Whanganui National Park – Guide for Backpackers
A real insight to the New Zealand countryside.
Made up of dense native bush lining New Zealand’s longest navigable river, Whanganui is NZ’s 11th national park. Old relics from the early farming days and evidence of Maori tribal inhabitants all that remain in the Whanganui National Park which has now been taken over by nature once again. Find out how you can enjoy this wilderness environment in this Whanganui guide for backpackers.
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 with operators. 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
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. Access is by canoe on the Whanganui Journey (see below) or with a jet boat operator. Alternatively, it is a two-day hike from Whakahoro.
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 adrenaline 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.
Plus, check out Guide to the Whanganui Journey for more information.
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.
For a more in-depth look at mountain biking trails in Whanganui, see some mentioned in Mountain Biking in Ruapehu.
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.
Learn more about hunting and conservation in Hunting in New Zealand and How to Volunteer for the Department of Conservation of New Zealand.
Owhango and Raurimu
The two small settlements of Raurimu and Owhango 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.
National Park and Ohakune
Other settlements close to the Whanganui National Park are National Park Village and Ohakune. Operators here offer shuttles to popular tracks, mountain bike hire, canoe hire and more. What’s more there’s backpacker accommodation to take your mind of the expense of accommodation.
National Park Village and Ohakune are also in close proximity to the Tongariro National Park activities and attractions. Find out more in Tongariro National Park – Guide for Backpackers. We also list available backpacker accommodation in 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Ohakune and 6 Best Backpacker Hostels in National Park Village and Whakapapa.
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
Where to stay in the Whanganui region?
- Blue Duck Station, Whakahoro
- National Park Backpackers, National Park Village
- Ski Haus, National Park Village
- Howard’s Mountain Lodge, National Park Village
- Skotel Alpine Resort, Whakapapa Village
- The Crossing Backpackers, Erua
- Station Lodge, Ohakune
- Ohakune Central Backpackers, Ohakune
- LKNZ Lodge, Ohakune
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