Canoes departing from John Coull Hut,
The 145 kilometre river journey from Taumarunui to Pipiriki takes an average 5 days to complete by canoe. A shorter 3 day journey from Whakahoro to Pipiriki is also possible.
For a 5 day / 4 night trip:
- Day 1 and 2 - Taumarunui to Whakahoro
- Day 3 - Whakahoro to John Coull Hut
- Day 4 - John Coull Hut to Tīeke Kāinga
- Day 5 - Tīeke Kāinga to Pīpīriki
Guided options are available. Find commercial operators that provide services to the Whanganui Journey
Distances between campsites and huts
Taumarunui to Whakahoro
Access points are at Ngāhuinga (Cherry Grove) in Taumarunui or further downstream at Ōhinepane (accessed from River Road SH43).
Travelling the upper reaches of the Whanganui River, you’ll pass through a mixture of farmland and patches of native bush. You’ll be in for some excitement as you shoot down rapids on this section of the river. Camp beside the river at Ōhinepane, Poukaria or Maharanui campsites. From here, you get the feeling of venturing into the heart of a rich and rugged landscape.
Whakahoro to John Coull Hut
Many begin their river journey here—the scenic middle reaches of the river, featuring numerous waterfalls after heavy rain. Past Mangapapa Campsite, take a long loop around the Kirikiriroa Peninsula, pass the Tarepokiore (whirlpool) rapid and then the large overhang known as Tamatea’s Cave. Please do not enter the cave as it is wāhi tapu (a sacred place). Ōtaihanga Reach leads you to your overnight stop at John Coull and Campsite and John Coull Campsite.
You may see long-tailed bats fluttering overhead at dusk.
John Coull Hut to Tīeke Kāinga
On this section, follow the river as it meanders through bush-covered hills, passing the mouths of the Tāngārākau and Whangamōmona rivers where they join the Whanganui. Perched high above the river, Manga-wai-iti is an attractive spot to camp or stop for lunch.
Continue your trip downstream to Tīeke Kāinga where you can examine the intricately carved pou whenua and learn about the history of Tīeke and the tikanga (protocol) of the marae.
Side trip: Bridge to Nowhere
At Mangapurua Landing, where the old riverboats used to tie up, hop out of your canoe and take the 40-minute (one way) Bridge to Nowhere Walk to this poignant reminder of the Mangapurua Valley farm settlement, carved out of the bush and then abandoned between the two World Wars. Look out for cyclists—the track is also part of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail.
Tīeke Kāinga to Pīpīriki
You’ll pass through the scenic gorge of the Manganui o te Ao River where it enters the Whanganui after its journey from the slopes of Mount Ruapehu. Ngāporo and Autapu rapids can provide plenty of excitement and perhaps a cool dip on a hot day. More exotic trees and farmland indicate you are getting close to Pīpīriki. Pass an eel weir on your left, shoot the Paparoa rapid and you will see the boat ramp below Pīpīriki village up ahead.
Fees and bookings
2014/2015 Great Walks season: 1 October 2014 - 30 April 2015
- In the Great Walks season: huts and campsites must be booked in advance. Fees are paid at the time of booking.
- Outside the Great Walks season: huts and campsites are first come, first served. Fees are paid with a Backcountry Hut Pass or Hut Tickets.
Fees are charged per person, per night to stay in huts or campsites on the Whanganui Journey. There are no fees for park entry.
Whanganui Journey fees
|Facility Type ||Peak season||
(except Ohinepane and Whakahoro which are $10 drive-in campsites)
- Maximum stay periods apply. Peak: maximum 2 nights at huts and campsites. Off-peak: maximum 3 nights at huts, 5 nights at campsites.
A 10% discount is available to members, staff and instructors of the following organisations, who also hold a valid 12 month Backcountry Hut Pass: NZ Mountain Safety Council; NZ Federated Mountain Clubs; NZ Deer Stalkers Association; NZ Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR); Scouts New Zealand; GirlGuiding NZ.
Discounts are not available online. To receive the discount we need to sight your membership card and Backcountry Hut Pass, so please visit a DOC visitor centre in person. If you get a discount you won't be charged a booking fee.
Bookings to 30 April 2015 now open
Book the Whanganui Journey online
Terms and conditions
Read the Booking Terms and Conditions for general information, age ranges, prices, discounts, penalty rates and the alterations and cancellations policies. Bookings not meeting the terms and conditions will be treated as invalid and cancelled.
Booking Great Walks on behalf of others
To operate a commercial activity in an area managed by the Department of Conservation, you will need to apply for a concession (an official permit), in addition to any bookings you would need to make. Read more about concessions
Booking on behalf of others
To make multiple bookings for facilities/services on behalf of customers, you must obtain permission or an agent agreement from the Department of Conservation. To do this, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Location of the Whanganui Journey
Traditional entry or exit points for the Whanganui Journey are off SH4 at:
- Ōhinepane - access from Taumarunui
- Whakahoro - access from Raurimu or Ōwhango
- Pīpīriki access from Raetihi or Whanganui
Equipment hire, services, food and transport can be found in Taumarunui, Whanganui, Raetihi, Ōhakune and National Park Village. Find commercial operators that provide services for the Whanganui Journey
What to take
Personal equipment you will need includes:
- a life-jacket
- sleeping bag
- waterproof clothing
- warm woollen or pile clothing
- changes of clothing and shoes
- sufficient food and drink for the journey plus an extra day's supply
- sun-block, sunglasses, sunhat and a warm hat.
- toilet paper
Equipment you will need as a group includes:
- cooking equipment
- a lighter
- first aid kit
- plastic drums (or equivalent) for food and dry clothes
- tents (spaces in huts may already be taken)
- a spare paddle, rope and string and spare plastic bags.
Take the New Zealand Canoe Association's Guide to the Whanganui River as a guide.
Nature and history
Nature and conservation
The land surrounding the river is only about one million years old. Formed of soft sandstone and mudstone (papa) from the ocean-bed, it has been eroded by water to form sharp ridges, deep gorges, sheer papa cliffs and waterfalls.
Over this land has grown a broadleaf-podocarp forest of rata, rewarewa, rimu, tawa, kamahi and kowhai with beech dominant on the ridge tops. Tree ferns and plants that cling to the steep riverbanks are very distinctive.
Bird species such as kereru (native pigeon), tiwaiwaka (fantail), tui, toutouwai (robin), riroriro (grey warbler) and miromiro (tomtit) are often seen and heard. The call of the brown kiwi can often be heard at night. The river is rich in eels, lamprey, species of galaxiid (a group of native fish species including whitebait and kokopu), koura (freshwater crayfish) and black flounder.
History and culture
Māori cultivated the sheltered terraces and built elaborate eel weirs along river channels where eels and lamprey were known to converge. Every bend of the river had kaitiaki (guardian) which controlled the mauri (life force) of that place. The mana (prestige) of a settlement depended upon the way in which food supplies and living areas were looked after for the benefit of the tribe and visitors.
Te Atihaunui, a Paparangi people, settled the valley from 1100 AD. In time the river became linked by a series of pa which were later called 'the plaited fibres of Hinengakau'.
The first major European influence arrived with missionaries in the 1840s. In 1891 a regular riverboat service began carrying passengers, mail and freight to the European settlers on the river between Taumarunui and Pipiriki and thriving tourist trade soon began between Mt Ruapehu and Wanganui.
The main riverboat trade ceased in the 1920s due to better roads, a main trunk railway and the development of other tourist attractions around the country, although riverboats were still operating in the late 1950s.