North Is­land play­ground

For lovers of art, cul­ture and Maori his­tory, Whanganui is worth a visit.

Go Travel New Zealand - - Whanganui -

F or decades, Whanganui has been one of New Zealand’s North Is­land tourism play­grounds for a va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties given the cli­mate, the beaches, the won­der­ful Whanganui River and the Whanganui Na­tional Park. Whanganui is also a beau­ti­ful place to visit for those in­ter­ested in art, cul­ture and both early European set­tler and Maori his­tory as it was once the fifth largest city in NZ Tourism be­gan in the early 1900’s as thou­sands of pas­sen­gers trav­elled from Europe to take a river­boat jour­ney up the Whanganui River into the in­te­rior of the North Is­land. The long­est nav­i­ga­ble river in New Zealand was fa­mous for its pic­nic ex­cur­sions, a float­ing “ho­tel” and a fleet of boats run by Alexan­der Ha­trick. The “Rhine of New Zealand” be­came ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one: Wealthy tourists, set­tlers and farm­ers in the in­te­rior and Whanganui ci­ti­zens.

The dis­trict en­joys a tem­per­ate cli­mate with av­er­age tem­per­a­tures of 9.4degC in win­ter and 18.2degC in sum­mer, with an av­er­age 2100 hours of sun­shine per an­num – slightly above the na­tional av­er­age. Whanganui is also very cen­tral and easily ac­ces­si­ble for most: It is within three hours drive for the lower North Is­land from most ci­ties and an hour-long flight from Auck­land. There are few places where a sig­nif­i­cant river holds a num­ber of tourism and com­mu­nity at­trac­tions, a se­lec­tion of beaches are within a 10 to 20 minute drive and Mount Ruapehu ski field is only an hour and a half away. The her­itage of Whanganui is ob­vi­ous when vis­it­ing. A “must see” is the unique and very spe­cial St Paul’s Angli­can Me­mo­rial Church in Pu­tiki. In­tri­cately and beau­ti­fully dec­o­rated with Maori tuku­tuku and lat­tice de­signs and carv­ing, the adorn­ment speaks of the his­tory of the church and the sur­round­ing area. Guided tours take place Thurs­day to Sun­day dur­ing the sum­mer and all pro­ceeds go to­wards fundrais­ing for the on­go­ing main­te­nance and up­keep of the church. The Whanganui River Road and Whanganui Re­gional Mu­seum pro­vide a unique view­point of early Maori set­tle­ment and their life along the river – Te Awa O Whanganui. Orig­i­nal pa sites, nu­mer­ous marae and points of sig­nif­i­cance, bat­tle stand­points and the shared his­tory of the many tribes can be found. The Whanganui River is pos­si­bly the only river in the world to be granted le­gal sta­tus as an en­tity in its own right and is recog­nised as the home and heart of the Maori peo­ple here. The river is of huge im­por­tance: It is their an­ces­tral river, their ar­te­rial high­way and a source of phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual sus­te­nance. With a large num­ber of Maori in the dis­trict, Whanganui is the largest bi-cul­tural city in New Zealand and be­com­ing even more di­verse as mi­grants from around the world set­tle here. A visit to the Whanganui Re­gional Mu­seum en­ables the shar­ing of Maori life and travel by foot and by waka (boat) through­out the sea­sons. Taonga (trea­sure) is dis­played, fea­tur­ing the hi­naki (eel traps), tools, weapons, bas­kets and jew­ellery sig­nif­i­cant and im­por­tant to life. It is not un­usual to be greeted cheer­fully as you wan­der along the river board­walks or over sand dunes with “Kia ora” (hello) from all ages and smil­ing faces. Whanganui still has sig­nif­i­cant ties with artists, art col­lec­tions, mu­sic and per­for­mance as­so­ci­a­tions and clubs. Sev­eral gal­leries and stu­dios are open and within walk­ing dis­tance of the River Traders and Whanganui Farm­ers Mar­ket held ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing rain or shine. The Whanganui Vin­tage week­end is held in late Jan­uary with steam en­gines, vin­tage and clas­sic cars, cos­tume and a soap box derby over a three-day week­end. Mu­sic abounds in all forms, with sev­eral choirs, bands and the Whanganui Mu­si­cians Club – home grown mu­sic of all gen­res and of­ten performed in lo­cal clubs, bars and restau­rants. If you get a chance visit the Sav­age Club, an “out there” retro-styled funky BYO venue for mu­si­cians and vis­it­ing bands where all are wel­come to join in, dance and soak up the at­mos­phere. It’s only open the first Fri­day of ev­ery month un­less a tour­ing band is com­ing through. Cycling trails run along­side the river, moun­tain bike tracks cir­cle two coastal dune lakes and for­est ar­eas and you can visit the 100-hectare bird sanc­tu­ary pro­tected from preda­tors, Bushy Park. Bushy Park is also home to the South­ern Hemi­sphere’s largest rata tree, “Ratanui”, which has a girth of 11 me­tres. So, if you haven’t been to Whanganui be­fore, don’t you think it’s time to plan a visit?

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