The Best Whanganui National Park Experiences
You will have seen mind-blowing photos of the deep wilderness and towering river gorges surrounding the Whanganui River, but how can you experience the Whanganui National Park for yourself? The Whanganui National Park is one of the least-accessible national parks in New Zealand, usually making it an attraction for the more adventurous. However, with this list of things to do in the Whanganui National Park, you’ll find an experience to suit any budget and any fitness!
The Whanganui National Park is not only a place to experience the wilderness, but the park is also steeped in history as the Whanganui River has been used as like a main transport route through the North Island for centuries. Evidence of this Maori and European history can be seen throughout the park, the most popular feature being The Bridge to Nowhere. Find out more about the Whanganui National Park in our Whanganui National Park – Guide for Backpackers.
1. Canoe on The Whanganui Journey
One of the Great Walks of New Zealand, the Whanganui Journey but a canoe trip down the most scenic stretch of the Whanganui River! Hire a canoe and enjoy a mix of countryside valleys, towering river gorges steeped in thick native forest and the reflective waters of the majestic Whanganui River. Stay at huts or campsites alongside the river in a mind-blowing river valley.
Location: The 5-day trip from starts from Taumarunui to Pipiriki (145km) and the 3-day trip starts from Whakahoro to Pipiriki (87km). Transport and canoe hire services operate in Pipiriki, Ohakune or Taumarunui.
2. Bike the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail
Another popular way to see the very best of the Whanganui National Park on a multi-day excursion is via the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail. The Mountains to Sea Trail starts on the flanks of Mt Ruapehu, then takes a 3-5 day journey following the Whanganui River on its journey to the Tasman Sea in the city of Whanganui. The trail takes you right through the Whanganui National Park, with a 31km jet boat ride in the middle to link up the cycle trail.
Location: For the whole trail, start from Turoa on Mt Ruapehu in Ohakune. Bike hire and transport can be organised in Ohakune. Alternatively, there are sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail you can do in the Whanganui National Park to make a shorter trip or day-ride. Check out the Manapurua Track below.
3. Hike or Bike the Mangapurua Track
A great day or 2-day walking or biking section of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail into the majestic Whanganui National Park is along the Mangapurua Track. The 36km track starts with an uphill climb to the Mangapurua Trig before winding down into the Whanganui National Park. Ride or hike alongside sheer bluff faces, across deep ravines and to the iconic Bridge to Nowhere. See signs of settlements that used to occupy these valleys before they were reclaimed by the forest. The track ends at the Mangapurua Landing on the side of the Whanganui River so most return to civilisation via jet boat, rather than returning on the track. This must be booked in advance. Allow 5-7 hours if biking on this grade 3 trail. Otherwise, hikers allow 10 hours.
Location: Start from the end of Ruatiti Road, 30km northwest of Raetihi.
4. Hike or Bike the Kaiwhakauka Track
Another day to 2-day trip option for accessing the Bridge to Nowhere is along the 41km Kaiwhakauka Track. This shared mountain biking (grade 4) and hiking trail ventures across farmland and through native forest on a road that used to provide access for horse-drawn carts to the Mangapurua Valley. The ride takes about 5-7 hours to complete, or hiking takes around 13 hours at a leisurely stroll. The track ends at the Mangapurua Landing, where you will need to be picked up by an arranged jet boat service.
Location: Starts at the end of Oio Road, Whakahoro. 45km west of State Highway 4 near Owhango.
5. Take a Jet Boat Tour to the Bridge to Nowhere
You don’t have to hike for hours to see the Whanganui National Park’s most iconic feature. Jet boat tours operate from Pipiriki or Taumarunui taking you on a scenic river journey giving you the highlights of the Whanganui National Park all in one day! The jet boat tour will take you to the Mangapurua Landing where it’s just a 45-minute one-way walk to The Bridge to Nowhere.
Location: Take a tour from either Pipiriki or with Forgotten World Jet in Taumarunui.
6. See the Kaiwhakauka Waterfall
This 3-hour return walk takes you through stunning native forest to a picturesque waterfall tumbling down the Kaiwhakauka Stream. Look out for the rare blue duck (whio) that features on the NZ$10 note. The track is mainly flat but sometimes muddy.
Location: Starts at the end of Oio Road, Whakahoro, at Blue Duck Station. 45km west of State Highway 4 near Owhango.
7. Walk the Atene Viewpoint & Skyline Track
One of the most accessible walks in the Whanganui National Park is the Atene Viewpoint Track (1-2 hours return) and Atene Skyline Track (6-8 hours return). Situated just off the Whanganui River Road about 40-minutes drive from Whanganui city, the Atene Viewpoint provides amazing views of the river, valley and mountains of the Whanganui National Park. The Atene Skyline Track is a longer tramping track with a campsite midway. For more amazing sights along the Whanganui River Road, see 9 Must-Do Stops on the Whanganui River Road.
Location: About 40km south of Pipiriki on the Whanganui River Road.
8. Tramp the Matemateaonga Track
Another multi-day hiking trail, this time from the Taranaki-side of the Whanganui National Park is down the Matemateaonga Track. The track is an old Maori trail between Taranaki and the Whanganui River where you will penetrate deep in the lesser-known wilderness of the national park. While the whole track takes 3-5 days to complete one way (jet boat transport will need to be arranged at the end of the track), a popular day option is a 3-hour return from the Kohi Saddle to the Omaru Hut.
Location: 24km from Strathmore near Stratford, Taranaki. Follow the Upper Mangaehu Road.
9. Walk the Te Maire Loop Track
This easy 2-hour loop track is another easily accessible track, this time from Taumarunui. Walk through an excellent example of native forest that once covered much of the North Island.
Location: From Taumarunui, take State Highway 43 (Forgotten World Highway) and turn off at Paparoa Road, then shortly after, take the Te Maire Valley Road where the track is about 700m down this road.
10. Go Hunting in the National Park
Hunting is a popular activity for locals in the Whanganui National Park wanting to hunt for fallow and red deer, pigs and goats. A permit is needed to hunt in the Whanganui National Park, as well as a permit to have a firearm. International visitors or “non-hunters” can get in on the action by joining one of the activity providers in the area. Check out our Whanganui National Park – Guide for Backpackers for more information. Plus, learn more about hunting in New Zealand here.
Location: Whanganui National Park.