History of the Whanganui River

Learn about the history of this Special and sacred place. Book a trip with Canoe Safaris to experience it yourself.

The Legend Of The Whanganui River

When the great mountains Tongariro and Taranaki came into conflict over the love of the beautiful Mount Pihanga, a mighty battle ensued. Tongariro eventually won this fierce battle and Taranaki, wild with grief and anger at the loss of his love, ripped himself out of the ground, and tore a path through the country towards the setting sun.

When dawn arrived, Taranaki had reached the ocean, where he paused and then turned north before coming to rest in solitary isolation on the West Coast of the North Island, where he still sits today. Soon after the mighty battle, a stream of clear water sprang from Tongariro, which filled- and healed the wound Taranaki had made in his flight towards the ocean. Green forests filled with the songs of birds, grew through - out the valley of this new river, known as the Whanganui (River).

Here is a link to a short video clip on the history of the Whanganui (A Short Film from, 1952)

The Whanganui Today

The Whanganui river has its origin high on Mt Tongariro, starting as an alpine stream and gathering waters from Mt Ngaruhoe and Mt Ruapehu. It descends through the Central Volcanic Plateau towards Taumarunui, then sweeps southwestwards towards Wanganui and the Tasman Sea. Along its route it collects water from 7382 square kilometers of watershed to become the mighty Whanganui.

The Whanganui River was, until recent times, was the main route into New Zealand's North Island interior. Used initially by the Maori and subsequently by European settlers, it has a fascinating and exciting history of wars, steamboat navigation, a floating houseboat, water-driven flour mills, abandoned homes and farms and the Bridge to Nowhere. Visit these historic places and experience those bygone days.

At the turn of the century the Whanganui River was recognised as one of the world's outstanding tourist routes and promoted as the "Rhine of New Zealand." The river flows through the largest remaining areas of untouched lowland forest in the North Island and in 1987 much of the surrounding native bush was formed into the Whanganui National Park.