Being new to Whanganui I was wondering why this 4.5 hectare public space was more commonly known as Virginia Lake and not by its Maori name of Rotokawau. The answer to which I found in very small print on a rather large plaque hidden in a corner of the front entrance of the neighbouring Winter Garden.
Unfortunately the land was purchased for development by white settlers in the mid 1800’s. The Māori legend of the lakes origin can be found written on the plaque beneath a bronze sculpture of the beautiful Tainui.
The legend explains that the lake was formed from the tears of the grief stricken Tainui and the rain from the angry gods over the murder of Turere, Tainui’s love. Turere had been strangled by the jealous suitor Ranginui. Notice her tears as she gazes out towards the lake.
Rotokawau means ‘roto’ – Lake and ‘kawau’ – blag shag
Walking around the lake, the kids disappeared down a bamboo bush tunnel. Waiting at the end of the track I could hear a weird rather loud chattering. It sounded almost aggressive. I looked across the lake but couldn’t see the cause. The kids soon gathered around me and joined in the search for the sounds source. Then we looked up, and there in the trees were several nests with kawau fledglings. We watched as they continued their persistent squawks, calling out to their parents.
The lake offers a rich habitat for many bird species. Take your time and open your eyes
The rather large metal lily fountain sculpture was donated in 1970 by Mr Henry Higginbottom, a local philanthropist.
Don’t forget to spot the rather odd Peter Pan sculpture, who my kids found quite entertaining as it looked like he was peeing, complete with a puddle beneath him.
Wondering what to do while visiting Whanganui? The Winter Gardens offers an all year round colourful display of flora amongst sculptures and garden art.
Built in the 1940’2, the Winter Gardens were built to commemorate the Centenary of New Zealand.
A walk in aviary was developed over the 1960’s and 70’s. Birds to be observed include pheasants, parakeets, finch and rosellas, and of course, what aviary would be complete without a couple of talking cockatoos.
Local artist have contributed to the sculptural garden next door. Exhibited pieces include punga carvings, mosaics and glass works.
More art can be found by continuing your journey to Lake Rotokawau (Virginia Lake), a half hour woodland walk. You can join in with the leap frogging children created by sculptor Hamish Horsley.
Mill Creek Bird and Animal Encounters, also known as Mill Creek Bird Park, is located 10min South of Whitianga, towards Tairua. There is signage on State Highway 25, leading you to a dirt road and onto their driveway, lined with mini train tracks ; )
As you wander the grounds you will find a range of animals for the kids to feed, from donkeys to eels, from to turtles to geese. There is over 400 birds housed in 45 aviaries ranging from tiny finches to huge Macaws.
They have been operating a Bird & Animal Rescue Centre for the past 3 years, and have DOC authority to hold injured protected wildlife in captivity, so you may get the to opportunity to see New Zealand native birds such as the Ruru (Morepork) or the Kereru (Wood pigeon) up close!
There’s plenty to keep the kids occupied, with mini train rides, a playground and a mini putt. Mum and Dad can relax at the Station Café.
There is even accommodation to suit, whether it’s a campervan park, a self contained unit or B’n’B you need, they can provide it. They will even allow your dog or bird to stay with you at the campground! (prior arrangement)
For more information on New Zealand tourist attractions pop in and see the volunteers at
Tairua Information Centre
223 Main Rd Tairua, (07) 864 7580
Find them on Facebook too!
It’s getting harder and harder to spot the NZ Dotterel , tūturiwhatu, on the Coromandel Peninsula. Apparently this is the first year that there have be no Dotterels on Tairua Beach. I managed to spot a couple of breeding pairs on Pauanui Beach, but that was all. I have seen them at the Pauanui Lakes Golf Resort, where residents are not permitted to own pets. Perhaps these man made environments will be the only safe place for these vulnerable species to live.
The Southern NZ Dotterel is currently classified as nationally critical with a population of approximately 250 birds surviving on Stewart Island and nesting on mountain tops.
The Northern NZ Dotterel is a little bit better off, being nationally vulnerable with a population of approximately 1,700.
Unfortunately it seems we value the freedom of our pets more than we do the conservation of our native fauna. As the owner of two rather large dogs, I appreciate having an open space to let them have a good run, but I’m all for dog restrictions. I’m not quite sure why we need to have access to the entire stretch of a beach. I think these breeding sites on sand spits and near estuaries should be completely dog free, all year round.
Pests such as hedgehogs, stoats, cats and possums need eradicating. Trapping programs should be managed throughout the year and should be a priority of all coastal communities. Like a lot of New Zealand natives, these endemic birds have a lot going against their survival. Their nests are generally just simple depressions in sand or soil. They may be decorated with shells and are sparsely lined. The 2-3 eggs that they lay are camouflaged with their sandy surroundings, being cream in colour with dark brown speckles.
If it were down to Darwin and his theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ then these tiny birds are on their way out. Despite this natural selection, economically New Zealand must invest in the reproductive success of such species. We are a unique country and have so much to offer. Our Gondwana existence draw thousands of tourist to our shores every year.
DOC on Dotterels
DOC Dotterel Watch Program