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 also doable; the weather will be slightly colder, but you'll probably have the river to yourself. In summer, although there can be several hundred folks on the water at any one time, they are all moving in one direction, so a group can travel long periods without seeing another soul. The time they do come together is in the evenings, at park huts and campsites.

Travel on the river is generally in open, two-seater canoes or in kayaks. Tour options range from one-day picnic trips to five-day camping expeditions. What's known as the Whanganui Journey is regarded as one of nine "Great Walks" in New Zealand's national parks. Most tours go from Taumarunui to Pipiriki (a four- to five-day trip) or from Whakahoro to Pipiriki (three to four days). The latter 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.

To arrange a trip, contact a licensed commercial operator or the Department of Conservation (06/349–2100 No experience is necessary as the Whanganui is considered a beginner's river; however, while it's definitely not a white-water adventure, the river should be respected, and one or two rapids can play nasty tricks on paddlers. Operators can supply all equipment, transfers, and the necessary hut and campsite passes, whether the trip is independently undertaken or guided and catered. Prices vary considerably according to the length and style of the journey, but you can expect to pay from about NZ$55 for a simple one-day outing and in the NZ$600 to NZ$800 range for an all-inclusive three-day excursion.

Canoe Safaris. This operator's "big boats," six-person open canoes, are built along the lines of those once used by Canadian fur-trappers. Whanganui trips start at NZ$795 for a three-day safari with all equipment, including a waterproof gear bag and a Department of Conservation User Pass. These guides have been working the river for more than a quarter of a century, and they whip up mean three-course meals at campsites. Kayak and canoe rentals and combo jet-boat trips are also offered. 06/385–9237; 0800/272--3353;

Yeti Tours. This outfit has been paddling the river for 25-plus years and knows how the water flows. Fully catered choices range from 2-day trips (NZ$420) to the only comprehensive 10-day guided tour from Taumarunui to Wanganui (most trips stop at Pipiriki). They include meals, kayaks, and a Department of Conservation pass. You provide (or rent) your own camping gear. 61 Clyde St., Ohakune, Manawatu-Wanganui, 4625. 06/385–8197; 0800/322–388;

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