© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

A Wanganui Walkabout

© NZPocketGuide.com

59 Days on the Road

Wanganui: it’s got wild sand dunes, forest and beaches that make some killer offroading terrain. This is the introduction we got to Wanganui yesterday, but we have a feeling that there’s more to explore in the city where the Whanganui River meets the ocean. Our hosts at the 42b College House Backpackers, Matt and Verona, gave us a city centre map on arrival to the backpackers to point out some of the things to see in Wanganui city, so we are following their advice today!

The New Zealand backpacker breakfast experience

Before all that…. breakfast! Seriously, at this point, even our breakfast can tell a story of our travels in New Zealand so far: we bake some glorious unbaked croissants that we bought at the Yarrows Factory Store in the Bread Capital, and OMG they are delicious. Robin is making sounds of pure pleasure as he bites into the croissants, flaky pastry flying everywhere. Laura dares to ask the Frenchman: “Are they as good as in France?”

Robin is reminded who is for a second and bursts out with: “Oh no, no, these are f*cking disgusting compared to the ones I eat in France.”

Then there’s our honey, taken fresh from the beehives in the Ghost Town of Tarangakau when we went beekeeping. It’s pretty lush on toast! We are nowhere near to finishing it, so we have given some to Matt and Verona.

Wanga-wanga-what?! Wanganui is historic?

Map in hand, we are ready to take a Wanganui walkabout. We are about to graduate to becoming locals. The 42b College House is super conveniently placed a 3-minute walk from Victoria Avenue, the main street of Wanganui’s city centre. This street is definitely not what we expected.

Colourful historic buildings mostly from the early 1900s line Victoria Avenue, providing an opportunity at every pedestrian crossing. Decorative archways indicate where the crossings are. The buildings have all been well-maintained, which might help by the fact they are all occupied by shops, cafes, vintage “steampunk” stores, and, Robin’s favourite, op-shops. Again, we don’t find any noteworthy boardgames at the op-shops today, but, don’t worry, we look in every single one…

Whanganui Museum

Midway down Victoria Street is a huge square that catches our eye. Are we in a different country right now? These grand historic buildings look so out of place in such a new country but we are intrigued to go check them out. Up ahead is an art gallery with two symmetrical staircases working their way around a water fountain to get to the gallery. On the left side of the square is the Whanganui Museum, and on the right is the War Memorial Museum. As we see a sign saying: Free Entry on the Whanganui Museum, we know which one we are choosing.

Impressive Maori waka (canoes) fill the room up ahead, while relics from the early European settlers lines the walls in the other rooms… We are starting to see a theme here with these regional museums. (Exactly the same themes as the Waikato Museum and the Puke Ariki Museum). But each museum has a different way of presenting their finds from the European settlers. We like the mock-up of what the streets of Wanganui look liked back in the day. (But honestly, did you just see our description of Victoria Avenue? You don’t need a mock up of these buildings. They are old!) Unfortunately we are not allowed to take photos in the museum, so you’ll just have to go see the old vacuum cleaners from the early European settlers yourself.

The tunnel

Our mission now is to visit a water tower for a great vantage point to the city. At the end of Victoria Avenue and across the bridge crossing the huge Whanganui River, a river we jet boated on in Taumarunui by the way, we are faced with a decision: climb the steps to the bottom of the water tower or take the historic elevator costing $2 each. Ouch, $2! The elevator way has been recommended by a few people staying in our hostel, so we listen to their advice and take the lazy way. We don’t know how glad we are about to be…

To get to the elevator, we have a quest ahead of us. (Maybe an overstatement, but we’re rolling with it). This is indicated by the Maori poles carved with different faces lining the wall and leading us to a long straight tunnel. This tunnel is so much fun! We are shouting for the echoes, taking daft photos and having way too much fun in a tunnel for about 30 minutes. In that time, we only see two people. (Any more, and we probably would have been taken away to the crazy house).

An earthquake simulator and a tower

At the end of the tunnel, we call the lift, operated by a lady who takes our $2 for the ride of our lives. Historic elevator? It feels historic as we rattle our way to the higher street level and to the base of the water tower. It feels like an earthquake right here.

Now for the memorial tower! We are very familiar with these things, as we saw in Hawera, but this one only has a purpose for being a memorial and letting people climb up it (for free, might we add!) The views are well worth the relentless spiral staircase climb. We can see the awesome Whanganui River, the city, the hills, and all the way to South Beach where we had our 4×4 adventure yesterday.

As the finale of our Wanganui Walkabout, we take an easy stroll down steps, steps and more steps, so not to take the elevator again. We walk along a pretty riverside boardwalk then back to the hostel to eat the last of the Subway rolls we got for “cheap as” prices in the Bread Capital.

Tomorrow, we visit a few must-see places on the way out of Wanganui and make our way to Ohakune, the Carrot Capital of New Zealand but we like to think of it more as the mountain biking and skiing capital of the North Island… See you then!

The trippy view from the top of the Wanganui Durie Tower

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