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Whanganui River, how to kayak, hike (tramp) the Whanganui River

  • 6 minutes

Whanganui, North Island

Whanganui Journey New Zealand Great Walk

Whanganui River, how to kayak, hike (tramp) the Whanganui River. Best options for a beginner to experienced outdoors enthusiast. Frequently asked questions and how to arrange a tour on the Whanganui River.

Bridge to Nowhere, In the middle of the jungle of Wanganui on the northern Island of New Zealand
Bridge to nowhere


  • Bridge to Nowhere where World War I veterans farming dreams vanished
  • Whanganui River gorges, caves and waterfalls
  • Pristine bush and forest dipping towards the river in green glory
  • The quiet uncrowded water in a remote region of Aotearoa New Zealand

When is a New Zealand Great Walk not a walk?

Discover a NZ great paddle, the Whanganui journey. Paddle, canoe down the Whanganui River through the Whanganui National Park and a remote landscape.

How fit do you need to be to participate in the Whanganui journey, a NZ great walk?

To join the NZ Great Walk, Whanganui journey, paddling down the river you need to be reasonably fit, confident to paddle a canoe for several days and be able to swim confidently.

Whanganui National Park high country
Whanganui National Park
  • Length: 290 km
  • Mouth: Tasman Sea in the town of Whanganui, go for a drive and view the massive river month waters surging into the Tasman Sea
  • The longest navigable river in NZ
  • First river in the world to be recognised as a living entity, a person
  • Paddling the river is a journey where the speed and direction is largely managed by the Whanganui River
An early morning photo of a canoe on the bank of the Whanganui river, New Zealand
Whanganui river

Where is the best place to start your Whanganui Journey?

The best place to start your exploration of the Whanganui River on a Great Walk is based on your decision of how long you want to take paddling the river and hiking through the bush.

  • The distance is 145 km from Taumarunui to Pipiriki, this is a river journey. You are paddling by canoe or kayak. The estimated time is 5 days.
  • The shorter river journey is from Whakahoro to Pipiriki. The estimated time is 3 days

Traditional entry or exit points for the Whanganui Journey are off SH4 at:

  • Taumarunui
  • Ōhinepane – access from Taumarunui
  • Whakahoro – access from Raurimu or Ōwhango
  • Pīpīriki access from Raetihi or Whanganui

Equipment hire, services, food and transport can be found in Taumarunui, Whanganui, Raetihi, Ōhakune and National Park Village.

A junction to New Zealand State Highway 43 known also as as Forgotten World Highway in Taumarunui (Stratford) in New Zealand

Check the Great Walks Whanganui Journey brochure in the travel pack section.


Can you kayak or paddle the Whanganui River from Pipiriki one way?

You can kayak or paddle the Whanganui River from Pipiriki one way from the landing beach at Pipiriki to the Bridge to Nowhere landing site. Estimated time 6 – 7 hours.

One day Whanganui River kayaking / canoe options

  • Jet Boat upriver for 13 kms we will kit you out in your own canoe for you to paddle down the Whanganui River to Pipiriki, while immersing yourself in the beauty of the Whanganui Rivers most scenic landscape, deep river gorges and some of the more exciting rapids along the way.
  • We start with the Bridge to Nowhere Tour then include Jet boat back down Whanganui River 22kms and do an unguided 2 hours canoe or kayak (last 10 kms) back to Pipiriki stopping and exploring along the way.

These packages are part of Whanganui River Adventures Jet Boat & Canoe Tours. Whanganui River Adventures Jet Boat and Canoe Tours are locals based in Pipiriki with ancestral links to the river and region reaching back hundreds of years.

Whanganui River David McCracken
Whanganui River DAvid McCracken "Beaning" sculpture mirror ball

There are various options from

Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail Package

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH: WHANGANUI TOURS, THE FLYING FOX  AND RIVERTIME LODGE. … a Mountain Bike package with road transport, accommodation with all meals provided, jet boat pick up and of course bike hire if needed, when you are cycling the Mountains to Sea cycle trail. Estimated time 3 – 5 days.

Department of Conservation guidelines about guided or self-guided paddling on the Whanganui River are informative and it is recommended you consult DOC resources BEFORE booking any extended multiple day tours.

Guided or self-guided paddling on the Whanganui River what are the recommendations

If you have experience canoeing or kayaking, good swimming abilities and are comfortable on the water, going self-guided is an option to consider for exploring the Whanganui River.

For visitors without sufficient experience on the water, going guided is an option to seriously consider.  The reason is the rapids and need for adroit  manoeuvres, changing weather conditions and the remoteness of the surrounding Whanganui National Park.

Local guides will assess both your competency and river conditions ensuring guest safety at all times.  Listen to locals tell stories about the river and its place as an identity in the lives of the traditional river guardians, the Maori. Discover caves and waterfalls not easily seen and enjoy the sense of adventure with a guide.

Canoe safaris, Whanganui river trips, New Zealand
Canoe safaris, Whanganui river trips

Mountain biking along the Whanganui River is possible?

Intrepid mountain bikers can transverse the Whanganui National Park and Whanganui River landscapes. The Whanganui River passes through remote areas with no road access.  Riders can bike to the well known Bridge To Nowhere on the Mangapurua Track as part of the Mountains to Sea – Ngā Ara Tūhono Cycle Trail. Pick up by jet boat to continue to Pipiriki or organise canoeing or kayak the 32 km Mangapurua Landing—Pipiriki section to finish. Check with Whanganui River Adventures for details.

Department of Conservation Safety messages

You should also:

  • check the weather before you go. Do not canoe if the river is flooding, rising, or predicted to flood.
    Weather forecast for Whanganui National Park (external site).
  • pack plenty of warm clothes and extra food. It can be very cold and you need to be ready to stay an extra night if the river rises.
    What to take on the Whanganui Journey.
  • wear bright clothing, so you’re more visible to boats
  • pack what you need to boil or treat water –the water at huts and campsites may not be treated and safe to drink
  • avoid drinking alcohol or smoking, for your safety and out of respect for the river
  • pack antihistamines if you’re allergic to wasps – they’re especially common from January to May.
Whanganui Information Centre, beautifully curated artshop, gallery and adjoining cafe, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand
Whanganui Information Centre
Whanganui River crafty gates facing the river, Whanganui, Wellington, New Zealand
Whanganui River crafty gates facing the river

Check if this trip is right for you

This trip is very different to other Great Walks – it’s a paddle, not a walk. Think carefully about if it’s right for you.

To do the Whanganui Journey safely without a guide, you should:

  • be a confident swimmer
  • have experience in a canoe
  • be fit enough to paddle for 6 to 7 hours in a day
  • be over the age of 10
  • have at least two people in your group, plus enough adults to look after any children and teens if something goes wrong.

If you aren’t an experienced canoe user or are travelling alone, book a guided trip instead.

If you can’t swim or aren’t fit enough, then this isn’t the trip for you. There are lots of other great adventures in Whanganui National Park.


  • Enjoy the Whanganui River in a canoe or kayak.
  • Take a break from the water on a short walk to the Bridge to Nowhere.
  • Be immersed in culture and history with a unique stay at Tieke Kainga, the only DOC hut that is also used as a marae.

Watch videos of the Whanganui Journey

Canoe safaris, Whanganui river trips, New Zealand
Canoe safaris, Whanganui river trips

Distances between campsites and huts

Trip options

The 145 kilometre river journey from Taumarunui to Pipiriki takes an average 5 days to complete by canoe. A shorter 3 day journey from Whakahoro to Pipiriki is also possible.

Each trip requires a good level of fitness and confidence in using a canoe.

For a 5 day / 4 night trip:

  • Day 1 and 2 – Taumarunui to Whakahoro
  • Day 3 – Whakahoro to John Coull Hut
  • Day 4 – John Coull Hut to Tīeke Kāinga
  • Day 5 – Tīeke Kāinga to Pīpīriki
Reflections on the Whanganui River.
Whanganui River

Taumarunui to Whakahoro

Distance: 57 km

Access points are at Ngāhuinga (Cherry Grove) in Taumarunui or further downstream at Ōhinepane (accessed from River Road SH43).

Travelling the upper reaches of the Whanganui River, you’ll pass through a mixture of farmland and patches of native bush. You’ll be in for some excitement as you shoot down rapids on this section of the river.

Camp beside the river at Ōhinepane, Poukaria or Maharanui campsites or stay in a campsite or bunkhouse at Whakahoro. From here, you get the feeling of venturing into the heart of a rich and rugged landscape.

Whakahoro to John Coull Hut

Distance: 37.5 km

Many begin their river journey here – the scenic middle reaches of the river, featuring numerous waterfalls after heavy rain. Past Mangapapa Campsite, take a long loop around the Kirikiriroa Peninsula, pass the Tarepokiore (whirlpool) rapid and then the large overhang known as Tamatea’s Cave.

Please do not enter the cave as it is wāhi tapu (a sacred place). Ōtaihanga Reach leads you to your overnight stop at John Coull and Campsite and John Coull Campsite.

You may see long-tailed bats fluttering overhead at dusk.

John Coull Hut to Tīeke Kāinga

Distance: 29 km

On this section, follow the river as it meanders through bush-covered hills, passing the mouths of the Tāngārākau and Whangamōmona rivers where they join the Whanganui. Perched high above the river, Manga-wai-iti is an attractive spot to camp or stop for lunch.

Continue your trip downstream to Tīeke Kāinga where you can examine the intricately carved pou whenua and learn about the history of Tīeke and the tikanga (protocol) of the marae.

Tīeke Kāinga information and tikanga (protocol). Check DOC resource for up to date information.

Tīeke Marae / Kāinga @DOC / Daniel Deans
Tīeke Marae / Kāinga @DOC / Daniel Deans

Alternative accommodation option

For a more secluded night’s sleep, stay at Puketotara Hut. Opposite Tieke Kainga, this 1 hr and 30 min track takes you high up on the Matemateaonga Range where you will spend the night in podocarp splendour, with expansive views of the Whanganui River, the bush clad hills of Whanganui National Park and the volcanoes of the Central Plateau.

Canoe safaris, Whanganui river trips, New Zealand
Canoe safaris, Whanganui river trips

Side trip: Bridge to Nowhere

At Mangapurua Landing, where the old riverboats used to tie up, hop out of your canoe and take the 40-minute (one way) Bridge to Nowhere Walk to this poignant reminder of the Mangapurua Valley farm settlement, carved out of the bush and then abandoned between the two World Wars.

Exercise caution when disembarking and embarking. The Landing can become very congested with canoes and boats. The rock surface is very slippery when wet.

Look out for cyclists – the track is also part of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail.

Tīeke Kāinga to Pīpīriki

Distance: 21.5 km

You’ll pass through the scenic gorge of the Manganui o te Ao River where it enters the Whanganui after its journey from the slopes of Mount Ruapehu. Ngāporo and Autapu rapids can provide plenty of excitement and perhaps a cool dip on a hot day.

More exotic trees and farmland indicate you are getting close to Pīpīriki. Pass an eel weir on your left, shoot the Paparoa rapid and you will see the boat ramp below Pīpīriki village up ahead.


Whanganui Journey

The road - Pipiriki entrance, New Zealand
The road - Pipiriki entrance

Travel pack information


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