Whanganui River (Awa)
“This river isn’t just water and sand. It is an ancestral being with its own integrity. This river is not the river that has been contended by the crown, that exists in compartments, its bed and its waters. It’s an indivisible whole that includes iwi so this concept of legal personhood is the nearest legal approximation to the way in which we relate to our people as being inextricably entwined to it and can never be alienated from it.”
Gerrard Albert, chair of Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui
From its origins high on magnificent Mt Tongariro, the awa (river) travels towards Taumarunui, then winds south through the Whanganui National Park.
For more than 800 years, Māori have lived here, building marae and kāinga (villages), cultivating sheltered river terraces and engaging with the forests. Numerous marae still exist along the river, and the river is home to many descendants of the original inhabitants.
European settlers followed in search of a new life in New Zealand and opportunities and in the late 1800s and early 1900s the river became a major visitor attraction, with people enjoying leisurely river boat cruises. The Whanganui River became internationally known as the ‘Rhine of New Zealand.’
Te Awa o Whanganui
In Māori culture important geographic features are personified. In Whanganui, the river is revered as a kuia, or grandmother, although the tumbling rapids often reveal her male side. As a woman, she feeds her children and gives them life, drawing them to her and uniting them in times of need. As her children say —
“E rere kau mai te Awa nui, mai i te Kāhui Maunga ki Tangaroa.
Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko au”
“The river flows from the mountains to the sea. I am the river and the river is me.”
Our woven rope,
Our sacred river
“He Muka nā te Taurawhiri-a-Hinengākau.”
“I am a strand of the sacred woven rope of Hinengākau.”
Hinengākau, along with her brothers Tama-ūpoko and Tūpoho, is one of many prominent ancestors on the river. The lower river reaches sit under the mantle of Tūpoho.
Today, the Whanganui River valley is still a major attraction for visitors and locals, and oﬀers unrivalled opportunities for walking, cycling, hunting and tramping in a pristine wilderness, as well as a full range of activities on the water, including jetboat trips and single and multi-day canoeing.
The Whanganui River valley oﬀers many places to stay and relax, to experience the relationship of the local people to the river, to learn the stories and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the area.