Once New Zealand’s fifth-largest city, Whanganui (previously spelled Wanganui) still features the picture-perfect heritage buildings, world-class museums and established gardens developed over a century ago. The built beauty is perfectly paired with the town’s natural landscape. Look in any direction and you’ll see a wide river, black sand beaches or rolling green hills with views of Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu on the horizon.
Home to hundreds of working artists, Whanganui is buzzing with creative energy. From the hot kiln studio at New Zealand’s only community glass centre to the prestigious New Zealand Opera School, there is no shortage of artistic talent. The town is also home to numerous galleries, theatres and music venues as well as two impressive art museums: The Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua and Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics.
Visit the regional museum and see the magnificent collection of Lindauer portraits and Maori treasures. And have a look at one of the more unusual attractions, the earthbound elevator that rises to the top of Durie Hill.
Notable events hosted here include the lively motorcycle Cemetery Circuit Street Races, the Vintage Weekend every year in mid-January, and the Mountains to Sea Multisport, a 270km undertaking across untouched native forest trails and other spectacular scenery galore. The Mountains to Sea cycle trail is the longest and most diverse in the country.
But the real heart of this place, both physically and spiritually, is the Whanganui River - the longest navigable river in the country and once known as the Rhine of New Zealand. In early times the river was an important transport route for Maori and European settlers.
Today, the Whanganui National Park is a place of river adventures where you can zip up the river by jetboat or cruise it by paddle steamer. For a kayaking experience, try the Whanganui Journey which starts in Taumarunui and ends in Pipiriki, taking you through stunning bush-clad hill country and long narrow gorges. From Pipiriki you can hop a jet boat tour to the Bridge to Nowhere - built in 1936 for early pioneering farmers and abandoned in 1942.
Time, indeed, to go with the flow.