Everything You Need to Know About the Whanganui Great Walk
Paddle your way in the shadows of towering river gorges which hold back thick native forest as you take on the Whanganui Journey. This 145km (90 miles) river trip is unique among the 9 New Zealand Great Walks because, well, it doesn’t involve much “walking”. Gliding down the Whanganui River in a canoe or kayak is one of the only ways to explore this extremely remote part of the North Island, the Whanganui National Park.
What makes the Whanganui Journey so unique, also, is that it is the only Great Walk where you can stay in a marae overnight – just an example of the spiritual and cultural relationship the Whanganui Maori have with the river. What’s more, travelling down the Whanganui River is like travelling back in time with so much natural and undisturbed scenery. That’s with the exception of the famous Bridge to Nowhere engulfed in the ever-growing native New Zealand forest.
So take a look at the guide below to plan your trip into the heart of Whanganui National Park along the mighty Whanganui River.
Important Things to Know Before You Go
- Book your place in the huts and campsites well in advance if doing the journey between 1 October – 30 April. During the rest of the year, the huts and campsites are on a first-come-first-served basis.
- Hut accommodation is only available between Whakahoro and Pipiriki. If you start the Whanganui Journey from Tauramanui or Ohinepane, you will need a tent.
- There is no phone service on the Whanganui Journey.
- Once you pass Whakahoro, you have to complete the Whanganui Journey. (There’s no turning back or stopping your trip mid-way).
- Take everything you will need on the journey with you – there is nowhere to shop of supplies once you are on the river. (Obviously, you knew this, but just in case your common sense is lacking…)
How Many Days of the Whanganui Journey Should You Do?
Although we recommend doing the entire length of the Whanganui Journey, time, money for longer equipment hire, and your access to camping equipment may restrict how many days of the Whanganui Journey you do.
5 Days – Taumarunui-Pipiriki
This is the option for those who don’t want to miss a thing! The 5-day trip includes the most adventurous section over 46 river rapids that you will not get to experience if you cut your journey short. To do the full 5 days, you’ll need to start from Taumarunui. You’ll also need camping equipment, as there are only campsite accommodations for the first 94.5km (12 miles).
4 Days – Ohinepane-Pipiriki
Starting from Ohinepane, this allows you to take a detour up the Ohura River to Ohura Falls, that you would otherwise miss if you took 3 days. You’ll need camping equipment for the campsites, as the nearest hut is 72.5km (45 miles) away from Ohinepane.
3 Days – Whakahoro-Pipiriki
This is the most popular option for those who just want to see the scenic middle section of the journey, which also includes a 45-minute hiking detour to the famous Bridge to Nowhere. There are also a few rapids to glide down towards the end of the journey. Plus, those who do not have camping equipment can choose to stay in the two huts.
How to Get to the Whanganui Journey
Because the Whanganui Journey is a one-way trip, you’ll have to arrange transport to an arranged pick-up and drop-off point. The canoe hire companies often organise transport to and from the Whanganui Journey access points listed below. Transport and equipment hire can be arranged from companies operating in Ohakune, National Park Village, Taumarunui, Whanganui, Raetihi.
If you are organising your own transport, with a friend or WWOOFing hosts for example, then follow the directions below to get to the Whanganui Journey.
Taumarunui is the access point to the Whanganui Journey if you are wanting to do the entire 145km (90 miles) of the Whanganui Journey. For those organising their own transport, access to the river from Taumarunui is at Ngahuinga (Cherry Grove).
Ohinepane is accessed from Taumarunui and is an access point for the Whanganui River a little further downstream. From Taumarunui, drive to the end of River Road 43.
To shorten your trip on the Wanganui River to 3 days, use the access from Whakahoro. Getting there requires a lengthy drive down a winding gravel road. From Owhango on State Highway 4, follow Oio Road then continue on the gravel road all the way to Whakahoro. Alternatively, from Raurimu on State Highway 4, follow Raurimu Kaitieke Road all the way to the end and continue on the gravel road to Wakahoro.
Pipiriki is your final destination on the Whanganui Journey. Transport should only be arranged as a pick-up point only. To get there from Raetihi, off State Highway 4, take the Pipiriki Raetihi Road all the way to Pipiriki.
Equipment to Take on the Whanganui Journey
As the Whanganui Journey is a canoe journey like no other in New Zealand, you’ll need to have some specialised equipment. There are plenty of companies hiring out this equipment in the Whanganui National Park’s surrounding towns and villages: Ohakune, National Park Village, Taumarunui, Whanganui and Raetihi.
When booking your equipment for the Whanganui Journey, make sure it includes:
- Canadian canoe or kayak
- Paddles (including a spare)
- Plastic drums to store and keep personal items dry
- Dry bags
Accommodation on the Whanganui Journey
The Whanganui Journey Great Walk is serviced by two Department of Conservation huts and 11 campsites. For both camping and the huts, you will need a sleeping bag. You must book in advance to use these accommodation facilities between the dates of 1 October – 30 April. No booking is required outside of this season. Remember to take some cash to pay for accommodation as you go. There is usually a box to leave your payment.
If you intend to camp on the Whanganui Journey, you will need your own tent. Be aware that if you are starting the Whanganui Journey from Taumarunui or Ohinepane, campsites are your only accommodation option until the John Coull hut south of Whakahoro.
Campsites facilities include:
- Cooking shelter
- Water supply
- Toilets (bring your own toilet paper)
Learn more about campsites at Camping in New Zealand.
Both huts are serviced with:
- Bunks with mattresses
- Heating (bring matches or a lighter)
- Gas cooking stoves
- Water supply
- Toilets (bring your own toilet paper)