4 Days on the Whanganui River

One of my Bucket List ItemsΒ is to complete all 10 Great Walks in New Zealand, so why not start with the Whanganui river crossing to kick it off.

My Experience

Setting Up

The crossing itself is roughly 145km long from Taumarunui to Pipiriki for the full course or a shorter course from Whakahoro also ending in Pipiriki. This shorter journey is what we opted for, unknowingly as we’d prepared for the full 5 day journey, but I’ll get more into that later.

The journey itself can be done in a kayak or canoe, we opted for the canoe as it gave us more room for our supplies. Β It also seemed to be the most popular choice for the majority of crossers. There are a few places in Whanagui you can rent your canoe or kayak, they’ll also drop you off and pick you up at either end of the journey. I’d recommend doing this they give some handy tips of how to handle the canoes and what to do when you capsize, definitely when and not if!

Our fully packed canoe


As you can see, we WAY overpacked for this trip. So much so we cooked up a good portion of our food on the second day. This way we didn’t have to carry it up the hills to the huts the following day πŸ˜‚.

Over the 4 days, we camped for one evening and stayed in huts for the other two. The campsites are pretty basic with one toilet, some running water and a picnic table or two. The huts had much more to offer in terms of amenities. Often a kitchen complete with stove for cooking, a fridge and communal social area all inside next to a fireplace.


The Journey Itself

Don’t let those images of calm, peaceful waters fool you. You will most definitely fall in if you’re canoeing. Luckily the canoes come with airtight barrels to store your belongings in. Meaning it should just be you that gets wet and not everything you’ve brought along for the ride. It was a bit of a cold shock when we fell in! It took us a long time to pail all the water out of the canoe and get back going, but so much fun.

If you’re wondering how to break up some of that paddling, theres a walk ending at the Bridge to Nowhere. Built for pioneering farmers, the intention was to connect it with roads at a later stage but never completed. However, being so remote means the only way there now is via the river and walking. Well worth a break to stretch your legs and take in some Whanganui scenery.

Bridge to Nowhere, Whanganui


After the 4 days of paddling, we decided to stay over in Whanganui for night before heading home. I still feel guilty for the poor receptionist we spoke to as we checked in. Looking tired and smelling like the river, she must have had a shock. It was well worth taking an extra night to recover. A chance to get some fresh food and a well earned beer before heading home.

How To Plan For Your Crossing

An obvious start here is to check out the route and decide where you want to stay each night. There are hut’s and campsite’s available. The hut’s can get booked up in advance, so it’s best to reserve your slot before you set off. Campsites are a great alternative and not far from the hut stops, so you wont need to paddle much farther to reach one.

Check the weather and listen to the locals. The Whanganui river can reach extremely low or high levels so best to find out what you’re letting yourself in for. Take plenty of layers as it can be cold at night, especially in spring or autumn as the seasons are changing.

For the most detailed information on preparing yourself for this trip and to book the huts, take a look at theΒ DOC website.

My Recommended Packing List

  • A warm, waterproof jacket. I didn’t take mine off very often!
  • Plenty of food and snacks, dried packeted is best. There’s no where on the river to buy food so you need to take everything with you.
  • A substantial container for carrying water. You can top up at campsites and hut stops but honestly climbing up to the sites is a bit of a mission. Maybe just carry a little extra to save you a trip.
  • Plenty of clothes, sitting in wet clothing when it’s cold isn’t great for your health or much fun.
  • Dry bags are really handy! You can attach them to the side of your canoe to have easy access to you camera or some snacks along the way.
  • Shoes you can wear in water, the river bed can be rocky or sandy. Good waterproof footwear will give you a helping hand getting in and out of the canoe without worrying about ruining them.

Have you taken the journey too? Share your experiences in the comments below. No doubt there are some great stories to be told from travelling on that river!


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