Hiruhārama Jerusalem

This settlement on the Whanganui River Rd holds a history and beauty so precious it needs to be visited to be fully appreciated.

Jerusalem, Hiruhārama in Māori, is a tiny settlement 66 kilometres up the Whanganui River Rd. It was originally called Patiarero and was one of the biggest settlements on the Whanganui River in the 1840s with several hundred Ngāti Hau inhabitants of the iwi Te Āti Haunui a Pāpārangi. Many Whanganui River settlements were given new place names by Reverend Richard Taylor in the 1850s.

Jerusalem Whanganui was an isolated site where, in 1892, Suzanne Aubert (known as Mother Mary Joseph) established the congregation of the Sisters of Compassion. They became a highly respected charitable nursing and religious order.

Also established was the Jerusalem Foundling Home in 1886 which housed and cared for abandoned children from around New Zealand. A convent remains in Jerusalem as well as the Church where the Sisters of Compassion still care for the buildings and the history of the site.

The Catholic Church at Jerusalem is more than a century old and features a beautifully carved altar of Māori design and kowhaiwhai panels adorn the walls. Visit the rosary way garden and enjoy the peace and serenity of the surroundings.

It is possible to stay at the Convent in the dormitory however bookings are essential. There is also one double room with an ensuite. It is self-catering and you will need to take your own linen.

While Sisters have been a consistent presence since the inception of the convent, their role within the community has evolved over time. Although they no longer reside within the community, their legacy lives on. Today, the community oversees the upkeep of the church, convent, and grounds, along with the village public library located on-site. The Sisters’ profound connection to the land endures, and they are privileged to hold the status of tangata whenua (native to the land).

Poet James K. Baxter lived in Jerusalem and formed a retreat and commune in 1970. One of his last collections is named Jerusalem sonnets and the language is colloquial describing some of his daily life at the commune.

The commune was disbanded in 1972 soon after his death and Baxter is buried nearby on tribal land.

Where to stay in Whanganui

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For expert local advice or further help on your stay, contact our Whanganui isite visitor centre or browse our guides on Where to stay.

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