2 Best Sights in Whanganui National Park, North Island's West Coast

Whanganui River and Whanganui National Park

The Whanganui River starts high on the volcanic mountains of the central North Island, and travels 329 km (204 miles) to the sea. For several hundred years the tribe Te Atihau nui a Paparangi has lived along the riverbanks; they regard the waterway as their spiritual ancestor. To acknowledge this, the Whanganui became the first river in the world to be accorded legal personhood in 2017. The Whanganui flows through the heart of Whanganui National Park, through steep gorges and huge tracts of forested wilderness. The remoteness and beauty, culture and history, the river’s relatively easy navigability, and forest trails and mountain bike tracks are the main draws to this national park. Scenic jet boat trips operate throughout the year from road access points along the river. Single and multiday kayak trips, both guided and independent, are extremely popular. The Whanganui Journey is, in fact, listed as one of New Zealand’s famed Great Walks. Most visitors kayak in summer, but a river trip is feasible at any time. Two multiday walks and many shorter ones explore the lowland forest. Totaling 317 km (197 miles), the Mountains to Sea—Nga Ara Tuhono Cycle Trail traverses remote forest tracks (challenging for mountain bikes) and roads through Tongariro and Whanganui national parks from Mt. Ruapehu to the river's mouth; it can be ridden in stages. The river journey is also part of Te Araroa, the New Zealand Trail.

Whanganui River Road

For a little slice of New Zealand, take a scenic and historic drive along the river's lower reaches by following the Whanganui River Road from the city of Whanganui. Turn left off State Highway 4 15 minutes north of the city. The narrow rural road follows the river for 79 km (49 miles) north, as far as Pipiriki. It passes several small villages and historic sites (ask a local before venturing into any traditional Māori villages). Interpretive signs are progressively being added along the route to help visitors uderstand what they are looking at. Be sure to keep left, drive slowly, and watch for wandering livestock.