Lake Papaitonga occupies a hollow in the uplifted sea floor which forms the Horowhenua Plains.
4 km south of Levin along SH1, turn right into Buller Road (Lake Papaitonga is signposted). At the sharp right hand bend after 1.5 km keep straight ahead, where there is a parking area after a further 500 metres.
The track is metalled through the forested sections and travels over boardwalks through the flax swamps at the lake edge.
The islands are knolls on a cut off spur, flooded when the lake’s formed.
Before clearance, the lowlands were smothered in a dense forest of tawa, titoki and karaka. Near waterlogged hollows such as Lake Papaitonga or Lake Horowhenua, pukatea and kahikatea, both displaying substantial buttress roots, towered above the flax swamps. These lake margins also contained cabbage trees, toetoe, raupo and sedges.
The forest here is alive with tui, fantail and kereru, while on the water black swans, Australasian bitterns, spotless crake and New Zealand dabchicks forage in the algae for food.
Maori used the waterways between Lake Papaitonga, Lake Horowhenua and other smaller lakes as communications routes. Papaitonga was a sacred place and the Muaupoko built pa on the lake’s two islands, Papaitonga and Papawharangi. They planted groves of karaka trees to harvest the berries and a population of over 400 was supported on the islands. Pataka (food storage houses) were constructed on tall posts in shallow water and these encircled the islands. ‘Papaitonga’ is said to mean “beauty of the south”.
The lake became infamous for a bloody massacre by Te Rauparaha, who used his muskets to slaughter over 600 Muapoko people, whose chief was To heriri.
Sir Walter Buller bought the area in the late 1880s. Despite wranglings with Maori, the philanthropic naturalist’s efforts have managed to keep Lake Papaitonga as a public reserve.
North Island ▷ Wellington Region ▷ Levin
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍