Perched on the coast below the foothills of the Tararua Ranges and looking across to the low bulk of Kāpiti Island is Waikanae and its offshoot Waikanae Beach.

Waikanae river INPThat long and lovely beach has pleasures obvious to everyone; hidden in the hills are a variety of walks with their own delights. Mangaone Walkway is very accessible and follows first a former bush tramway through the bird-busy bush of the Kaitawa Scenic Reserve, featuring podocarp forest and a long suspension bridge, and then crosses grassland to the end of the six-kilometre trail. The Parata Track is more challenging, through kohekohe forest up to a lookout before looping back down to town. It’s part of the lovely Hemi Matenga Memorial Reserve, where the best view of Kāpiti Island is the reward for climbing the steeper Te Au Track.

Those wanting to see more birds can head to Ngā Manu Nature Reserve to literally be in touch with them on a Feed-Out Tour through the aviaries.

Kākā, kākāriki, kiwi and kea are just some of the species conserved here, while the long-finned eels that turn up daily for a feed at 2pm are wild and free.

The reserve, a lowland swamp forest, is a lovely place for a stroll, and its tower offers great views over the lake towards the velvety green Tararua Ranges. 

There is an option to go one step better, too, as a cosy little cottage can be booked, allowing guests to have the reserve to themselves for the night before waking to a musical dawn chorus.

Waikanae has plenty of art too, with several galleries to visit near the colourful and welcoming Mahara Place, with its comfortable seating in shade and sunshine around the plaza. There’s more art to spot along the riverside track for walkers and cyclists on their way to Waikanae Beach, where a bird-watching tour around the estuary is on offer. Many will also opt to wander along into the village for a tempting treat and a coffee, or a memorable feast.

Reported by Pamela Wade for our AA Directions Spring 2021 issue

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