Te Awa o Whanganui (The Whanganui River) is the longest navigable river in New Zealand and attracts cyclists, hikers, canoeists and day trippers. The river and road are part of Te Araroa (a walk stretching the length of New Zealand) and is one of the NZ’s Great Walks. It is also part of the Mountains To Sea Cycle Trail.
The Whanganui River and Whanganui River Road can be explored in many different ways, by vehicle, bike, jet boat, canoe or on foot. You may want to explore the area in your own private vehicle or join tours run by local tour operators. A visit to the Whanganui River and the road which winds beside it into the Whanganui National Park is a special and authentic journey for visitors with great scenery, beautiful marae and historical places of interest.
The Whanganui River
From its origins high on magnificent Mt Tongariro, the Whanganui River (Te Awa) travels towards Taumarunui, then winds south through the Whanganui National Park. For over 800 years, Maori have lived here, building marae and kainga (villages), cultivating sheltered river terraces and engaging with the forests. Numerous marae still exist along the river, and the river is home to many descendants of the original inhabitants.
European settlers followed in search of a new life and farming opportunities and in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the river became a major visitor attraction, with visitors enjoying leisurely river boat cruises. The Whanganui River became internationally known as the Rhine of New Zealand.
Download a copy of our Whanganui River Guide to plan your own journey of discovery!
How to explore the Whanganui River
There are a number of ways to explore and enjoy the Whanganui River. The upper Whanganui River is popular for canoeing, kayaking, and other activities such as visiting the hidden Bridge To Nowhere. Jetboats operate along the river from Pipiriki and down the river to Whanganui City. We have listed some Whanganui Tour operators below and for more information and bookings please contact the Whanganui i-SITE Visitor Information Centre!
Bridge To Nowhere
The famous Bridge To Nowhere is exactly that – a bridge that goes nowhere! Built in 1936 for settlers in the upper reaches of the Whanganui River in The Whanganui National Park, it was closed six years later in 1942 as the land was too inhospitable for farming and settling as intended. Now it is a popular tourist attraction to visit in the still and quiet of the deep bush. Accessible only by Jet Boat. See more for details.
The Whanganui River Road
Travelling the scenic Whanganui River Road from the city to Pipiriki takes a leisurely 2 to 4 hours depending on your choice of stops and photo opportunities. This is an authentic journey back in time. Local iwi heritage, remnants of early European settlement and historic landmarks feature amongst the stunning views. Look out for St Mary’s Church at Upokongaro famous for its unusual 3-sided spire. Stop at the Aramoana Summit at 230 metres above sea level to look down the river and out to Mount Ruapehu. Don’t miss the amazing Oyster Cliﬀs on the side of the road where layers of fossilised oysters lined sea beds and can now be seen. Travel through the historic and beautiful marae and villages of Ātene, Koriniti and Matahiwi – please ask for permission before visiting a marae as these are treasured places.
Kawana Flour Mill is a small restored building and museum. Rānana is the next community as you travel through to Jerusalem, home to two historically famous ﬁgures, Mother Mary Joseph (Suzanne Aubert), and acclaimed New Zealand poet James K. Baxter.
Halfway to Pipiriki there’s a great photo spot at Omorehu Waterfall and then before you know it you’ll be at Pipiriki – our gateway to Whanganui National Park and the famous Bridge to Nowhere.
Jerusalem (Hiruharama in Maori) is home to a century old catholic church and convent built in the 1890s. The church features a beautifully carved alter of Maori design and kowhaiwhai panels adorn the walls. Once the home of an orphanage, the convent today hosts retreats and offers accommodation. On a clear day the approach to Jerusalem offers a stunning photo opportunity with the settlement reflected in the river!
Mountains To Sea Cycle Trail
The Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail is the most diverse in NZ. With numerous sections beginning in Ruapehu, the final stage brings you down the Whanganui River Road, past historic landmarks both Māori and European. Carry on into the city, past public art on the riverbank and out where the river meets the Tasman Sea…