North Island's West Coast Places

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The Whanganui River and Whanganui National Park

Canoeing and Kayaking

The main season for Whanganui River trips is between October and Easter; the busiest period is during the summer holidays (Christmas-January). Winter trips are doable; the weather will be slightly colder, but you'll probably have the river to yourself. In summer, although there can be several hundred travelers on the river at any one time, they are all moving in one direction and so a group can travel long periods without seeing another soul. The time they do come together is in the evenings, at the huts and campsites.

Transport on the river is generally in open, two-seater, Canadian-style canoes or in kayaks. Tour options range from one-day picnic trips to five-day camping expeditions. Operators can supply all equipment, transfers, and the necessary hut and campsite passes, and trips can either be guided and catered, or independently undertaken (you supply your own food).

Your first call should be to one of the licensed commercial operators or the Department of Conservation (06/348–8475 www.doc.govt.nz) to discuss itineraries. No experience is necessary; the Whanganui is considered a beginner's river—however, while it's definitely not "white-water" adventure, the river should be respected and one or two rapids can play nasty tricks on paddlers. Prices vary considerably according to the length and style of the trip, but you can expect to pay from about NZ$55 for a simple one-day trip and in the NZ$500–$600 range for a fully inclusive three-day excursion.

Canoe Safaris. This operator's "big boats," six-person open canoes, are built on the lines of Canadian fur-trapper boats. Two- to five-day trips on the Whanganui start at NZ$455 for a two-day safari with all equipment, including a waterproof gear bag, and a Department of Conservation User Pass. These guides have been running river trips for more than 25 years, and they whip up mean three-course meals at the campsites. Kayak and canoe rental and combo jet-boat trips are also offered. 06/385–9237. www.canoesafaris.co.nz.

The Whanganui Journey, a canoe journey down the Whanganui River, is regarded as one of nine "Great Walks" in New Zealand's national parks and can be paddled independently or with tour operators. Park huts and campsites are along the river. Most tours go from Taumarunui to Pipiriki, a four- to five-day trip, or from Whakahoro to Pipiriki (three to four days). Whakahoro to Pipiriki is a true wilderness experience; there is no road access. A lower river trip, from Pipiriki to Wanganui, passes through a mix of native forest, farmland, and several small communities. Tour operators give anything from five-day wilderness experiences to one-day or overnight trips on the lower reaches.

Yeti Tours. This outfit has been paddling the river for 25 years and knows how the water flows. Guided and fully catered trips range from two days (NZ$420) to the only comprehensive 10-day guided tour from Taumarunui to Wanganui. Tours include meals, kayaks, and Department of Conservation pass. You provide (or rent) your own camping gear. 61 Clyde St., Ohakune, 4625. 06/385–8197 or 0800/322–388. www.yetitours.co.nz.

If you fancy a faster-paced river adventure than a canoe or kayak paddle, consider a jet-boat tour—you'll skim across the rapids, dodge the rocks, and see fantastic scenery. Note that Whanganui River jet-boat trips are more about grand scenery and cultural history than the short, thrill-seeker rides of some southern-based operations. One of the most popular trips is from Pipiriki to the Mangapurua Landing, then a short walk to the Bridge to Nowhere in the Mangapurua Valley, a Whanganui tributary. The Mangapurua Valley was a farming settlement established in 1918 and abandoned by 1942, owing to the impossibly remote and rugged country. The old concrete bridge in the bush is a fascinating reminder. Jet-boat companies also transport hikers to two national park hiking trails: the Matemateonga Track and Mangapurua Track.

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