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.


Tamatea, Captain of the Tākitimu

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.


Early Māori Settlements

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.


The Plaited Rope of Hinengākau

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.


European Influence

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.


Becoming a Person

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.


Experience the History of Whanganui First-hand

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.

Posted by Canoe Safaris on October 28, 2022