny day most of the photos I took were too washed out!