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Wairarapa natural places to visit, Moana wetlands, Pukaha Sanctuary & more ...

  • 3 minutes

North Island, New Zealand

One of New Zealand’s largest wetlands is less than ten minutes drive from Featherston. Discover the perfect day trip from Wellington over the Rimutaka hills and unwind in the quiet beauty of one of New Zealand’s wild places. Lake Wairarapa is the third largest lake in the North Island and is fringed by wetlands. The wetlands drain into the shallow waters of Lake Onoke. Both lakes have a maximum depth of less than 2.5 metres. For dedicated nature lovers continue the journey to Pukaha, Mt Bruce Sanctuary.

Department of Conservation information panels, Moana Wetlands Wairarapa, NZ, New Zealand
Department of Conservation information panels, Moana Wetlands Wairarapa


  • Birding hot spot with numerous species of native birds nesting and feeding
  • Sense of solitude among the timeless cycle of nature
  • Grandeur of the landscape with its austere beauty from mountain ranges, surging ocean and still lake / wetland waters
  • Very few visitors
  • Tremendous heritage value as a place where pre-European Maori harvested food, resources for clothing and weaving and conducted religious ceremonies

Best time to visit Wairarapa moana wetlands

  • Summer as least the sun is shining while the wind is blowing
  • Winter can be very unpredictable with severe gales lashing the area
  • Be prepared for the frequent blustery wind conditions regardless of the season

Wairarapa Moana is a superb walking destination with the space to stretch your legs.  Walk along the Onoke Spit and view the sea channel towards Lake Onoke (Lake Ferry). Visitors will encounter two worlds, the ocean pounding the narrow spit and the tranquil wetland on the other side. It’s elemental and a snapshot of raw strength.  You are unable to cross to the Lake Ferry settlement due to the artificial opening of Lake Onoke allowing the ocean to filter the lake. While the ocean entrance of Lake Onoke can silt up it is unstable and not recommended visitors try to navigate a ‘shortcut’ to the Lake Ferry settlement.

Project Penguin information panel Moana wetlands, Wairarapa, NZ, New Zealand
Project Penguin information panel Moana wetlands, Wairarapa

When walking, stick to the gravel road on the Onoke Spit as the dunes are breeding grounds for the rare Caspian Tern and banded dotterels.

Ducks Unlimited are one of the many volunteer organisations that are nationally recognised for their restoration effort.


You have to retrace your journey around the wetlands via East-West Access Rd and Lake Ferry Rd.


  • Fishing with views of mountain ranges
  • Sunset drinks at the Lake Ferry Hotel with whitebait fritters a local favourite
Moana Wetland, near hills, Glenburn, Wairarapa, North Island, New Zealand
Moana Wetland, near hills, Glenburn, Wairarapa, North Island

Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Park

Lake Wairarapa, Lake Onoke and their associated wetlands make up the largest wetland complex in the southern North Island. The diverse habitats within Wairarapa Moana attract a wide range of wetland birds – about 100 species including international migratory birds. For an in depth experience join TE RAKAU BIRDING TOURS on one of their half-day tours. Passionate locals who offer accommodation for cyclists and dedicated nature lovers.


Wairarapa wetlands have over 10 native species, migrating between the sea and freshwater. Of particular significance are long-finned and short-finned eel, brown mudfish, and giant kokopu. Hence the importance of nature getting a helping hand with the artificial opening of Lake Onoke to the ocean.

Discover natural Wairarapa, the place is an unsung wildlife treasure:

  • Enjoy exploring the offbeat – Wairarapa odd, fascinating and find one of New Zealand’s starkly beautiful landscapes, Putangirua Pinnacles.
  • Moana wetlands to Putangirua Pinnacles is ½ drive (33 km)
  • Spend time at Pukaha National Wildlife Centre (formerly) Mt Bruce Sanctuary where kiwis and other native species flourish.

Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre

Pukahu is just under 2 hours drive from Wellington and definitely should be part of your Wairarapa exploration. This veteran of wildlife conservation just gets better and better at the visitor experience.

Why are New Zealand wetlands important?

Wetlands are the lungs of the world. Wetlands are an endangered land type in New Zealand with less than 10% of natural wetland remaining.

You don’t need to be a mountain to be beautiful. Wetlands are where the land and water merge to create a magical kingdom where a kayak is very useful. Magic happens in wetlands, it’s where land and water merge into a landscape where wildlife flourishes. A must-go destination for outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of nature… read more New Zealand wetlands places to visit, things to do.

@Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre
@Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre



  • Te Rakau – features garden and bush birds. Walking access through native bush and gardens with expansive views of surrounding countryside. Some small inclines and hill walks as part of this experience. Click here for a list of the birds you can see at Te Rakau.
  • Pounui Lagoons/Lake Onoke – see wetland birds, freshwater and estuary birds. Drive to the bank and explore this pristine wetland area. Click here for a list of the birds you can see at Pounui Lagoons/Lake Onoke.
  • Onoke Spit – discover coastal and marine birds. 5 minute drive to Onoke Spit and 4-wheel-drive experience on this remote but spectacular piece of Palliser Bay coastline with views of the South Island’s Kaikoura mountains in the distance. Click here for a list of the birds you can see at Onoke Spit.
  • A heartfelt thank you for work and the restoration efforts to restore the wetland. Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Project describes walks, cycling trails, where to park your motorhome and the weather.


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