Wanganui is located on the West Coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The famous Whanganui River flows from one of New Zealand’s highest volcanoes, Mount Tongariro, through the spectacular Whanganui National Park, to the coast of the Tasman Sea, and the bustling city of Wanganui. Internationally famous for the spectacular scenery of the Whanganui River, this picturesque city is fast becoming a ‘get away’ spot for visitors.
Wanganui City has much to offer visitors and due to the compact nature of Wanganui, all attractions are within walking distance of the central city. The Whanganui Riverboat Centre offers the opportunity to take a river cruise on the beautifully restored Paddle Steamer Waimarie and is characteristic of the distinctive attractions of Wanganui.
In the early 1900’s, visitors knew the Whanganui River as the ‘Rhine of New Zealand’; the longest navigable river in the country, with 239 rapids, stunning bush scenery – a place of tranquility and unmistakable beauty. Today visitors discover Wanganui and its historic waterway with a whole new sense of the past, meeting people who live and work on the river, preserving New Zealand’s early river life and offering hospitality that is one of a kind.
Museums and Galleries – Shopping – Entertainment
Stroll across the Wanganui City Bridge to the Durie Hill pedestrian tunnel, which leads to the famous Durie Hill Elevator. Only a few steps away from the top of the elevator climb the Durie Hill War Memorial Tower, built of fossilised shell rock. From this splendid viewpoint, take in the spectacular scenery of Wanganui, its River, and coastline. On a clear day, you will see Mounts Taranaki, Ruapehu, and the Tasman Sea.
Visit the internationally recognised Whanganui Regional Museum and Sarjeant Gallery. Spend the rest of the day exploring the various dealer galleries in Wanganui and discovering the talent of the many resident artists in Wanganui
Purchase a kit with passport and gold crayon and set off for the day to explore Wanganui’s heritage and architecture, taking rubbings of the 30 plaques on buildings in the central city. Polish the results later for a permanent record of your brass rubbing skills and of the wonderful history of Wanganui.
Take in a show at the 100 year old Royal Wanganui Opera House. Its fabulous domed ceiling and ornate balconies bring alive the history of this magnificent old building, which stands as a tribute to early Wanganui architecture.
Enjoy a family day at Kowhai Park and ride on the miniature railway, see Goldilocks and the three bears and take advantage of the free gas fired barbecues. The park also features a skateboard park. Situated adjacent to Kowhai Park is the Riverlands Family Park where you can play a round of mini golf or take a ride on the go-karts or bumper boats.
Museums and Galleries
Situated in Queen’s Park, the cultural heart of the city, Wanganui boasts the Whanganui Regional Museum and the Sarjeant Gallery. The Whanganui Regional Museum offers visitors a comprehensive museum experience. It houses objects of both national and international significance and serves a large region stretching from Taumarunui to the sea and encompassing parts of South Taranaki and Rangitikei. The Sarjeant Gallery is a magnificently proportioned building with its unique naturally lit galleries, which continues to be one of New Zealand’s finest exhibition spaces. The Gallery’s collection of over 5,000 works feature 19th and 20th century and contemporary art with a strong photographic focus.
Another place of note is the Whanganui Riverboat Centre Museum, which features photographs and memorabilia of the Whanganui Riverboat era, plus displays of the salvage and restoration of PS Waimarie. Waimarie is the last fully operational steam paddler left in New Zealand and a cruise on this historic vessel is a must for any visitor to Wanganui.
Our picturesque city centre has been revitalised by the restoration of its heritage streets and buildings. Wanganui’s central shopping area is based in the revitalised Victoria Avenue where gaslights, wrought iron garden seats, palm and plane trees and wide paved footpaths combine to create the beauty of Wanganui’s main street. Retailers have restored and preserved many of the buildings that reflect Wanganui’s rich history. Cafés, an art deco cinema and an English-style pub all add to the attraction of shopping in Wanganui. In amongst the heritage we have the modern also, with an air-conditioned shopping mall that boasts a small food hall in addition to a wide variety of shops.
Shopping in Wanganui is characterised by the small speciality shops where you will be greeted with good old New Zealand warmth and great customer service.
Wanganui In Bloom
Wanganui In Bloom runs from December to the end of February when over 800 hanging flower baskets adorn the streets of Wanganui.
Wanganui offers a variety of entertainment options ranging from ten pin bowling to movies in our beautiful art deco cinema or having a quiet drink at one of our many attractive bars. The Ceildh and the Celtic bars offer a touch of the Irish while the Rutland Arms recreates the feel of an English pub and serves many English beers on tap. The Red Lion Inn is a great place to enjoy a drink with the locals overlooking the Whanganui River or relax and enjoy a café style meal or snack and a glass of wine at Peppers, the Oaks, and the Buzz Bar.
Getting to Wanganui
From Wellington, Wanganui is a two and a half hour easy drive, and passes through the picturesque small towns of Levin, Foxton, and Bulls. Take State Highway One to Bulls and State Highway Three form bulls to Wanganui.
From Rotorua and Taupo, Wanganui is a scenic drive through some of the most beautiful parts of the North Island. State Highway Three takes you down the country from Rotorua, through Taupo with State Highway Four taking you through to National Park, Raetihi and then on to Wanganui. You may wish to stop at National Park and enjoy a days skiing on Mount Ruapehu before heading down to Wanganui. The skifields are only an hour and a half drive from the city.
As an alternative route to State Highway-Four is to take the historic and scenic Whanganui River Road from Raetihi to Pipiriki and down to Wanganui. This road takes you through the beautiful Whanganui National Park and the settlements of Jerusalem – home to James K Baxter Mother Aubert two historical New Zealand figures – Ranana and Atene, with many historical points of interest along the way. The River Road is renown for its unspoilt loveliness but it is a scenic route and not for those in a hurry as it is windy and unsealed in places.
The Legend of the Whanganui River
When the great mountains Tongariro and Taranaki came into conflict over the love of the beautiful Mount Pihanga, a mighty battle ensued. Tongariro eventually won this fierce battle and Taranaki, wild with grief and anger at he loss of his love, ripped himself out of the ground, and tore a path through the country towards the setting sun. When dawn arrived, Taranaki had reached the ocean, where he paused and then turned north before coming to rest in solitary isolation on the West Coast of the North Island, where he still sits today. Soon after the mighty battle, a stream of clear water sprang from Tongariro, which filled and healed the wound Taranaki had made in his flight towards the ocean. Green forests, filled with the songs of birds, grew throughout the valley of this new river, known as the Whanganui River.
Whanganui National Park
Large areas of intact lowland forest adjoin the Whanganui River in its central and lower reaches. These large tracts of forest form the heart of Whanganui National Park. Within this forested environment, the early Maori cultivated the sheltered terraces of the land and built their villages on strategic heights. The prestige of an Iwi or tribe depended on the way in which the living space around it was protected for sustenance, defence, and hospitality. In Maori mythology, every significant bend of the river had a guardian, which controlled the life force of that place. Each rapid on the Whanganui River had a name and the eel weirs were constructed precisely where the currents of the river converged. Whanganui National Park this enjoys a dual heritage that comes from nature itself and from forty generations of river Iwi who have learned both the passion and the patience of living within the clasp of a great river.
The Whanganui River Today
The mighty Whanganui River combines history with modern-day recreational adventure along its diverse 290 kilometres. The journey begins high on Mt Tongariro and flows through ling stretches of steep rugged bush through its upper and middle reaches. The river widens into a tidal estuary as it nears its final destination, the Tasman Sea, and the city of Wanganui.
The Whanganui is the longest navigable waterway in the country and the second longest river in the North Island. It is full of rich cultural history, tradition, legend, and mystery. It holds a special attraction for canoeists due to its 239 listed rapids, which offer a wide variety of challenges yet is still considered a novices river, suitable for beginners. Thousands of canoeists take to its waters each year, Canoe tour operators offer tours to suit all ages and levels of experience, from fully guided tours to self-hire.
One of the features of the Whanganui River and National Park is the famous ‘Bridge to Nowhere’. This fascinating structure in the Mangapurua Valley was built in 1936 and provided access for a rural pioneer settlement before the venture was abandoned. Regenerating bush quickly covered the track in this remote area leaving the relatively unused Bridge as the only reminder. The Bridge can only be reached from the river by jet boat, canoe or by a three-day walk.
Jet boat trips are an exciting way to see the magnificent scenery of the Whanganui River and commercial jet boats operate throughout the year.
Pipiriki, 79 kilometres from the city of Wanganui, is seen as the gateway to the Whanganui National Park and includes an information centre and Museum located in the historic Colonial House. There are several short walks of both historic and scenic interest around the village of Pipiriki. The River Road links Wanganui with Pipiriki and offers an alternative for those who prefer to drive rather than travel by canoe or boat. From Pipiriki you can either retrace your journey to Wanganui or continue inland to Raetihi. The road provides stunning views of the Whanganui River and opens access to a wealth of Maori and European history. Along the Road there are beautifully restored Marae, visitors are welcome but permission must obtained before entering.
Further along the River Road, towards Wanganui is the picturesque village of Jerusalem (Hiruhirama). Originally a larger Maori village known as Patiarero, it was once home to famous New Zealand poet James K Baxter, and Sister Mary Aubert whose Catholic Mission remains there to this day.
There are also many other sites of historical and cultural interest along the River Road. A number of accommodation options are available along the Whanganui River and River Road including Department of Conservation huts, farm stays, a lodge and camping and campervan grounds.