New Zealand’s Whanganui River has been granted the unique status of ‘personhood’, recognised by the New Zealand Government as a living legal entity with the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.
The Whanganui River is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful waterways, the longest navigable river. Rich in history, it was heavily trafficked in pre-European times and offers an off-road glimpse of sites where early Maori settled.
The river is of deep spiritual significance to the Māori people who live around the river. A local saying refers to the river as Kō au te Āwa, kō te Āwa kō au. I am the river, the river is me.
There are several different ways to get out on the river and learn about the culture, heritage and history of this region.
The Whanganui Journey
The meandering river valley and surrounding lowland forest now form the Whanganui National Park. Included as one of New Zealand's nine 'Great Walks', the Whanganui Journey is more correctly a 145km kayak or canoe trip down the Whanganui River and through the park.
Beginning in the small country town of Taumarunui, this journey takes about five days to complete following historic routes. For hundreds of years the Whanganui River was an important Maori route; later, in early European settlement days, it became a steamboat highway.
Most river travellers paddle their own canoes, but those less fit can now enjoy a more languid trip with extra legroom on river dories - wooden boats with an up-swept bow and stern and a flat bottom, similar to old Portuguese fishing boats. Trips last from three to five days, starting from Taumarunui, Ohinepani or Whakahoro and finishing at Pipiriki.
Pipiriki Jet Boat Tour
From Pipiriki, visitors can take a jet boat tour to the Bridge to Nowhere - built in 1936 for early pioneering farmers and abandoned in 1942. Travel 30km (1 hour) upstream into the middle reaches of the Whanganui River. Jet through an area of spectacular natural features with deep river gorges covered with green tree ferns and lush native vegetation. From Mangapurua Landing it’s an easy 40-minute walk to the Bridge to Nowhere. A return walk to the boat and trip down river to Pipiriki completes this unique experience.
Ki Tai - A guided tour by the experts
Ki Tai - Whanganui River Tours will teach you everything there is to know about the river and its connection with the land and people of the region. This family-run business will take visitors on a voyage in traditional 20-, 6- or 2-person waka (canoes) that carve their way through the river giving an insight in to the way Māori travelled the river in days gone by. The Ki Tai experiences - 4-, 3- or 1-day tours - share the rich heritage and culture of the place they call home.
Waimarie Paddle Steamer
A cruise aboard the iconic Waimarie Paddle Steamer is one of the most idyllic ways to experience Whanganui River’s scenery and history.
Salvaged from the bottom of the Whanganui River where she sat for around 50 years, the Waimarie Paddle Steamer (previously known as PS Waimarie) was restored to her former glory and re-launched in 2000 to make her New Zealand’s only authentic coal-fired paddle steamer in operation.
Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail
Even more exhilarating, the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail is a gnarly mountain bike journey that begins in the heart of the central volcanic plateau on Mt Ruapehu - the North Island’s highest mountain - travelling through Tongariro and Whanganui national parks all the way to the Tasman Sea. It’s a journey rich in natural and cultural heritage which includes a visit to the lonely Bridge to Nowhere. Off-the-bike activities include kayaking and a jet boat ride down the bluff-lined Whanganui River.