Lake Waiwiri / Papaitonga Scenic Reserve


Waiwiri (also known as Papaitonga) is a dune lake in the Horowhenua coastal plain containing two islands, Motukiwi (Papaitonga) and Motungarara (Papawhaerangi). The latter is an artificial island constructed by Muaupoko residents in 1820 to extend their village.

Lake Papaitonga. Photo: Sue Galbraith.
Lake Papaitonga

The lake and the surrounding wetland and lush coastal forest make up 135 ha of scenic reserve. It's a refuge for birds that depend on wetlands or lowland forests for their survival.

The reserve has an intact progression of rare coastal forest to wetland, with pukatea and swamp maire forest and excellent stands of mature kahikatea; while lower wetter areas contain flax, raupō and sedges.

The area was settled by the Muaupoko people during the early part of the 19th century, but they were driven from the area in 1822 by Ngati Toa people led by Te Rauparaha. Te Rauparaha had narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Muaupoko previously, in an incident that claimed the lives of his son and daughter.

In 1897, Sir Walter Buller purchased an area including Papaitonga with the intention of protecting the land around the lake for future generations. In 1901, 27.5 ha of bush were formally established as a reserve, and the lake was added to the reserve in 1991.


Abundance of forest and wetland birds, watch shags perched on specially constructed roosts, chance of seeing giant Powelliphanta snails in undergrowth.


Picnic tables


The lake lies in the Horowhenua coastal plain. Turn west off SH1 just south of Levin.

Getting there

The entrance to the reserve is at the end of Buller Road, 5 km southwest of Levin off State Highway 1.


Bird and wildlife watching Bird and wildlife watching


Papaitonga is home to waterfowl and wading birds as well as forest species on the lake’s margins.

Plant life

Within the reserve is the only intact sequence from wetland to mature dry terrace forest in Wellington and Horowhenua. The wetland forest associations of kahikatea/pukatea, tawa and pukatea-tawa-swamp maire are now rare.

Tracks and walks

An easy 10 min forest track and boardwalk takes you to a picnic and lake viewing area.

A loop track (20 min) continues on to a second lookout at the southern edge of the lake, which adjoins farmland.

Plan and prepare

The Papaitonga Scenic Reserve contains rare plants and wildlife, and fragile habitats.

Dogs, fires and other activities that may cause damage, such as hunting, mountain biking and trail bike riding, are not permitted.

Visitors should stay on formed tracks and defined lookout areas at all times. Access to the islands on the lake is not permitted.

Remove your rubbish. recycle paper, glass, cans and plastic.

Pest control operation

DOC is carrying out possum and rat control in Lake Papaitonga Scenic Reserve. Get more information about the operation.

Other places to visit

Waikanae Estuary - walk along the sandspit and riverbanks to see wading birds.

Related links

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Find out more


Follow the Outdoor Safety Code:
1. Plan your trip
2. Tell someone
3. Be aware of the weather
4. Know your limits
5. Take sufficient supplies

Alerts for Taranaki places



Te Papaioea / Palmerston North Office
Phone:      +64 6 350 9700
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