HIS­TORIC Whanganui

Whanganui is a favourite week­end get­away for peo­ple from all over New Zealand.

Go Travel New Zealand - - Wanganui -

Vis­i­tor num­bers are in­creas­ing as peo­ple learn more about a place once the fourth largest city in New Zealand. His­tory and her­itage sites fit com­fort­ably next to funky cafés and gal­leries. A won­der­ful place to re­lax and un­wind, the beaches are open and un­crowded with the surf and black iron sands en­cour­ag­ing a walk along the wilder west coasts.

The town’s his­tory is ob­vi­ous – cu­ri­ous and tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture stands out and you’re im­me­di­ately aware of the old build­ings lin­ing a pretty main street. A grand old lady is the Royal Wan­ganui Opera House lo­cated not far from a mod­ernist Whanganui War Memo­rial Cen­tre. The Durie Hill Un­der­ground El­e­va­tor and Memo­rial Tower gives you a glimpse of what’s changed, and nu­mer­ous marae and the taonga (trea­sures) in the Whanganui Re­gional Mu­seum hold a unique and spir­i­tual his­tory of the tan­gata whenua (peo­ple of this land). As­pire to the stars at the Ward Ob­ser­va­tory or be hap­pily grounded amongst Whanganui’s sense of living his­tory.

The Durie Hill El­e­va­tor was built in 1919 to pro­vide res­i­dents of the hilly gar­den sub­urb an eas­ier way home from the grow­ing city. A long and slightly spooky pedes­trian tun­nel takes you to the el­e­va­tor where you’re wel­comed aboard for the 66 me­tre ride. In the early days it was just a shilling for a child and an­other shilling for your bi­cy­cle as well. As you shake and wob­ble to the top keep in mind the spec­tac­u­lar panoramic views you and those early res­i­dents will share, and a lit­tle re­lief at not hav­ing to march up the 355 steps in­stead.

Look­ing out over the city, bridge, Whanganui River and out to the sea, you feel on top of the world with Whanganui and more stretched out be­fore you. On a crys­tal clear day you can see the South Is­land, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Taranaki and won­der at what early trav­ellers felt. If you’re will­ing to tackle the task, the Memo­rial Tower stands ad­ja­cent with a spi­ral of an­other 176 steps giv­ing an even greater sense of cir­cling in the sky. This tower is a real tes­ta­ment to the builders of the time and is an of­fi­cial Wan­ganui Memo­rial to those who died in the First World War. Con­structed of ce­mented marine sand­stone con­tain­ing shell frag­ments ( sim­ply called shell­rock) from a nearby quarry, it is a solid re­minder of the hard­ships and tragedies ex­pe­ri­enced for early pioneers. Thirty-three me­tres high, the rock is es­ti­mated to be more than 2 mil­lion years old.

Fur­ther down the road you won’t re­gret a tour of the unique and very spe­cial St Paul’s Angli­can Memo­rial Church in Pu­tiki. In­tri­cately and beau­ti­fully dec­o­rated with Māori tuku­tuku and lat­tice de­signs and carv­ing, the adorn­ment speaks of the his­tory of the church, the peo­ple’s faith and the shar­ing of Māori and Euro­pean spir­i­tu­al­ity. For an up­lift­ing morn­ing, at­tend the Sun­day ser­vice. Lo­cal res­i­dents host guided tours from Thurs­day to Sun­day dur­ing the sum­mer.

Artis­tic and cre­ative in all the arts from an early age, Whanganui still weaves sig­nif­i­cant ties with artists, art col­lec­tions, mu­sic and per­for­mance as­so­ci­a­tions and clubs. In March ev­ery year, 300 and more res­i­dent artists open over 70 stu­dios to wel­come and en­cour­age visi­tors. Roam, be de­lighted, amazed, in­spired and in­trigued by the long­est list of eclec­tic, mod­ern and tra­di­tional medi­ums of paint­ing, draw­ing, print mak­ing, jew­ellery, glass art, mixed me­dia, sculp­ture, pot­tery and ce­ram­ics. You won’t miss out at other times of the year as sev­eral gal­leries and stu­dios are al­ways open and nicely within walk­ing dis­tance of the River Traders and Whanganui Farm­ers Mar­ket.

Ev­ery week­end our river­bank hums with peo­ple vis­it­ing the lo­cal mar­kets. Chill out and have an easy brunch, pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables and a few of the lo­cal del­i­ca­cies. Hunt for a

spe­cial me­mento or dis­cover a unique piece of retro art that you didn’t know you were dy­ing for. Rain or shine the mar­kets are al­ways on and buzzing with lo­cal his­tory and sto­ries.

You don’t have to drive far to get here: It’s an easy and pleas­ant drive within 3 hours for the lower North Is­land and if you’re com­ing from up north, a quick hour’s flight from Auck­land. It’s ac­tu­ally quicker to drive from Auck­land to Welling­ton via Ohakune and

Whanganui than it is to travel down SH1 – it's pret­tier, too. Get to know your way around by call­ing into the i-SITE Vis­i­tor Cen­tre. Book a guided walk­ing tour or do it your­self to re­ally feel the flavour of Whanganui’s mon­u­ments, places and build­ings. There is a story around ev­ery corner. Take your time. Re­lax in the river city. Am­ble down the board­walks and say “Kia Ora” as you meet the passersby. Whanganui is big enough to en­ter­tain yet small enough to keep it real. We’re just wait­ing for you to say hello.

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