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Whanganui National Park – Guide for Backpackers

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A real insight to the New Zealand countryside.

Made up of dense native bush, Whanganui is NZ’s 11th national park. Its remote forest location is home to native bird species, the brown kiwi and blue duck/whio, where visitors can help in the conservation effort by taking part in some hunting. It is the picturesque Whanganui River with its steep banks that attract backpackers to hire a kayak and take a trip on the water. Cyclists enjoy the network of bike trails, often coming across the Bridge to Nowhere – mysterious isn’t it?

Things you can’t miss in Whanganui

  • Visit the historic Bridge to Nowhere.
  • Do part or all of the Whanganui Journey.
  • Explore the native bush by bike.
  • Do a spot of hunting.
  • Get a photo with the driftwood T-rex.
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The bridge to nowhere

It is easy to see why this bridge was abandoned, as it is not the most accessible of bridges. This out-of-place structure is what remains of a plan to turn the wild terrain of the Whanganui National Park into farmland. The Great Depression meant the government could no longer afford to maintain the treacherous Mangapurua Track leading to the bridge. With no access, the farmers and their families left the area and the Bridge to Nowhere behind.

To get to the Bridge to Nowhere walk (a 1h30min return walk), take a 40min walk from Mangapurua Landing. Alternatively, it is a 2 day hike from Whakahoro.

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The whanganui Journey

The only Great Walk of New Zealand that is easy on the legs! There is hardly any walking involved as the “Great Walk” is actually gliding down the Whanganui River by canoe or kayak. This is a fun way to access the remote region. Along the way you have the option of a cultural experience by staying at a marae (Maori meeting house). There are 1-day options along the 145km journey by jet boat. Get the adrenalin going by hitting the rapids between Taumarunui and Ohinepane.

Find out more about booking accommodation for a Great Walk here: Guide to the 9 Great Walks of New Zealand.

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Biking in the Whanganui National Park

Another popular way to access the Whanganui National Park is by bike. The Forgotten Word Highway is a 180km bike trail along the Whanganui River and on tracks dense with sheep, goats and cattle. The Whanganui National Park is also part of the Mountain to Sea/Nga Ara Tuhono bike trail. The Mangapurua or Kaiwhakauka Tracks lead to the Bridge to Nowhere.

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Conservation and hunting

Protecting the native plant and animal species is an important part of conservation in Whanganui. The national park holds the largest population of brown kiwi and blue duck/whio. This is a duck with lips, people, so we have to save it! As well as traps for rats and stoats, which are predators to the native birds, hunting goats is a method of preserving native bush. Hunting is an activity to really experience the Kiwi country life. Wanganui Safaris and Blue Duck Station offer hunting tours to help conservation and protect their farmland and livestock from wild boars. Blue Duck Station is also a highly praised backpacker and WWOOFing destination in Whakahoro.

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Owhango and Raurimu

The 2 small settlements are gateways to the north of the Whanganui National Park. A cool thing to note about Owhango is that the 39 South Circle of Latitude runs right through it – there is a little sign to mark it. Raurimu is famous for the railway line Raurimu Spiral, which overcomes super steep slopes by spiralling. Finally, a good picture opportunity is with the the giant driftwood sculptures such as a T-rex and kiwi.

If you have more time in Whanganui National Park…

  • Go on a horse trek.
  • Get a sheep selfie.
  • Do some trout fishing on the Retaruke River.
  • Take a farm tour to experience New Zealand farm life.
  • Swim in the Ohinetonga lagoon.
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