See Do Experience
I am the river, the river is me
E rere kau mai te Āwanui, Mai i te Kāhui maunga ki Tangaroa. Kō au te Āwa, kō te Āwa kō au.
A visit to the Whanganui River and the road which winds beside it into the Whanganui National Park is a special and authentic journey for visitors. The Whanganui River Road follows the lower reaches of the Whanganui River from Pīpīriki to Whanganui.
This intimate and scenic 64-kilometre road leads to the Whanganui National Park, and enables travellers to visit small river communities and experience a pace of life which is unique in contrast to much of the rest of the country. The road is narrower than the main highway and follows a winding route, which requires slower driving speed than usual. There are stunning views of the river along much of the roads length and of particular interest are the many beautifully preserved marae (gathering places) which are usually visible from the road. Please respect all marae and urupā (cemetery)
Pick up a River Road Guide from the Whanganui i-SITE. Some highlights include:
The classic River Road photo op stop, the Aramoana viewpoint showcases views of the river valley, Pungarehu and Mount Ruapehu.
Get out and stretch your legs. The Ātene Skyline Walkway is part of the Whanganui National Park. The full loop takes 6-7 hours to complete, but you can reach the viewpoint and come back in 1-2 hours. You’ll get a view of an unusual land feature called a ‘meander’, where the river once flowed in a near circle and has now cut through to create a shortcut to the sea.
This large hand-built culvert can be found down a short track from the road. It was built when the Whanganui River Road was constructed.
The home of Ngāti Pāmoana, Koriniti is a large and beautiful marae, and features two traditional wharepuni (Poutama and Te Waiherehere) as well as a small museum, “Hikurangi”.Poutama was moved from a site upriver to its current location. One of three ancestral houses here, Te Waiherehere is a smaller version of one built in 1845, and has tukutuku panels designed by the late Cliff Whiting, a New Zealand Māori artist, heritage advocate and teacher.
The Kawana Flour Mill was constructed in 1854. It is now a great example of a rebuilt water-power mill, and features its original water wheel and grinding stones. It was first built with the help of Governor Grey to grind the wheat grown by local farmers and was one of several built in the Whanganui River valley in the 19th century. Now a museum, there is also a restored miller’s colonial style cottage alongside the mill. Drinking water and a toilet is available here.
Hiruhārama was originally called Patiarero and was one of the biggest settlements on the Whanganui River in the 1840’s with several hundred Ngāti Hau inhabitants of the iwi Te Āti Haunui a Pāpārangi.
The settlement is home to a century-old Catholic church and convent built in the 1890s, when Suzanne Aubert (known as Mother Mary Joseph) established the congregation of the Sisters of Compassion. The church features a beautifully carved altar of Māori design and kōwhaiwhai panels adorn the walls. The impact and history of the mission and its founder Mother Aubert in the Whanganui region is immense, and details of this history can be found in the convent.
In 1970, Hiruhārama also became the location of poet James K Baxter’s community, which closed soon after his death in 1972. One of his last collections is named “Jerusalem sonnets”, describing some of his daily life at the commune.
Insider tip: It is possible to stay at the Convent in the dormitory, however bookings are essential.
For a quick overview of what’s available and to book online, use our Booking.com accommodation widget.
For expert local advice or further help on your stay, contact our Whanganui i-SITE visitor centre or browse our guides on Where to stay.
Register to gain access to the Discover Whanganui resource hub.