Special Feature: Fallow herds with the North Island’s best trophy potential

The largest lowland forest in the North Island spreads across the Whanganui National Park, straddling the Whanganui River.

The upper reaches of this river – the longest navigable waterway in New Zealand, are cloaked in dense rainforest on razor back ridges and deep valleys largely devoid of man-made tracks. To the west is an endless skyline of bush ridges across the Matemateonga Range and to the east is equally inhospitable bush country plunging into the Mangawhero and Whangehu river catchments.

Red deer are the predominant game species and generally thrive throughout the region. Moderate to high densities occur up the isolated creek heads on tributary rivers, where jet boat and helicopter access is difficult.

Fallow deer range across large areas on either side of the Whanganui River, especially where farmers of a bygone era have been forced to abandon their holdings, which are slowly regenerating into native bush. The mix of bush, manuka scrub, fern and lush grassy swards in these old farm blocks is heaven for the small, elusive fallow, which have the luxury of good grazing land interspersed with ample ground cover.

Wild pigs are quite numerous in the Whanganui River catchment due to its relative isolation. They prefer the marginal lands just like the fallow deer, so a hunter can inadvertently disturb a resting mob while patiently stalking a deer – a double whammy of excitement and surprise.

Goats are present in high numbers along the main river margins and in scattered groups elsewhere. Periodic jet boat hunting culls temporarily restrain the resident herds along the Whanganui riverbanks.

Mallard and grey ducks are quite numerous in the Waimarino area between the Retaruke and Mangawhero rivers, especially on farm ponds. This is a great game bird area renowned for its paradise shelducks and Canada geese. The coastal sand dunes, pine plantations and bush-lined streams support good populations of pheasant and California quail.

Guided fair chase fallow stag, red stag and sambar hunts on private land can be organised in Wanganui. Heli transport is available to remote areas of the Kaimanawas, Kawekas and Ruahines from Wanganui, Taihape and Raetihi.