Art and the great outdoors come together in the River City.
Whanganui straddles New Zealand’s longest navigable waterway and is surrounded by bush, beach and craggy hills. The city is also home to myriad galleries, restaurants and cafes – making it a favourite getaway destination for culture and nature lovers alike. Travellers will delight in its laidback atmosphere, while discovering the city’s thriving arts and design community. And for a real change of pace, the lush Whanganui National Park is right on the doorstep.
Whanganui is less than a twohour drive to both Mt Taranaki’s ski area and the Tūroa ski field on Mt Ruapehu, so in winter, snow lovers are spoilt for choice. On a clear day, you can see both mountain peaks from Durie Hill, on the city’s east side. To get there, walk five minutes from the Whanganui I- Site to an impressive 66m pedestrian tunnel. Stroll through, stopping for selfies as you go, until you find yourself at the bottom of the Durie Hill elevator – the Southern Hemisphere’s only public underground elevator – where a modest fare will transport you to the summit for panoramic views of the city and a glimpse of the historic memorial tower.
Accommodation in the city runs from rustic to luxury, family-basic to boutique. Those looking for the romance of a tech-free holiday will have all their needs met at the Flying Fox Retreat, which offers glamping, camping and cottages on the banks of the Whanganui River. The eco-sanctuary, surrounded by native bush and orchards, has no road access, cellphone reception or television, promising the chance to truly unwind.
Several scenic jetboat tours allow you to explore the river in style, stopping at key historic sites such as Moutoa Island and Jerusalem, or the famous Bridge to Nowhere in Mangapūrua Gorge. Whanganui Scenic Experience Jet also rents kayaks for those who fancy a more leisurely river tour – and you can’t leave the River City without taking a cruise on the beautifully restored Waimarie paddle steamer.
It’s easy to spend hours traipsing round the city’s galleries and shops. Start at the council-run Sarjeant Gallery, named after colonial settler Henry Sarjeant; it changes its exhibitions frequently so there’s always something new to admire. The gift shop is full of lovely souvenirs, too. More objects of desire can be found at Quayside Antiques, which is jam-packed with knick-knacks from days gone by, and artist Rick Rudd’s Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics. No fewer than 400 resident artists call Whanganui home and the city is known for its glass art and ceramics, especially.
Don’t miss a fish-and-chip supper at Georges Fisheries, where old-school decor and hearty portions meet 21stcentury concerns for sustainability. All fish is line-caught, and eat-in meals are served with a stack of white bread and butter to make chip butties. Afterwards, catch a show at the majestic, gold-trimmed Royal Whanganui Opera House. A drink at nearby Lucky Bar + Kitchen, with its comfy couches and no-frills vibe, should round the evening off nicely. +
Whanganui, photographed from Durie Hill. The Whanganui River runs from Mt Tongariro to the sea, and is crossed by four city bridges.