Canoeing safari on the Whanganui River
Canoeing safari , Whanganui

By Ian Trafford

Victoria Avenue, Whanganui.
Victoria Avenue, Whanganui

By Whanganui District Council

A marae welcome in Whanganui
Marae welcome, Whanganui

By Tourism New Zealand

Whanganui at dusk.
Dusk, Whanganui

By Whanganui District Council


Whanganui was one of the first cities to be founded in New Zealand. Whanganui, meaning 'big bay' or ‘big harbour', comes from the great river that flows through it.

Home to approximately 43,000 people, Whanganui (sometimes spelled Wanganui) New Zealand is one of New Zealand's oldest settler towns. It is picturesque and has much to show off to the visitor. It's just a couple of hours' drive from Wellington, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongariro, or a quick flight from Auckland. A designated motorhome friendly city, Whanganui encourages self-drive travellers year-round.

Prominent heritage buildings in the city include the Whanganui Opera House and the Sarjeant Art Gallery. Whanganui is home to New Zealand’s largest arts community with more fine arts, mixed media and glass artists than anywhere else in the country, and boasts the country's only Glass School.

Visit the regional museum and see the magnificent collection of Lindauer portraits and Maori treasures. And have a look at one of the more unusual attractions, the earthbound elevator that rises to the top of Durie Hill.

Notable events hosted here include the lively motorcycle Cemetery Circuit Street Races, the Vintage Weekend every year in mid January, and the Mountains to Sea Multisport, a 270km undertaking across untouched native forest trails and other spectacular scenery galore. The Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail is the longest and most diverse in the country.

But the real heart of this place, both physically and spiritually, is the Whanganui River - the longest navigable river in the country and once known as the Rhine of New Zealand. In early times the river was an important transport route for Maori and European settlers.

Today, the Whanganui National Park is a place of river adventures where you can zip up the river by jet boat or cruise it by paddle steamer. For a kayaking experience, try the Whanganui Journey which starts in Taumaranui and ends in Pipiriki, taking you through stunning bush-clad hill country and long narrow gorges. From Pipiriki you can hop a jet boat tour to the Bridge to Nowhere - built in 1936 for early pioneering farmers and abandoned in 1942.

Time, indeed, to go with the flow.

Content courtesy of Tourism NZ