Whanganui National Park
The Whanganui National Park covers one of the largest areas of relatively untouched bushland anywhere on North Island. The Wanganui River, which flows through the park, springs from the snows of the Tongariro National Park in the heart of the country. It winds its way 300 kilometers through hills and forests until it reaches the west coast and the Tasman Sea. This broad river, subject of many legends, first served the Maori and then the European settlers as an important waterway to the heart of North Island.
The Wanganui has become a very popular place to recover from modern life. Hundreds of day-trippers rent canoes or take organized boat rides from Taumaranui along the middle stretch of river, which meanders through pristine bushland and ancient pa sites. There are various stops during the trip which allow you to visit places like Pipiriki, a major port of call during the steamboat days. Such trips are more enjoyable during the summer months, as it can get quite damp and cold in the winter. Not only is Wanganui an El Dorado for trout fishers, an abundance of brown trout and rainbow trout can also be found in many rivers throughout the country.
There are few “well-beaten” trails in this relatively new park. But the park’s two main trails through the lush podocarpus forests are well-worth discovering. The Matemateonga Track, taking you over ancient Maori trails from Whanganui as far as the province of East Taranaki, is suitable for hikes lasting two or four days. At the beginning of these clearly-marked trails with their good huts – and at your final destination – you have to provide for your own transportation. If you wish to start out from the Wanganui River, you will have to be taken there or picked up by a jet boat. Detailed information can be obtained from the Park Administration Office in Wanganui or Taumaranui.
The second hiking trip of three or four days duration takes you along the Mangapurua-Kaiwhakaauka Track, which connects the two tributaries of the Wanganui River. The best time for hiking is during late summer and autumn when the bushland is usually dry and the weather conditions predictable. It is another 43 km from Taumarunui to National Park, gateway to the Tongariro National Park.
If you remain on Highway 3 at the Eight Mile Junction, you will reach the coast at Awakino. From this point, the drive takes you along the Tasman Sea, towards the west. Another stop is just before Urenui (Sir Peter Bucks’ famous monument is now in sight), and afterwards you should look straight ahead until Mount Taranaki suddenly appears on the horizon. The city couldn’t wish for a more beautiful landmark, especially when the volcano is covered with snow during the winter months. The old name of Mount Egmont has been replaced by the Maori name of Taranaki.