Whanganui – the river city with a creative heart

Published on : Monday, June 8, 2015

unnamed (1)Whanganui – sometimes spelled Wanganui – is one of New Zealand’s oldest cities. Whanganui, which means ‘big bay’ or ‘big harbour’, is also the name of the great river that flows through it.

Home to approximately 43,000 people, Whanganui is a two-hour drive northwest from Wellington, or two hours south of Ruapehu and Tongariro – the iconic volcanic peaks of the central North Island. The flight from Auckland is less than an hour.

The city, which enjoys one of New Zealand’s sunniest climates, has a series of fine parks and significant gardens, including Virginia Lake. Bushy Park is a 100 hectare native forest and predator free bird sanctuary. Three iron-sand beaches are great spots for fishing, surfing, off-roading, family outings and wide open walks.

New Zealand’s largest arts community – fine arts, mixed media and glass artists – live in Whanganui. The city is home to New Zealand’s only School of Glass, and the regional museum boasts a magnificent collection of Maori treasures and early New Zealand portraits by Gottfried Lindauer.

The city’s collection of heritage buildings have been protected and preserved as evidence of important Māori and European history and culture. Prominent buildings include the Whanganui Opera House and the Sarjeant Art Gallery, and the curious earthbound elevator built in 1919 that runs to the top of Durie Hill.

Notable annual events in Whanganui include the Motorcycle Cemetery Circuit Street Races, the Vintage Weekend, and the 270km Mountains to Sea Multisport race through remote spectacular scenery. The Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail is New Zealand’s longest and most diverse cycle trail.

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

Inland from the city, the Whanganui River pierces a mystical landscape of remote rainforests and mountains with spiritual, cultural and natural significance. This relatively untouched natural environment is a safe haven for rare New Zealand wildlife.

The Whanganui National Park is a place of river adventures navigable by jet boat or on the historic PS Waimarie – an authentically restored paddle steamer from 1899 which runs regular short cruises from Whanganui city. Or, paddle the Whanganui Journey – a wilderness kayanking experience through remote bush-clad

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