Cut loose in a canoe or ‘boot it’ deep into the interior of the largest tract of primeval lowland forest in the North Island.
The Whanganui National Park is based around New Zealand’s longest navigable river, the Whanganui, which rises on Mt Tongariro and runs 329 km to the Tasman Sea. The upper reaches are wrapped in a dense mantle of forest, spread over an endless succession of razorback ridges that are largely road less and trackless. This is what makes ‘exploration’ by canoe or on foot so appealing to outdoor adventurers. A float trip down the river from Taumaranui to Pipiriki takes you through wild rapids and majestic river gorges, with moss, ferns and ‘goblin’ forest clinging onto sheer walls laced with waterfalls. An ‘expedition’ on foot along ancient Maori trails penetrates so deep into the forest that transport out usually involves a boat rendezvous at a point where the track meets the river.
The Matemateaonga Walkway is one of New Zealand’s best tramps. The 42 km track starts inland from New Plymouth and follows an old settler’s dray road and Maori trails to reach to Whanganui River, staying in 5 huts along the way. The Mangapurua Track runs 40 km between Whakahoro and Mangapurua Landing on the river, taking 3 to 4 days. The broadleaf/podocarp forest in the park contains varied bird life including fantail, tui, bellbird, robin and grey warbler. The little brown kiwi can sometimes be heard at night. Commercial jet boat trips on the river take in many scenic and historic sites. The most popular run is from Pipiriki to the ‘Bridge To Nowhere’, a monument in the wilderness to a pioneering farm settlement that was abandoned.
The Whanganui region is rich in Maori and colonial history. The river was once the only route into the interior and part of the Wellington to Auckland ‘highway’. History is part of the park experience, and the gateway visitor centres at Taumaranui and Pipiriki give you a taste of this in their displays.
Camp in a bush clearing or riverside terrace and savour that special feeling of being completely remote from civilization.