Whanganui Journey

Morning on the Whanganui River

Whanganui National Park covers an area of 742 sqkm, and ranks in as NZ 10th largest National Park.* However, unlike most other national parks, it offers relatively little in the way of tramping.

There is, however, a mighty river snaking through, peppered with camp sites and DOC huts along the way. Access is via canoe or kayak, and the journey is classified as a ‘Great Walk’, being the only of the nine Great Walks that is not done on foot.

The 82km journey begins at the top, Taumarunui-end of Whanganui National Park, and ends near the bottom, winding its way pas rock-faces, and through gorges, and thick forest, all without cellphone reception at any point. There are very few rapids along the way, and the river is generally safe.  What white water we did encounter was classified as Grade 1 rapids, and no problem for the canoe novices we were.

Joined by Dave, and He who shall be called Dan, we hired a couple of kayaks and one canoe (for Beau and me) from Blazing Paddles. Cost for the three day hire, including hut/campsite passes, waterproof storage vessels, and pick up and drop off services was a very reasonable $220 per person. The company we hired the boats off were curiously relaxed, and their parting words went along the lines of, “Here’s the boat, if you fall out, float to shore, and repack. Knock yourselves out, we’ll see you in three days.”.

So, off we went.

I learnt two things within the hour into our journey.

  1. Kayaks are much more maneuverable and quicker than canoes, which just feel like a big plodding river bus. Canoes however, have storage, and require no tetris skills to pack.
  2. Unlike tramping, you can’t turn back if you miss a POI. In a kayak maybe, but not in the Mighty Yellow River Bus.

Cave! Cave! Oh it's a Cave!Those two issues aside, it’s an awesome journey. There’s an array of wildlife along the way, many wild goatlings, waterfalls, and even caves to explore. And it’s remarkably easy, even for the novices that we were. Occasionally people do tip out, but conditions have to be stacked against you, and if it does happen, speaking to follow journeyers, it doesn’t sound like much of a drama at all.

Following a six hour paddle, we spent our first night at the Mangapurua campsite, which was picturesque, with some of the nicest smelling bush-toilets we’d ever encountered.

Our second night, and New Year’s eve, was at the Ngaporo Campsite, where we enjoyed a raging party, involving cooking pancakes, and retiring to bed at 9pm. However, once we completed the journey the following day, we celebrated the new year, and the fact that we survived without tipping out, with a bottle of sparkling grape juice. Glasses were hard to come by, but that didn’t stop this group of trampers, and we cheered the occasion with two plastic camping cups, a stainless mug, and one empty coke can.

Good times indeed, and a fantastic way to see in the new year.

View all exciting photos here.


The Whanganui Journey:

  • Duration:3 day, 82km kayak through Whanganui National Park
  • Start: Whakahoro
  • End: Pipiriki.
  • Kayak and gear hire: Available from many companies, but we can recommend Blazing Paddles, 10minutes outside of Taumarunui. $220 per person, for Kayak/canoe, waterproof storage and Transport, and hut/campsite passes. Additional gear hire and accommodation is also available.
  • Kayak vs Canoe: Canoe probably more comfortable and easier to pack, but handles like a river bus, requires more paddling, and more likely to tip out. We will stick with kayaks next time.
  • Amenities: There is a cafe at Pipiriki, but nothing in between
  • Huts/Campsites: There are campsites every two hours, all with a shelter, running water, and toilets. There are two huts, of an excellent standard, and supplied with gas.
  • Highlights: Bride to nowhere, caves, caves with waterfalls, awesome scenery.
  • Experience required: We didn’t really have any, and managed fine, also suitable for children.
  • Helpful hints: Take your own map, and study the campsites, and any other Points of Interests to check out. Unlike tramping it’s very difficult to turn around and go back, if you miss the target destination. Also DOC sign-posting could be better, and can be easy to miss.

*For reference, and because the wikipedia list doesn’t exist yet, all NZ National Parks and their corresponding sizes in sqkm are:

  1. Abel Tasman, 225
  2. Paparoa, 305
  3. Egmont, 335
  4. Aoraki, 707
  5. Whanganui, 742
  6. Tongario, 795
  7. Nelson Lakes, 1020
  8. Arthur’s Pass, 1143
  9. Westland, 1175
  10. Rakiura, 1570
  11. Te Urewera, 2127
  12. Mt Aspiring, 2475
  13. Kahurangi, 4520
  14. Fiordland 12,500
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