Best time of year: Late Oct to late April
Paddle down the Whanganui River for a memorable trip through a wildly beautiful national park.
Explore the region on foot by walking on the Bridge to Nowhere track. Or complete one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks by journeying on the river by canoe.
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 has been named one of New Zealand's 9 Great Walks, but this 5-day journey involves paddling down the river instead of hiking on land.
Drifting with the river through steep-sided canyons, this journey takes you beyond the clutches of modern civilisation. In its place, you'll find peace and quiet as well as abundant birdlife and native forests that cling to the cliff faces along the river edge.
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 1936 to improve access to the Mangapurua Valley Soldiers Settlement. This area was abandoned in 1942; the bridge was in use for only six years. Today it provides stunning views for curious visitors.
Day 1, Cherry Grove, Taumarunui > Poukaria Campsite, 36 km
The land around the Whanganui River Journey is remote and rugged. Beginning just out of Taumuranui, you'll soon experience steep- sided forested valleys that stretch as far as the eye can see. 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. Tonight you'll sleep in Poukaria Campsite, where you'll be able to look and listen for kereru, tui and fantail. Brown kiwi can often be heard at night. The surrounding forest is a mix of rata, rewarewa, rimu, tawa and kowhai trees.
Day 2, Poukaria Campsite > Mangapapa Campsite, 32 km
As you paddle further into the wilderness, you'll notice that 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. Cradled within a valley, the Mangapapa Campsite is just off the river, it's remoteness emphasizing that you're deep within the park.
Day 3, Mangapapa Campsite > John Coull Hut, 37 km
Today, look out for 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. Enjoy sleeping in a hut instead of a tent tonight. 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.
Day 4, John Coull Hut > Tieke Kainga Hut, 30 km
Heading off from John Coull Hut, see if you can hear the native tui bird waking up. Their 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. The Tieke Kainga Hut is a large hut complete with heating and cooking equipment.
Day 5, Tieke Kainga Hut > Pipiriki, 20 km
Savour the last few hours of wilderness and birdsong this morning as you paddle to the end of your river journey in Pipiriki.
During the walk
There are a number of campsites and Department of Conservation huts dotted along the river, accessible only by boat. Depending on the time of year, reservations or tickets are required for huts and campsites. During the summer season, running from late October to late April, advance bookings are essential - you can book online here(opens in new window). During off-peak season, back country hut passes or hut tickets(opens in new window) are required.
Before and after
The walk begins just out of Taumarunui and finishes in Pipiriki. Both have very limited options for accommodation. Stay in Taumarunui, Pipiriki or nearby Ohakune which has a range of places to stay.
There are a number of specialist tour operators who can aide you in bringing your paddling experience to life.
If you want to do a Great Walk independently, you will need to book the DOC accommodation on the trails. The fee for this varies between each Great Walk. It is recommended that you book in advance for this popular walk.