A weekend in Whanganui

We had talked about doing this trip for a few years, but then work, life, covid, it all got in the way. Late November 2022 it finally happened. A road trip, with my mum, to Whanagnui, to spend some time with my Aunt.

The trip was meant to start with a 2.5 hour drive north, with an afternoon for some exploring. It turned into a hot, sticky 5 hours car ride, in traffic that was barely moving. We arrived exhausted, late afternoon and with no desire to leave our cute little cottage situated across the road from the mighty Whanganui River. After some dinner, we did manage to drag ourselves out for a walk along the river for some fresh air, before heading home to sleep off the exhaustion of the day.

I wake in the morning, feeling rested and after some breakfast, we are ready to take on the day. My aunt arrives and we head out for a day of laughs and exploring.

After a quick stop to a strawberry farm for morning tea, we are off to my Aunt’s favourite place, Bason Botanic Gardens.This 25 hectare garden paradise is just on the outskirts of Whanganui and has 8 different gardens you can wander around. The park was donated by Stanley and Blanche Bason in the 1960’s and is now maintained by the council.

We start our walk with the Homestead Gardens. The old 1900’s cottage still remains and is surrounded by beautiful English style gardens with flowers, roses and herbs. The maintenance here must be high, everything beautifully manicured. It’s peaceful and still with the odd bench to sit down on, relax and take it all in.

From here we head to my favourite place, the conservatories. This area of the park is made up of several glasshouses and conservatories, home to a wide variety of plants. There is also a little bit of info about the Bason Family. I love glasshouses, the warmth and humidity you feel on your skin, the damp earthy smell, the sounds created from the water features and the lush green foliage of all the plants. It’s a delight to your senses. My favourite room was the Larson Orchid house. I don’t think I have ever seen so many orchids before. And such variety. Large ones, small delicate blooms, striped and spotted, yellows, whites and pinks. They really are a beautiful flower.

While thinking about how many more orchids I could fit into our house, we wander a little more around the gardens. You could easily spend a day here exploring or doing very little, like reading a book under the shade of a tree. It would be a great place for a picnic.

Feeling peckish, we decide to head to Rotokawau Virginia Lake, to the cafe for lunch. As we walk across the grass to the cafe, we are approached by a large flock of ducks, who come waddling (with speed) across the grassy lawn straight towards us. They are obviously used to being fed by people. They aren’t shy!

We enjoy our lunch in the cafe and purchase some duck food on the way out. It doesn’t take long before we are accosted by our feathered friends again, but this time we are prepared with food for them.

There is a large lake here and we decide to take the 25 minute stroll along the woodland walk, around the lake. We still have duck food, and they know it, some follow us for a while. There are so many that at one point I stand on one and then accidentally kick it while tripping over it. I try to make a peace offering with some food, but he’s not buying it.

Further on we see some white swans. We have black swans where I live and I see them quite often, but it’s been a while since I have seen a white swan. They are so majestic. Until they honk.

Further on we come across several pukekos. I think they must have been nesting as we managed to get chased by them! Despite the unexpected interactions we had with the bird life, this is a beautiful walk and definitely worth a visit.

After another lovely walk along the river bank, watching the setting sun, our second day in Whanganui comes to an end.

Today we head home, but not before checking out the local Farmer’s Market which runs every Saturday, down by the river. There are food stalls, crafts and other bits and pieces for sale.

We then sit on the river bank for a while, watching passengers board the Waimarie for their paddle steamer boat ride along the Whanganui River. Built in 1899, the Waimarie transported cargo, passengers and tourists up and down the river until the early 1950’s when she had an accident and sank. She then spent the next 40 years at the bottom of the Whanganui River before being lifted from her watery grave and restored to her olde glory once again. Next time, we will be sure to book a trip on this floating piece of history.

Our last stop of our trip is New Zealand Glass Works where you can look around the gallery, but also watch glass blowers at work in the hot shop. It’s fascinating. Starting with a hot blob of glass, artists blow, mold, twist and shape amazing creations. They even offer beginner’s classes, which look so much fun. If you are interested, you will have to get in quick, they book out pretty quickly!

Whanganui is a great place for a weekend escape, perfect for relaxing, but also lots to explore and rich in history. I am sure we will be back again.

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