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Whanganui parks, gardens and reserves attractions and things to do

  • 4 minutes

Paloma Gardens @Stuff

Whanganui showstopper is the Whanganui National Park with town parks and reserves creating an outdoor bonazza for visitors. Discover, engage and explore the outdoors in Whanganui from Waitahinga Dam to Kowhai Park where kids have a glorious array of play objects to discover.

An early morning photo of a canoe on the bank of the Whanganui river, New Zealand
Whanganui river


  • Kayaking the River and listening to narratives that interpret the River through the lens of Maori context. Letting the river do the walking is a magical way to explore a heritage lowland forest. The 145 km river trip runs from Taumarunui to the village of Pipiriki, and takes about five days to complete by canoe or kayak. A three-day journey from Whakahoro to Pipiriki is an option. The river is suitable for beginner paddlers – although there are more than 200 rapids between Tamaranui and Pipiriki, most of them drop less than a metre. Safety equipment is supplied by kakak organisers. It is recommended an authorised canoe hire company is engaged.

And the Whanganui National Park guide, activities, things to see.

The River is a person : “I am the river, and the river is me” The Whanganui River has gained its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) established the river as an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea.

Whanganui River Road day trip: activities, things to see


Whanganui boasts a number of iconic and nationally significant parks such as Virginia Lake, Kowhai Park and Cooks Gardens and Bason Botanic Gardens, as well as numerous small parks and playgrounds which help create a sense of community.

Waitahinga Dam loop, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand @Karl Zimmerman
Waitahinga Dam loop @Karl Zimmerman

Waitahinga Dam loop walking trail and reserve, Whanganui attractions

Relish the thought of lacing up the hiking boots for a 9.8 km loop trail. The moderately difficult trail welcomes dogs on a leash. Waitahinga Trails is a collection of walks at the disused Whanganui Water Catchment Reserve. The walks cater to different fitness levels with picnic spots and lookouts along the way.

Most of the walking trails are under native forest canopy with a combination of original forest and very old regenerated forest. Peaceful and beautiful, the Waitahinga Dam makes for a worthwhile destination.

Please be aware that the trails are closed on Tuesdays each week and for the months of July and August.

The whanganui Tramping Club has more information about walks in our district.

Westmere Lake Wildlife Reserve, whanganui attractions

Westmere Lake is a designated wildlife refuge. It includes a 9-hectare lake within 20 hectares of bush and tracks. Here you will see a mix of native and exotic species of plants and birds. Westmere Lake is located on Rapanui Road on the way to Bason Botanic Gardens. The well signposted 1.8 km loop walk is a flat easy boardwalk / gravel path with wild waterbirds and regenerating bush.

Westmere Lake Wildlife Reserve, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand @Neil Beissel
Westmere Lake Wildlife Reserve @Neil Beissel
Virginia Lake, Rotokawau, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand @NZHerald
Virginia Lake, Rotokawau @NZHerald

Rotokawau Virginia Lake, whanganui attractions

A must-go destination is Rotokawau, Virginia Lake is the diverse range of things to do. The half hour woodland walk around the lake is wheelchair accessible. The hothouse gardens are a great place on a cool winter day. The Higginbottom Foundation is a sure favourite with families.

Kowhai Park, whanganui attractions

Kowhai Park is a riverside playground with an enormous octopus head. Kids can climb inside. Swings are suspended from the giant tentacles. The theme of enormous creatures continues with a dinosaur and whale’s tail providing surfaces to climb, jump from and play on. The Old Woman’s Shoe is a popular installation. Kids will be intrigued by interconnecting tunnels under a concrete mountain with the option to rock climb to the summit.

Waterplay is encouraged with inground foundations introducing kids to safe water play. The mature trees have an adventure fort and flying fox.

Kowhai Park, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand @mae_thomson89
Kowhai Park @mae_thomson89
Kowhai Park, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand @whanganuidc
Kowhai Park @whanganuidc

What to do nearby Kowhai Park, whanganui

  • The Tot Town Railway, (weekends)
  • Skate park beside the Dublin Street Bridge
  • The James McGregor Memorial Park with picnic tables, shady trees and riverside walks. Remember to check out Kowhai Park arboretum has trees dating back to 1917
  • At the perimeter of Kowhai Park is Riverland Family Park, with mini golf, go-karts and a bungee trampoline.

Paloma Gardens

Explore the private garden Paloma Gardens. An exotic garden, landscaped with plants from all over the world, from the jungles of Asia to the deserts of Africa and the Americas. Paloma has been awarded “Garden of National Significance” by the New Zealand Gardens Trust since the Trust’s inception in 2004. The garden is best presented as several distinct zones, including the Palm Garden, the Desert House, the Garden of Death, the Bamboo Forests, the Jardin Exotique, the Wedding Lawn and several arboreta.

Paloma Gardens, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand @Stuff
Paloma Gardens, Whanganui @Stuff
Paloma Gardens, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand @Stuff
Paloma Gardens @Stuff

Where to find us: Pohutukawa Lane, Fordell, Whanganui, New Zealand

You can find Pohutukawa Lane just 3.5 km down Denlair Road, which is near Fordell on the “3 Valley” Heritage Trail. This trail starts by the elevator tower on Durie Hill, in Whanganui.

Garden entry fee: $10 per person.

Guided tours available for an extra fee. Booking is essential, only for guided tours.

Price is current at time of quotation and is subject to change.

Open hours: Paloma’s open all daylight hours, every day of the year.

Contact us by e-mail or write to Nicki and Clive Higgie, R.D. 7, Whanganui, New Zealand or phone 06 342 7857 (International: +64 6 342 7857).

Tarapuruhi Forest Bushy Park, whanganui attractions

A 100 hectare native forest sanctuary (predator fencing) is home to native birds at risk from exotic species stoats, ferrets, possums and feral cats who feast on ground dwelling native birds who have lost the ability to fly.

  • Free entry to over 3.4 km of easy walking trails through forest and wetlands
  • Historic Bushy Park Homestead is a fully licenced five-bedroom bed and breakfast homestay and function venue
  • Vegetation is broadleaf podocarp forest, similar to the Forgotten Highway route

Around 500 volunteer hours/month go into ensuring the continued protection of the sanctuary and care of the visitor tracks and facilities. This includes significant biosecurity work – monitoring and maintaining the Xcluder predator fences and traps to check for the continued exclusion of rats, possums, mustelids, hedgehogs, cats, dogs, and for the management of mice. There is also on-going work to manage and eliminate various weed species such as sycamore trees, banana passion fruit, ivy and chocolate vine. Bushy Park Tarapuruhi is a special place cared for by the present Bushy Park Trust with its many volunteers, in partnership with local iwi Ngā Rauru Kiitahi and Forest & Bird with support from Horizons Regional Council and DOC.

Bason Botanic Gardens

Discover, on the outskirts of whanganui, Bason Botanic Gardens. The gardens encompass 25 hectares and are rated a “Garden of Significance” by the New Zealand Gardens Trust. There are currently eight distinctive garden rooms from English scented gardens to Boothby Fern House. Winding paths lead to public BBQ areas with sculptural elements adding a decorative feel to the shared public spaces. Climb to the top of Millennium Hill, relax in the sheltered lookout, take in the rural views and the round and round sculpture dominating the foreground.

Bason Botanic Gardens, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand @amesgates
Bason Botanic Gardens @amesgates
Photo moment

Villa Rustica : Artwork by  “Artventure”, produced by Paul Johnson (locally raised) and Gail Mason. The sculpture is situated at the top of Millennium Hill, by the lookout, next to the Millennium Steps



Whanganui Māori pronounce ‘wh’ as a soft ‘w’ – unlike other tribes, who pronounce it as ‘f’. Europeans wrote what they heard, so whanganui became the established spelling for the river and the town. The spelling of the river’s name was changed to Whanganui in 1991, but in referendums in 2006 and 2009 voters overwhelmingly chose to keep the city’s name without an ‘h’. In 2008 local hapū Ngāti Tūpoho submitted a further application to the Geographic Board to have the spelling changed to whanganui. In December 2009 Minister for Land Information Maurice Williamson ruled that both spellings would be official.


Whanganui or wanganui?‘.



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