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Whanganui City

Whanganui panorama, photo credit: ©2016

Set on the beautiful Whanganui River, Whanganui City is rich in Maori and European history.

Flowing from the mountains to the Tasman Sea, the river has been the home and lifeblood of the Whanganui tribes for many centuries. It has provided a means of travel, a vital source of food, such as eels, and is an inextricable part of the history, identity and spiritual connection for the iwi who live along it.

Whanganui (previously spelt “Wanganui”) was established as a settlement by the New Zealand Company in 1840, and is one of NZ’s oldest cities. You can learn more about the region’s history, from battles to spiritual movements, expansion, protests and famous figures, at

Durie Hill
Durie Hill Tower, photo credit: ©2016

Close to the southeast end of the City Bridge is one of Whanganui’s more unusual features, an elevator leading to a monument on the top of Durie Hill. This is the only earthbound elevator in New Zealand. A pedestrian tunnel leads 205m inside the hill to the elevator rising 66m. There are good views from the top of the nearby memorial tower.

The Durie Hill War Memorial Tower is built from fossilised shell rock dated at more than two million years old. The tower is 33.5m tall and has 176 steps leading to the viewpoint. It offers excellent views of the city, Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu and the Tasman Sea.

A walkway offers an alternative route via the 191 steps up Durie Hill to two viewpoints located at the top, one above the elevator’s machinery room and the other on the nearby Memorial Tower.

Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery is one of New Zealand’s finest and most historically important art galleries, renowned for its neo-classical architecture, natural lighting and magnificent display spaces. The Gallery houses 6000 artworks ranging from historic, international and New Zealand art to dynamic contemporary art including a strong focus on New Zealand photography. While the Sarjeant Gallery in Queen’s Park is currently closed for a major redevelopment, the gallery is open in its temporary premises, Sarjeant on the Quay at 38 Taupo Quay. After earth-quake strengthening and an exciting redevelopment, the Sarjeant Gallery is scheduled to reopen in 2019.

Also in Queens Park, the Whanganui Regional Museum has one of the finest collection of ancestral Maori treasures in the country, as well as replicas of extinct and endangered birds, and natural and human history collections.

The River Traders and Whanganui Farmers Market take place every Saturday 8.30 am until 1pm on the downtown riverbank, with stalls selling fresh produce, baked goods, crafts, gifts and more.

Virginia Lake
Virginia Lake, photo credit: ©2016

Situated on Great North Road, Virginia Lake (Rotokawau) is a popular scenic attraction for visitors to the city. Virginia Lake has many features that make this lovely reserve well worth visiting. Highlights include The Winter Gardens, aviary, twin bridges and rose and wisteria pergolas, and the coin-operated Higgenbottom Fountain. The lights in the fountain are turned on every hour, on the hour, from 9am till 9pm. At night, the trees are softly illuminated and the fountain erupts in a spectacular, colourful display. There is a lovely 25-minute woodland walk around the lake edge, which features the statue of Tainui, the weeping maiden, historic band rotunda and ducks to feed.

Kai Iwi Beach
Kai Iwi Beach, photo credit: ©2016

Whanganui’s sweeping beaches have a wild and rugged West Coast beauty, with black iron sands often strewn with driftwood. Castlecliff is close to town, and the golf course. Enjoy great sunsets, swim, surf, fish or walk for miles and explore the fossil cliffs further up the beach. Kai Iwi beach is an attractive swimming beach 14km from Whanganui, with a fun playground for children. It’s a good fishing and diving spot too.

Where to stay


What to do

  • Climb the Durie Hill Tower
  • Visit Whanganui Regional Museum in Queen’s Park
  • Drive the Whanganui River Road up to Pipiriki
  • Feed the ducks at Virginia Lake
  • See glassblowers at work at Chronicle Glass Studio (reopening August 2016)

More info


Getting there

  • From Palmerston North by road: 74km
  • From New Plymouth by road: 160km
Piwa perched