Paddling on the Whanganui River

Image: Andrew Bain | ©

Introduction

Explore the scenic beauty paddling up the Whanganui River, a landscape of remote hills and bush clad valleys.

Highlights


All drone use must be authorised by DOC

A concession is required to fly a drone on any public conservation land - see Recreational drone use and Commercial drone use for more information.


 

  • Drift down the Wanganui River in a canoe or kayak.

  • Take a break from the water on a short walk to the Bridge to Nowhere.

  • Be immersed in culture and history with a unique stay at Tieke Kainga, the only DOC hut that is also used as a marae.

Watch videos of the Whanganui Journey


2018/2019 bookings

Bookings are open for trips from 1 October 2018 - 30 April 2019.

Video

Track overview

87 or 145 km one way

Kayaking and canoeing

3 or 5 days

Seasonal restrictions

In the Great Walks season (1 October 2018 - 30 April 2019):

  • Bookings are required for huts and campsites

Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2018 - 30 September 2018):

  • Bookings are not required - huts and campsites are first come, first served

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

Trip options

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

Distances between campsites and huts

Taumarunui to Whakahoro

Distance: 57km

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

Distance: 37.5km

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

Distance: 29km

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.

Alternative accommodation option: For a more secluded night’s sleep, stay at Puketotara Hut. Opposite Tieke Kainga, this 1 hr and 30 min track takes you high up on the Matemateaonga Range where you will spend the night in podocarp splendour, with expansive views of the Whanganui River, the bush clad hills of Whanganui National Park and the volcanoes of the Central Plateau.

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

Distance: 21.5km

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.

Map of the Whanganui Journey 

Fees and bookings

Seasons

In the Great Walks season (1 October 2018 - 30 April 2019):

  • huts and campsites must be booked in advance
  • fees are paid at the time of booking.

Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2018 - 30 September 2018):

  • huts and campsites are first come, first served
  • fees are paid with a Backcountry Hut Pass or Hut Tickets.

Fees

Fees are charged per person, per night to stay in huts or campsites on the Whanganui Journey. There are no fees for entry into Whanganui National Park.

Whanganui Journey fees
  Great Walks season Outside the Great Walks season
Adults
(18+ years)
Child / Youth
(0 - 17 years) 
Adults
(18+ years)
Child / Youth
(0 - 17 years)
Hut $32 Free $15 Free
Campsite

$20

Free Free
(except Ohinepane and Whakahoro which are $8 drive-in campsites)
Free
(except Ohinepane and Whakahoro which are $4 drive-in campsites)

Note there is a maximum number of nights you can stay:

  • Great Walks season: maximum 2 nights at huts and campsites
  • Outside the Great Walks season: maximum 3 nights at huts, 5 nights at campsites
Discounts

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.

What to book

You need to book huts and/or campsites if you're doing the Whanganui Journey in the Great Walks season. Bookings are not required outside the Great Walks season.

How to book


2018/2019 bookings

Bookings are open for trips from 1 October 2018 - 30 April 2019.

Book huts / campsites online or contact a DOC visitor centre or a local i-SITE for personal assistance. Note:

  • Bookings are required for children and/or youth even though it's free for them to stay.
  • If you’re booking campsites, you’ll need to know the number of people in your group as well as the number of tent sites required.

Terms and Conditions

Read the booking terms and conditions (scroll to the bottom to find the Terms and Conditions link) for general information, age ranges, prices, discounts, penalty rates and the alterations and cancellations policy. Bookings not meeting the terms and conditions will be treated as invalid and cancelled.

Booking on behalf of others

Guided groups

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: agents@doc.govt.nz 

Getting there

Map with location of the Whanganui Journey.
Location of the Whanganui Journey

Traditional entry or exit points for the Whanganui Journey are off SH4 at:

  • Taumarunui
  • 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.

Plan and prepare

The 145 km 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.

Once you are on the river below Whakahoro there is no turning back and no place to buy anything you may have forgotten.

Make sure you are properly equipped and well prepared. The weather in the Whanganui National Park is changeable and can be cold, wet and windy, even in summer. Check at a visitor centre for information on weather and river conditions before you start.

The Whanganui River passes through isolated and rugged country and is a physically demanding journey. It should only be undertaken by people in good physical condition and fitness. Once on the river, emergency communication is available only at John Coull Hut and Tieke Kainga and there is only road access to the river at Whakahoro and Pipiriki.

Don’t canoe the river when water levels are predicted to rise or it’s in flood. If you capsize you may not be able to get back in, or swim to the river’s edge. Always pull your canoe up high on the bank and tie it to something secure. It may not be raining on the river, but rain elsewhere in the large catchment can cause the river to rise several metres overnight. 

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

On the river

  • The river is not part of Whanganui National Park.
  • When a jet boat approaches, canoeists should move to the right. If close to the left, stay there rather than paddle across the path of an approaching boat. To minimise the effect of the wake, turn at right angles to it.
  • Canoeists should stop and even back-paddle to allow jet boats to overtake and get clear as quickly as possible.
  • Jet boats passing canoes travelling in the opposite direction should either wait or barge slowly forward until clear of the canoes. Canoeists in this situation should keep paddling forward. Jet boats moving slowly are much less manoeuvrable and canoeists should not expect them to be able to get out of the way quickly.
  • Jet boats in rapids are unable to slow down or stop.
  • Remember: Craft travelling up river give way to craft travelling down river.

To help everyone enjoy the Journey, there are some basic rules:

  • Many sites are of high cultural significance - please respect them.
  • Camping is permitted only at designated camp sites.
  • No dogs or other animals are permitted.
  • No open fires - observe fire restrictions.
  • Native plants and animals must not be disturbed, destroyed or removed.
  • All rubbish must be carried out of the park.
  • No hunting.
  • Boil, filter or treat water if you doubt its purity.
  • Use the toilets provided.
  • Keep soap and detergents out of waterways.
  • When using huts and campsites please consider others.
  • Ensure your booking ticket is with you at all times.

Know before you go

Your safety is your responsibility. To have a great time in the outdoors, know before you go the five simple rules of the Outdoor Safety Code to help you stay safe:

  1. Plan your trip
  2. Tell someone
  3. Be aware of the weather
  4. Know your limits
  5. Take sufficient supplies

1. Plan your trip

Seek local knowledge, plan your route and the amount of time you expect it to take.

It's important to plan, prepare and equip yourself well. Have the right gear and skills required for the trip and always check the latest information about facilities you plan to use, and local track and weather conditions.

On the Whanganui Journey, be aware that:

  • Once on the river, emergency communication is available only at John Coull Hut and Tieke Kainga, and there is only road access to the river at Whakahoro and Pipiriki.
  • Cellphones do not work on the Whanganui Journey.

More information:

Check for alerts at the top of Whanganui Journey page, or contact:

Whanganui Office
Phone:   +64 6 349 2100
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   whanganui@doc.govt.nz
Address:   34-36 Taupo Quay
Whanganui 4500
Postal Address:   Private Bag 3016
Whanganui 4540
 

2. Tell someone

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

3. Be aware of the weather

New Zealand's weather can be highly unpredictable - expect weather changes and be prepared for them.

Hypothermia

Watch for symptoms: people may shiver, be clumsy, confused, haveslurred speech, and deny they have a problem.

Treatment: immediately make or find shelter; get the person intowarm, dry clothing, put them into a sleeping bag, give them warm,sweet drinks, monitor them and seek immediate medical help.

Heat exhaustion

This can be serious and is usually caused by physical activity in a hot environment and not drinking enough water.

Prevention: carry and drink water regularly.

Watch for symptoms: headaches, thirst, weakness, dizziness, nauseaor vomiting.

Treatment: move to a cool shaded area to rest, remove excessclothing and give water to drink.

On the Whanganui Journey, be aware that:

  • Heavy rain and flooding can occur at any time of year on the Whanganui River and the weather can change quickly. You will need to be prepared for rain, cold and windy conditions.
  • Don’t canoe the river when water levels are predicted to rise or it is in flood - you won't be charged for staying an extra night at a campsite or hut due to high river levels. If you capsize, you may not be able to get back in, or swim to the river’s edge.
  • Canoeing into the wind can be demanding – allow extra travelling time between stopovers in windy conditions.
  • Always pull your canoe up high on the bank and tie it to something secure. It may not be raining on the river, but rain elsewhere in the large catchment can cause the river to rise several metres overnight.
  • Wasps are a known hazard and are particularly common from January until May. Carry antihistamine if you are allergic to their stings

More information:

Check the Whanganui rural area weather forecast of the MetService website.

4. Know your limits

Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience.

On the Whanganui Journey, be aware that:

  • The trip should only be undertaken by people in good physical condition and fitness - once you're on the river below Whakahoro, there is no turning back.

5. Take sufficient supplies

You must be self sufficient: be sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency food for the worst-case scenario.

Take an appropriate means of communication such as a personal locator beacon. Personal locator beacons provide increased personal safety. You can rent them from various outlets, check details on the Rescue Co-ordination Centre NZ website

On the Whanganui Journey, be aware that:

  • Food and drinks are not available for purchase at huts and campsites.
  • There is no cellphone coverage on the Whanganui Journey.

More information:

For a comprehensive gear list, read New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association’s Guide to the Whanganui River.

What to take

Huts on the Whanganui Journey don't have toilet paper. Remember to take this with you.

Personal equipment

  • Sleeping bag (3–4 season)
  • Tent (even if staying in a hut)
  • First aid kit (including insect repellent, sunscreen, blisterkit, personal medication e.g. antihistamine for allergy towasp stings)
  • Survival kit (survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil, high energy snack food)
  • Safety equipment relevant to the time of year (eg map, compass)
  • Drink bottle (1-2 litre capacity)
  • Eating and cooking utensils (knife, fork, spoon, plate, cup, pot/pan/billy, cleaning kit, tea towel)
  • Matches or lighter in waterproof container
  • Toiletries
  • Torch/flashlight and spare batteries
  • Toilet paper
  • Rubbish bag
  • Booking confirmation letter and ID
Specialist equipment
  • Life-jacket
  • Kayak or Canadian canoe
  • Paddle/s (include a spare)
  • Plastic drums (or equivalent) for storing food, dry clothes and personal equipment
  • Dry bags
  • A copy of the New Zealand Canoe Association’s Guide to the Whanganui River (optional)

These items can be hired as a package from local suppliers.

If you're camping
  • Tent
  • Sleeping mat
Optional
  • Camera
  • Ear plugs for communual bunkrooms
  • Swimwear
  • Sandals or aqua shoes for walking in water

Clothing

  • For multi-day walking you'll need at least one set of clothes to walk in and another dry set to change into at night. Walking boots or firm footwear (should be comfortable and well broken in)
  • Socks (wool or polypropylene)
  • Shorts (quick dry material)
  • Shirt (wool or polypropylene)
  • Under layers, top and bottom (wool or polypropylene)
  • Mid-layers (wool or polar fleece)
  • Raincoat (waterproof, windproof with hood)
  • Overtrousers (wind and water proof)
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Sunhat and sunglasses
  • Extra socks, underwear, shirt/lightweight jersey
Optional
  • Lightweight shoes for inside the huts
Food

You can't buy food on the Whanganui Journey.

Bring food that is lightweight, fast cooking and high in energy value. For example:

  • Breakfast: cereal/porridge/oats, firm bread, honey or other spreads
  • Lunch: cracker biscuits, cheese, salami, jam/jelly, fruit
  • Dinner: instant soup, pasta or rice, dried vegetables or fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze-dried) meals.

You'll also need water, snacks, biscuits, muesli bars, tea or coffee, powdered fruit drinks and emergency food in case of any delays on your trip.

Download a checklist 

Equipment rental

Guided options

Commercial operators provide a range of guided options with gear included:

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.

Contacts

To book the Whanganui Journey or for more information contact:

Ruapehu i-SITE Visitor Information Centre
Phone:   +64 6 385 8427
Email:   Ohakune-VC@doc.govt.nz
Address:   54 Clyde Street
Ohakune 4625
Postal Address:   54 Clyde Street
Ohakune 4625
Whanganui Office
Phone:   +64 6 349 2100
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   whanganui@doc.govt.nz
Address:   34-36 Taupo Quay
Whanganui 4500
Postal Address:   Private Bag 3016
Whanganui 4540

Other Whanganui Journey booking agents:

Whanganui i-SITE Visitor Information Centre
Phone: +64 6 349 0508
Address: 31 Taupo Quay
Whanganui
Email: info@wanganui.govt.nz

Taumarunui i-SITE Visitor Information Centre
Phone: +64 7 895 7494
Address: Railway Station
Taumarunui
Email: Taumarunui.vic@xtra.co.nz

Adrift Outdoors
Phone: +64 7 892 2751
Email: stewart@adriftnz.co.nz

Blazing Paddles LTD
Phone: +64 7 895 5261
Email: judithe@blazingpaddles.co.nz

Canoe Safaris
Phone: +64 6 385 9237
Email: info@canoesafaris.co.nz

Taumarunui Canoe Hire and Jet Boat Tours
Phone: +64 7 895 7483
Email: tmncanoehire@xtra.co.nz

Whanganui River Canoes
Phone: 0800 40 88 88
Email: info@whanganuirivercanoes.co.nz

Yeti Tours
Phone:0800 322 388
Email: yeti.tours@xtra.co.nz

Contacts

Ruapehu i-SITE Visitor Information Centre
Phone:   +64 6 385 8427
Email:   Ohakune-VC@doc.govt.nz
Address:   54 Clyde Street
Ohakune 4625
Postal Address:   54 Clyde Street
Ohakune 4625
Whanganui Office
Phone:   +64 6 349 2100
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   whanganui@doc.govt.nz
Address:   34-36 Taupo Quay
Whanganui 4500
Postal Address:   Private Bag 3016
Whanganui 4540
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