Discover the Whanganui River History | Canoe Safaris
The Whanganui River is an integral part of NZ’s history, going back thousands of years. We go over the things you may not know about this majestic river here.
Long Winding History of the Whanganui River
Time stands still on the Whanganui River. On the river, you are slicing through a storied past that reaches back hundreds of years, from Taumarunui through the deep gorges of Whanganui National Park, until bush-covered hills fall into the sea at the town of Whanganui.
In this blog post, we float through the Whanganui River’s history, spanning back to the first people discovering it, through colonial times right up into modern history, painting a vivid picture of one of New Zealand’s most unique rivers.
The Whanganui River was initially discovered around 1350 when Tamatea, captain of the Tākitimu canoe, brought some of the first Polynesian migrants to the island. Ever since, the Whanganui Iwi have lived by, travelled on, and drawn sustenance from the river.
Tamatea named many famous locations still seen along the river today, such as Te Punga where he cast anchor, Tangahoe where he cut paddles, and Tamatea’s Cave, where he sought shelter.
The river once sheltered a large population of Māori settlements. The river's low gradient and straightforward navigability, along with suitable defensive locations for fortified 'pa,' led to the formation of many villages along its lengths. Remnants of earlyMāori influence can still be seen as you traverse the ancient waters of the Whanganui.
In time, the river became linked by a series of pā, called ‘the plaited rope of Hinengākau’. This name symbolises the unity of the Whanganui River people and refers to the children of Tamakehu and the three major settlements. Hinengākau of the upper river, Tama Ūpoko of the middle, and Tūpoho of the lower Whanganui. Throughout time, custodianship of the river has been passed down to the descendants of these three siblings.
The arrival of European missionaries in the 1840s had an immense impact on the river. Steamboats started taking over the river as settlers used it for transport. Many locals began to convert to Christianity, and chapels began to dot the banks of the Whanganui River, many of which still stand today.
In more modern history, Whanganui made waves across the globe in 2017 by becoming the first river to be recognised as a person. As a result, the river can now be represented in court situations, treaty negotiations, and other disputes. Decisions that affect the Whanganui River must now recognise its health and well-being under its new legal status as a person.
Whanganui’s legal personhood is a landmark ruling, a hopeful step in the right direction, concerning the way we view our natural world.
Every twist, turn, and rapid along the Whanganui River tells a story, peaking back into the past while offering a hopeful visage for the future of our natural world. If you want to learn first-hand what this river has to offer, a Whanganui River journey guided tour is the ideal way to do it. Book your trip back to the past with Canoe Safaris.
We went on the four day canoe safari and absolutely loved it! Amazing scenery, and great service. Aidan and Morgan really went the extra mile to make sure everyone was happy and comfortable. Food was just like the comforts of home! We were very well looked after, and felt safe on the...
Had the most enjoyable trip in my life. Took the 4 day canoe safari down the Wanganui river. We thoroughly enjoyed it, couldn't have asked for better guides, Erin and Jordan. Their knowledge and expertise was invaluable. The scenery was out of this world, at times we felt as though no one...
We did the 5 day, fully guided and catered river journey, with our four children and three other families. This was truly one of the best holidays we have ever had. Phil and Ian, our guides, organised every detail. It was enormous fun canoeing down the river, jumping off rocks and canyoning. We...
peaceful, primal, professional, Challenging, adrenalin - I experienced all of these on a three day trip down the Whanganui river with a group of 18 people and two amazing guides - Simon and Aiden. These guys worked tirelessly to ensure we were kept safe and well fed and were happy to share their...
I would like to thank Mike, Stefan and Sophie for a great rafting experience on the Mohaka River. They were all such fun, very experienced and wonderful chefs too. Certainly a fantastic holiday and one to be recommended. So a big thank you for making it happen.
This was the best family trip ever! Three course meals, a wealth of knowledge from our awesome guides, and no devices, were just three reasons we would highly recommend this adventure. Phil and Simon were amazing guides and worked from the moment we were collected for our trip to the moment we...
Absolutely amazing experience with Canoe safaris! We did a 4-day canoe trip in the Whanganui river with Canoe safaris. Our guides, Phil and Ian are highly experienced, professional and helpful. Almost everything we need were provided, including tent, 3-meals everyday plus snacks, life jacket,...
A couple of good mates decided we'd do this trip some time ago and Canoe Safari's helped make it happen. Alex, Bailey, Lesley and Canon our guides / hosts were absolutely amazing. Scenery was stunning - seems like little has changed on the landscape in hundreds of years... still...
We did a family 4 day guided canoe trip, it was absolutely amazing. Very professional, our guides Morgan and Aiden were very knowledgeable and friendly. The food was way above expectation and the memories we have made will be with us forever. Highly recommend.
We had a magic 4 days on the Whanganui thanks to Kirsty Phil Keira and Jackson. The equipment, food, guiding and training were faultless. Phil's instruction was enough to make us confident on the river without overloading two novices and Keira's and Jackson's enthusiasm and...
Larry B, New Zealand