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145kms - 5 days
Let the water do the walking
With a length of 290 kilometres the mystical Whanganui River is one of the longest rivers in the country. This magnificent canoe or kayak adventure follows 145 kilometres as it ventures deep into the pristine forests of a vast national park. The journey offers all the natural wonders of a Great Walk, without the need for walking.
The five day journey takes you beyond the clutches of modern civilisation. Drifting with the river through steep-sided canyons there are more than 200 rapids to be navigated however in normal conditions it never goes beyond a grade two degree of difficulty, which means it is suitable for complete novices.
With the exception of a small town two days down river, there are no shops, roads or settlements along the way; just peace, quiet, abundant birdlife and native forests clinging to the cliff faces along the river edge.
Each night is spent under the stars. Tents are pitched at grass camp sites with just the basic necessities - a water supply, toilets and a cooking shelter. A highlight of the journey is the option to spend one night immersed in Maori traditions, protocol and hospitality at the ancient Maori pa (fortress) Tieke Kainga.
A rugged land with a soft heart
The land around the Whanganui River Journey is remote and rugged. Steep- sided forested valleys stretch as far as the eye can see. Beneath the blanketing vegetation and fertile volcanic top soils, the land is mainly soft sandstone and mudstone (papa) uplifted from the seabed just a million years ago. Over time, natural waterways have eroded the land to form deep gorges, sharp ridge lines, vertical cliff-faces and countless waterfalls. As you wind your way down the Whanganui River, the land rises steeply on all sides providing the sensation of being cradled deep in heart of the forest.
No need to pack a kayak
It is remarkably easy to experience the wonder of the Whanganui River Journey. One or two-person kayaks and open (Canadian) canoes can be hired in Taumaranui, along with any other equipment needed. Several companies offer informative guided journeys while shorter journeys can also be arranged with jet boat pick-ups from the remote camping areas.
An amphitheatre for birdsong
The vertical forests concentrate the melodies of the abundant native birdlife. The day begins with a dawn chorus which then continues through the day. Plump kereru (wood pigeon) plummet from the forest canopy before gaining sufficient speed to rise again and noisily crash-land into the foliage in search of more berries. They are the Lancaster bombers of New Zealand’s forests.
The native tui with its bell-like notes and rasping coughs, clicks and rattles are conspicuous with their sleek dark-metallic feathers and tuft of white on their neck. Fantails execute seemingly impossible aerial manoeuvres in pursuit of invisible insects while the sounds of native robins, grey warblers and tomtits can also be heard. At dusk, around John Coull Hut, long-tailed bats can be seen crossing the river high above the canopy. And at night, the sharp screech of kiwi can often be heard.
The bridge to nowhere
At one point, you can leave your canoe and follow an easy hiking trail to discover a bridge in the middle of nowhere. Deep in the forest, completely isolated from any signs of civilisation, this substantial concrete road bridge spans a deep ravine. It was constructed in the 1936 to improve access to the Mangapurua Valley Soldiers Settlement. This area was abandoned in 1942, so the bridge was in use for only six years. Today it provides a perfect platform for views across the forest canopy.
Other activities in the area
There are numerous hiking tails in the Whanganui National Park, ranging from short walks to multi-day adventures. You can also fish for brown and rainbow trout. A restored historic riverboat carries visitors along the lower reaches of the river from the city of Wanganui, or you can take a faster trip in a jet boat.
When mountains fight, great rivers are born
Maori legend says the Whanganui River was created by Mount Taranaki as it fled from the wrath of Mount Tongariro, in the central North Island. Taranaki had tried to seduce Tongariro’s wife, the beautiful Mount Pihanga. Enraged, Tongariro erupted and showered Taranaki in molten lava and hot ash. Defeated and deeply saddened, Taranaki escaped to the west carving a trench to the sea before heading north to its current location. Clear water flowed from the side of Tongariro to fill the trench and create the Whanganui River.
History goes with the flow
Early Maori people explored and settled along the banks of the Whanganui River. They cultivated the fertile soil and built sophisticated traps for lamprey and eels. To this day, the river holds deep spiritual significance for the local Maori people.
European missionaries arrived in the 1840s and 50 years later river boats were servicing European settlers as far inland as Taumarunui. Passenger travel flourished as early tourists, motivated initially by the lack of good roads, discovered the river’s remarkable natural beauty.
By the 1920s, roads to and from the central North Island’s volcanic attractions were improving and the river boat service faded away. Farming interests then began to grow in the area, which prompted early conservation groups to seek government protection for the natural environment. These visionary efforts created the foundation for what grew to become the Whanganui National Park - 742 square kilometres of pure, untouched wilderness, and through its core runs the Whanganui River Journey.
Booking a walk with a tour provider
There are a number of specialist tour operators who can aide you in bringing your walking experience to life. Whether you are looking for a guided tour or accommodation along the track browse through our business listings to find the walkin experience that is right for you.
Booking a walk independently
If you want to walk a Great Walk independently you will need a Great Walks Pass The fees for this varies between each Great Walk, but all prices are very reasonable as they are heavily subsidised in order to foster participation by many people.
For some Great Walks you may need to make a booking, for others simply purchase a Great Walks hut or campsite pass before your trip
- For the Milford, Kepler, Routeburn, Heaphy and Abel Tasman the online system allows you to check availability and pay for your booking. Book online
- Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Centres national wide can make hut or campsite bookings on your behalf. A booking fee applies.
- Call on +64-3-249 8514, fax +64-3-249 8515, email firstname.lastname@example.org