Generic filters
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in excerpt

Day trips

Whanganui River Road day trip: activities, things to see

  • 6 minutes
In this Article


The River is a person : “I am the river, and the river is me” The Whanganui River has gained its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) established the river as an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea.

The road is approximately 79 km in length and is carved from the cliffs surrounding the river. It is the only scenic driving route alongside a river in New Zealand. Sections of the road are gravel. Wanganui River road is a trip from mountains to the sea, it is a trip into the history of settlement of New Zealand reaching back 900 years. A special journey for New Zealanders. Visitors are invited to explore Aotearoa NZ, its timeless landscapes and human connections reaching back into time.


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


  • Jerusalem
  • Pipiriki Marae guardians
  • Tourist entrepreneurs and their family
  • The River and the inhabitants
  • Scenery


Official weather forecast service for area

When to go

Summer between November to April. In winter there is an increased likelihood of rock slips.

Getting there

Your starting point is Pipiriki (travelling South) OR Whanganui (travelling North).

Travelling North from Whanganui, forgot joining up with State Highway one. You are invited to loop around the Whanganui River. You will not be using Whanganui to Central North Island, State Highway four,  your adventure is on the alternative route, Whanganui River Rd.

If you plan to include a trip to the Bridge to Nowhere it is recommended that you start your journey from Pipiriki.


GUIDED CANOE AND KAYAKING ADVENTURES, See the Whanganui River and Rangitikei River in style with our professional, experienced & safe guides, Gourmet food, and High Quality equipment. PRIVATE TOURS, MULTI DAY TRIPS, FAMILY FUN, ALL EXPERIENCE LEVELS WELCOME.

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


Your journey will dip, hug and swoop up and around the slow moving Wanganui River. The road is narrow with sharp corners, steep inclines, cliffs that look unstable with rock falls littering the verge. Bridges are usually single lanes with limited visibility to view oncoming traffic. The road is a reflection of walking tracks carved by footsteps 700 years ago.

Abandoned hotel Pipiriki
Paraweka Pipiriki Marae WWI returned soldier's home, New Zealand Paraweka, (Pipiriki) Marae WWI returned soldier’s home
An early morning photo of a canoe on the bank of the Whanganui river, New Zealand
An early morning photo of a canoe on the bank of the Whanganui river

Pipiriki is a small settlement where visitors connect with day trips kayaking the River. Spend a few moments savouring the area. I got to talk to the locals … and heard the story about a World War One veteran who wanted to attend church on Sunday however injury and age was making it difficult to make the trip in one day. His marae built him a Sunday home. Pipiriki provides access to Jet boat tours and is a launching place for exploring the Bridge to Nowhere. Canoe journeys are an alternative to the jet boat tours. There is an abandoned hotel, now overgrown as a testament to the ideal of visitor traffic supporting tourism ventures.

Oyster cliffs, fossil followers have a spot to ponder on. “This is a thick sequence of densely packed fossil oysters that were living about 2.5 million years ago. There are also other fossils to be found, but the oysters predominate and must have been part of an enormous oyster bed” Thank you Geotrips for this information and the fact there are over 330 billion shells.


Hiruharama, Jerusalem is part of the religious Catholic pilgrimage circuit. A place holding the memories of the historic Whanganui settlement, Sisters of Compassion and James K Baxter. The walk from the convent to the church via compassion lane is contemplative with a winding path encouraging the walker to slow their pace and let the energy of Jerusalem seep into the pores. The views of the surrounding country provide a backdrop to the church that is a perfect picture postcard of your journey. The settlement offers accommodation if you want to stay longer.

Hiruharama Jerusalem, Sisters of Compassion, New Zealand Hiruharama Jerusalem, Sisters of Compassion
Jerusalem Sisters of Compassion Church exterior, New Zealand Jerusalem Sisters of Compassion Church exterior


The Whanganui River community trusts visitors will respect an unsupervised historic site. There is a steep set of steps down to the Mill site. Photographs of river transport and the stories of individuals provides context for the millers cottage and its inhabitants. You can view a late 19th century cottage complete with furnishing alongside the historic mill. A fascinating stop well worth the steep descent to the mill. There is a compostable toilet on site.

Kawana flour mill, New Zealand Kawana flour mill
Kawana miller's house, New Zealand Kawana miller’s house


A former school is now Matahiwi Cafe & Gallery. Outside the cafe is the wooden boat used in the movie River Queen which was filmed on the Whanganui River. A quirky place full of memorabilia, photographs of the district and delicious biscuits. The cafe is mainly open during the summer months. Classic fare such as scones, lamingtons and sausage rolls were available. The cafe has a modern coffee machine for coffee drinkers along with tea and water. Souvenirs such as postcards, T shirts printed with slogans and images of the area were on sale. Telephone ahead outside the peak season.

Matahiwi River Queen Cafe
Matahiwi River Queen 1883


The young man, in the accompanying image, wanted to buy a new mobile. His food stall is enterprise at its best. What do you do during the long summer break, to provide tourists with an improvised snack stop. Parents are recruited to assist with a gong to summon support. And, according to his parents, he managed to acquire his mobile.

Tourism - honey business, New Zealand Honey business
Budding entrepreneur


Thank you for welcoming visitors into your private spaces. Stepping in the cultural space of locals is a highlight. Ranana (London) and Koriniti both have Marae’s which welcome visitors. Signboards explain guidelines. If you are lucky a local inhabitant could even explain the significance of places, objects and meaning of the landscape.

Koriniti Marae meeting grounds


Just past the free campsite OTUMAIRE is a road sign ‘Hand Cut Culvert. Check for passing cars and pull into the narrow parking space. A short boardwalk leads into a little valley stream and native vegetation. Diffused, dappled light and a hand cut culvert is a photo moment. The culvert was cut during the road construction to minimise water flooding. New Zealand scenery in a postcard snapshot.

It is a ten minute very easy walk from the River Road signpost.

Ferns, punga magic
Hand cut culvert Hand cut culvert


Look out for Atene skyline walk, Downes Hut on the opposite river bank and the Omorehu waterfall hike. It’s a great idea for adventure tourism, to get to your accommodation you have to use a skyline first.

Toitoi feathers in the wind
River views – where river meets the sea


Wanganui catchment is a story of abandoned settlements. Fence post sculpture, repurposed diesel pump, abandoned farms and closed industry (wheat mill). The surge and power of jet boats encourages visitors to take a jet boat ride to the Bridge to Nowhere. Online booking is recommended. Departing from Pipirki would be recommended for visitors travelling south.

Abandoned fence, silent reminder of settlement, New Zealand Abandoned fence, silent reminder of settlement
Fence post sculpture, repurposed diesel pump, New Zealand Fence post sculpture, repurposed diesel pump


Wanganui catchment is a story of abandoned settlements. Fence post sculpture, repurposed diesel pump, abandoned farms and closed industry (wheat mill). The surge and power of jet boats encourages visitors to take a jet boat ride to the Bridge to Nowhere. Online booking is recommended. Departing from Pipirki would be recommended for visitors travelling south.

Wanganui River Rd is a New Zealand story written in a river.

Transport option
Hills and valleys


Cycle The Whanganui River

Riders can get to the trail starting points by car, bus and train and of course your bike. Ruapehu and Whanganui activity operators can then take care of your logistics and information needs. Several operators provide a shuttle pick up and drop off service for all sections of the trail and other day rides not part of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail. If you are following the mountains to sea cycle trail it is likely your journey will commence from Pipiriki.

A panorama looking over the city of Whanganui


Website travel information:

  • Whanganui River Road Guide
    A local initiative by tangata whenua” people of the land”. It can refer to either a specific group of people with historical claims to a district, or more broadly the Māori people as a whole. Wikipedia
  • Whanganui River Road provides details of the cycle route.


The journey is worth it.

Related articles



If you have a query about content, travel deals or anything else, our team is happy to answer all your questions 🙂

    Your information is secure, no third party involved.
    100% Safe, secure, privacy guaranteed. Privacy Policy.