One of New Zealand’s oldest cities, founded in 1840, 195 km north of Wellington and 164 km south-east of New Plymouth, near the mouth of the Whanganui River. The name means big harbour, although another version is 'long wait'; the town is known as the ‘River City’.
Whanganui is the ancestral home of Ngāti Tūpoho, Ngāti Tūmango and Ngā Paerangi, hapū (sub-tribes) of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi. Pūtiki is the marae of Ngāti Tūpoho and Ngāti Tūmango, and Te Ao Hou at Aramoho is the Whanganui marae of Ngā Paerangi. Ngāti Tūpoho and Ngāti Rangi also have a connection with Te Ao Hou marae.
Whanganui was the New Zealand Company’s second settlement, and began as an adjunct of the first, Wellington. In the early years most European settlers came via Wellington, many by foot along the coast. The settlement was named Petre in 1842, after Lord Petre, a director of the company, but the name was never popular and was officially changed in 1854.
Uncertainty marked the early years. Lower-river Māori valued ‘their’ town but questioned the Company’s good faith. Upriver Māori were hostile, and conflict broke out in 1847. In May 1848 the government made a further payment to confirm its ownership of almost 35,000 hectares.
In the mid 1860s the town was under threat of attack by Pai Mārire adherents. Redoubts (fortifications) were built to the north-west and along the river, and troops were deployed. In late 1868 Tītokowaru’s followers from Taranaki raided farms 8 km from Whanganui, but then retreated. The 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment left in January 1870, ending a British military presence of 23 years.
Whanganui expanded in the 1870s with the European settlement of its hinterland along the coast to the north-west, and from the 1880s to 1910s as settlement spread to the inland hill country and the Waimarino plain.
Whanganui became a regional centre. Freezing works, woollen mills, phosphate works and wool stores were established in the town, and trade at the port more than doubled between 1908 and 1929.
Three landmark buildings are reminders of the vigorous community life of the era:
Suburbs developed: Aramoho around the railway station, Whanganui East around the railway workshops, Castlecliff at the port and Gonville near the hospital and freezing works.
With the inclusion of Gonville and Castlecliff in 1924, Whanganui became a city. With a population of 24,740, it was New Zealand’s largest urban area after the four main centres. Substantial buildings at Queen’s Park underscored the new status.
Whanganui was severely affected by the 1930s depression, but thrived anew in the economically buoyant years after the Second World War. An agricultural aviation company operated out of the airport from 1950.
The urban population rose from 26,500 to just over 38,000 between 1945 and 1966. Much state (public) housing was built in the suburbs.
In 1984 the Suzuki Motor Corporation established its New Zealand headquarters in Whanganui, taking over the franchise from a firm set up in 1925 by renowned motorcycle racer Percy Coleman. Coleman’s sons Rod and Bob – both also leading motorbike racers – had expanded the business in the 1960s and 1970s.
Slow growth in the hinterland also hindered Whanganui’s growth. Some new businesses were set up, but from the mid-1980s government offices moved to Palmerston North, and many businesses downsized or closed.
The town grew economically after 1999, with diversified manufacturing and thriving tourism, focused on the river, the main street and the Queen’s Park buildings.
In 2013 Whanganui had an urban population of 38,088 – a decrease of 2% since 1966.
A significant group of buildings was constructed at Queen’s Park between 1919 and 1933, and added to in later years.
Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi leader Hoani Wiremu Hīpango, who fought against the upper-river Hauhau group, was killed in battle in 1865 and is buried on Korokota hill. Missionary Richard Taylor named the hill for Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. Taylor had found the area littered with bones, probably from a battle with Te Rauparaha in the late 1820s, when hundreds of locals were killed.
Park adjacent to the river, known to Māori as Pākaitore; a place where Māori distributed their fish catch and later traded with the townspeople. It was named Moutoa Gardens after the 1864 battle at Moutoa Island, where lower Whanganui Māori repelled war parties from the upper river.
For 79 days in 1995 the domain was occupied by Māori, mainly with upriver affiliations, and their supporters. Their demonstration over ownership of the park also became a protest about the loss of traditional rights. The occupation ended peacefully on 18 May, and an agreement was later signed between the Crown, district council and Māori, vesting the land with the Crown and its management with a board that included people from Whanganui tribes.
Suburb across the river from downtown Whanganui, named after an early resident magistrate. Its development was assisted by the construction of a 213-metre pedestrian tunnel leading to a 66-metre elevator running up through the hill – New Zealand's only earthbound elevator. A large part of Durie Hill was designed in 1919 by Samuel Hurst Seager as a garden suburb. From the 33.5-metre-high First World War memorial tower the entire regional landscape, as far as the mountains Taranaki and Ruapehu, is visible. Nearby Bastia Hill is the site of a 50-metre-high water tower.
High-income suburb on the road to New Plymouth. Various streets and reserves, including at Virginia Lake (formerly Rotokawau), were planted with native and exotic trees by a beautifying society formed in 1910.
After the gang-related killing of two-year-old Jhia Te Tua in Gonville in 2007, Wanganui District Council proposed a bylaw to ban gang insignia from the city’s public areas. The law was then upgraded to a parliamentary bill, sponsored by Whanganui MP Chester Borrows. In May 2009 the bill was passed, and on 31 August Wanganui District Council passed a bylaw banning gang insignia in public places.
Port facilities were developed at Castlecliff from 1911. State (public) housing was built there and at Gonville, the site of a freezing works. Castlecliff beach was popular with locals. By the 1950s the port trade was mostly coastal; it declined from the 1960s after the roll-on, roll-off Cook Strait ferries were introduced.
In the 2010s the port handled fish, cement, timber and grain, and a number of factories, including the freezing works, were located nearby. Part of Balgownie swamp had become a wetland reserve (Kokohuia), and the rest had become an industrial area, after having been the city tip for some years.
The long-time home of the Eastown railway workshops, established in 1892. The main railway station was across the river at Aramoho. New Zealand Railways became one of the city’s largest employers, and several hundred jobs were lost when the railways were downsized. The workshops closed in 1986. From 1959 part of the Esplanade at Wanganui East was developed into Kōwhai Park playground by the Jaycees.
The marae of Ngāti Tūpoho and Ngāti Tūmango and the oldest part of Whanganui, across the river and downstream from the city centre, at the junction of State Highways 3 and 4. The full name, Pūtiki-Wharanui-a-Tamatea-Pōkaiwhenua (the place where Tamatea tied his topknot with flax), commemorates the early ancestor and explorer Tamatea, of the Tākitimu canoe.
A mission station was established at Pūtiki in 1840. Richard Taylor served there from 1843 until 1866, and his son, Basil Taylor, from 1860 to 1876. Descendants of the missionary Henry Williams also gave lengthy service. The meeting house, Te Paku-o-te-Rangi, replaced an earlier house destroyed in an 1891 flood. St Paul’s Church, the fifth to occupy the site, has fine modern carvings. Nineteenth-century leaders Mete Kīngi Te Rangi Paetahi and Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui are both buried at Pūtiki.
Locality 6 km north-west of Whanganui, with market gardens, poultry farms, horticultural holdings, lifestyle blocks, and Westmere Lake, a wildlife reserve. The redoubt (fortification), known as ‘Headquarters’, was the base for troops in the Waitōtara campaigns of the mid to late 1860s. In the 1920s and early 1930s, a field at Westmere was used as Whanganui’s first airstrip.
Locality 11 km north-west of Whanganui, with livestock farming and lifestyle blocks. Its first settlers came from New Brunswick in Canada in 1853, and the politician John Bryce farmed there for 50 years. The killing of settler and provincial councillor James Hewett by Māori in 1865 prompted the building of four redoubts.
Locality 14 km north-west of Whanganui. The former Bason farm has been developed since 1970 as the Bason Botanic Gardens; some 70,000 bricks from Whanganui’s old Majestic Cinema were used in the display centre and conservatories.
Beach settlement 15 km north-west of Whanganui. Alexander’s redoubt was built there in 1865. Tītokowaru’s fighters raided the area in 1868 – the closest they got to Whanganui.
Settlement 15 km north-west of Whanganui, the home of Ngāti Pūkeko and Ngāti Iti, sub-tribes of Ngā Rauru. Woodall’s redoubt was built in 1864; Kai Iwi settlement developed after hostilities ceased in mid-1869. Bushy Park homestead is about 10 km further inland.
Settlement 24 km north-west of Whanganui. Maxwell was laid out as a township in 1871 by Robert Pharazyn, a Wellington provincial councillor, and was named after a settler killed in conflict with Māori at Nukumaru in 1868. Pakaraka pā is the marae of Ngāti Maika, a hapū of Nga Rauru.
Locality 28 km north-west of Whanganui. Several encounters occurred here during the hostilities of the 1860s. In February 1869 Taurangaika, the stronghold of Ngāti Ruanui leader Tītokowaru, was found abandoned by colonial forces led by Colonel George Whitmore.
River flowing 80 km southwards from the Matemateaonga Range, entering the Tasman Sea about 7 km south-west of Waitōtara. It passes through dense native forest for 30 km from its source, and through steep, rugged country until just north of Waitōtara.
Many pā were sited along the river valley. European settlement reached upriver through the 1880s and 1890s, reaching Makākaho, Ngāmatapōuri and Taumatatahi. St Hilda in the Wood church at Ngāmatapōuri was designed by John Swan in 1900, and built of local timber.
Locality 34 km north-west of Whanganui, with a 2013 population of 66. The township was laid out on the north bank of the Waitōtara River in 1873, and the river was bridged in 1874. In February 2004 the entire settlement was flooded. Flooding in July 2006 also caused damage.
Wairoa’s name was changed to Waverley in 1876 to avoid confusion with other towns called Wairoa. Many of the area’s early settlers came from Scotland – they chose the new name in memory of Sir Walter Scott, whose books had become known as the Waverley novels.
Township 47 km north-west of Whanganui, with a 2013 population of 798. It was established as the military settlement of Wairoa in 1866. Between 1893 and 1925 the Department of Agriculture ran an early experimental farm at nearby Moumāhaki.
From 1971 to 1988 coastal ironsands from nearby Waipipi were shipped to Japan. Famous sons of Waverley include Kiwi, winner of the Melbourne Cup in 1983, and his owner–trainer, E. S. (Snow) Lupton.
There are rock carvings of lizard and bird-like shapes at Kōhī, 11 km north-west. Writer, teacher and activist Rewi Alley lived in a cottage in the Moeawatea Valley from 1920 until shortly before he left for China in 1927. The old boundary between the Wellington and Taranaki provinces is crossed 10 km west of Waverley.
Road completed in 1917 from Whanganui to Raetihi, now a section of State Highway 4, which follows the Mangawhero River for much of its course.
Forest 16 km north-east of Whanganui. Exotic tree planting – mainly radiata pine – began here in 1963 in the 4,848-hectare Crown forest. In the 2010s cutting rights were held by Rayonier, an American firm.
Locality on the Mangawhero River, 40 km from Whanganui. It is the only remaining kāinga (Māori village) of many that were once on the Parapara Road. Ōtoko’s marae is a southern stronghold of the Ringatū faith. The meeting house was first built in 1870.
Locality on the eastern bank of the Mangawhero River, 57 km north-east of Whanganui. From here Fields Track (a road) runs east to the Whangaehu Valley Road, then north to State Highway 49 near Karioi. It is named after H. C. Field, who explored and surveyed the district between 1869 and the 1880s.
River rising on the south-west slopes of Mt Ruapehu and flowing south to join the Whangaehu River near Ngāturi. The river has two scenic falls: Mangawhero, near the Tūroa ski field, and Raukawa, about 2 km north of Kākātahi.
Valley and farming locality at the junction of the Mangamāhū Stream and the Whangaehu River, 45 km north-east of Whanganui. The hotel and store closed in the 1970s, but the school remains an important focus for the community. Ngāturi bridge on the Mangawhero River collapsed in July 2006, cutting road access to the Mangamāhū valley for several weeks.
Fordell, 13 km east of Whanganui, has had a school and a hotel since 1883, and weekly stock sales have been held since 1929. The district has a number of historic homesteads. Oneida homestead is a Gothic-revival house designed by George Allen and built in 1869–70 for J. A. H. Burnett, who may have visited the utopian socialist community of Oneida in the United States.
Locality on the Whangaehu River, 23 km north-east of Whanganui. Kauangaroa pā, the marae of Ngā Wairiki, was visited by the prophetic leader Te Kooti in 1890. The pā and surrounding valley were deluged in the February 2004 floods.
Locality 6 km south-east of Whanganui, with four small lakes. Lakes Kaitoke and Kōhata are wildlife sanctuaries and Wiritoa is popular for recreation. Wanganui Prison is located near Lake Pauri.
As sand has built up along the coast, the shoreline has gradually moved westwards. The Fusilier was stranded in 1884 near the mouth of the Turakina River. By the 1980s its wreck was embedded in sand many metres up the beach. It is now completely buried.
Locality 11 km south-east of Whanganui. A blockhouse – still there in the 21st century – was built by settler John Cameron in 1868. Kiwifruit were first grown in New Zealand at the Allison family homestead, from seed brought from China in 1904 by Isabel Fraser, principal of Wanganui Girls’ College.
Settlement 15 km south-east of Whanganui. It was severely flooded when the Whangaehu River burst its banks in February 2004 and July 2006. Floods of similar magnitude had also struck in April 1897. There is a Ngāti Apa marae on the road to Whangaehu beach.
Township 19 km south-east of Whanganui and 1.5 km off State Highway 3, with a 2013 population of 327, over 95% of whom identified themselves as Māori. It is the spiritual centre of the Rātana faith, founded by Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana in the 1920s. The temple at Rātana, with its distinctive twin towers, was built between 1926 and 1928. Each year on 25 January, T. W. Rātana’s birthday, the population swells with adherents of the faith. Rātana has a conference centre, Te Manuao, and a museum containing wheelchairs, crutches and spectacles discarded by people healed by the prophet.
Township 21 km south-east of Whanganui, which developed after the Crown purchase of the Rangitīkei Block in 1849. The first European settlers were Gaelic-speaking Scots, and Caledonian Games have been an annual event since 1864. Turakina Māori Girls’ College was located in the township until 1928. From 1876 to 1925 Turakina was known as Lethbridge, after a local settler. The Lethbridge family property, Ann Bank, was the site of New Zealand’s first children’s health camp in 1919. The nearby beach village, Kōitiata, was built in the 1920s. On the road to it is Ngāti Apa’s Tini-wai-tara marae and the Anglican church Te Mangungu.
The 290-km Whanganui River is the second longest in the North Island, after the Waikato. Rising on the north-west flank of Mt Tongariro, it reaches the Tasman Sea at Whanganui. From its source, the river flows north-west for 60 km, then turns sharply south at Taumarunui.
Its main tributaries are the Ōngarue from the north, the Ōhura and Tāngarākau from the west, and the Manganuiōteao from the east. The latter rises on the west side of Ruapehu and flows due west. Joined by the Ruatītī, it meets the Whanganui not far above Pipiriki.
According to Māori tradition, in ancient times three mountains, Ruapehu, Tongariro and Taranaki, lived together in the centre of the North Island. One day Taranaki attempted to carry off Pīhanga, the wife of Tongariro. In the ensuing battle Taranaki was defeated and escaped down to Whanganui. As he fled, he carved out the deep furrow of the river.
For most of its course, the Whanganui River course is deeply entrenched in sandstone and mudstone, and the runoff makes it very muddy.
The river’s most spectacular scenery is in its middle reaches, between Whakahoro and Pipiriki, where it passes through a series of narrow gorges amidst one of the North Island’s largest areas of unmodified lowland forest, much of it part of Whanganui National Park. The river has 239 named rapids, but a gentle gradient. Lacking falls, it is navigable upstream as far as Taumarunui.
There were major floods in 1904, 1940, 1958, 1965, 1990 and 1998, and the lowest parts of Whanganui city were flooded in 1904 and 1940. Since 1972 some of the Whanganui’s headwaters have been diverted to the Waikato River by the Tongariro power scheme.
The river near Whanganui city is important for rowing, and jet boating and canoeing are popular upstream.
There are just four bridges across the river downstream of Taumarunui – all in Whanganui city.
The river is the home of the Whanganui iwi (tribes), also known as Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi, a confederation of three ancestral groups: Hinengākau of the upper river, Tama Ūpoko of the middle reaches and Tūpoho of the lower Whanganui.
The river is of huge importance to the iwi: it is their ancestral river, their arterial highway, and a source of physical and spiritual sustenance. Although few Whanganui Māori now live on the river, it remains a focal point.
Surrounded by forest, the 38-metre-high ‘bridge to nowhere’ is a remnant of a failed attempt to farm the remote Mangapūrua Valley. After the First World War, a government scheme settled soldiers on the largely infertile land, at the end of a long, rough road from Raetihi. A wooden swing bridge over the Mangapūrua stream connected road and settlement to a landing on the nearby Whanganui River. A concrete bridge replaced it in 1936 – but just six years later the last settlers abandoned their farms. Today the structure is a drawcard for visitors to the national park.
There was inter-tribal fighting on the Whanganui in the early 19th century and the 1860s. In 1864, lower river Māori fought off upriver Pai Mārire converts at Moutoa Island, 61 km north of Whanganui town.
Alexander Hatrick ran a regular steamer service between Whanganui and Pipiriki from 1892, and it was extended to Taumarunui in 1903. Improved roads undercut the service, and it ceased in 1958.
From the 1930s many Māori found work in towns. Today the total river population is less than 1,000, in settlements along the lower river road, which opened in 1934.
Today the kayaking trip down the river from Taumarunui to Pipiriki is popular.
Settlement 12 km north-east of Whanganui. St Mary’s Anglican Church, built in 1877, is the oldest church on its original site in Wanganui District.
Settlement 18 km from Whanganui, the home of Ngā Paerangi and site of the first Catholic mission on the river in 1852. The unique twin-gabled meeting house is called Te Kiritahi. A nationally known cultural group, Te Matapihi, which has produced several compact discs and records, is organised from Kaiwhaiki. Shellrock was quarried nearby to build the Durie Hill tower.
Locality 24 km from Whanganui, the home of Ngāti Tuera, whose meeting house is Wharewhiti, and Ngāti Hinearo, whose house is Te Aroha. Parikino pā was originally on the other side of the river. At Pungarehu, 3 km south, the Maranganui meeting house was built for Ngāti Tuera by noted carver Hōri Pukehika.
Locality 35 km from Whanganui. The small meeting house of Ngāti Hineoneone is all that remains of a former kāinga (village).
Settlement 47 km from Whanganui. The Ngāti Pamoana marae features two restored meeting houses. Te Waiherehere is Koriniti’s own original house, and Poutama, moved across the river from Karatia (Galatea) in 1967, is one of the district’s finest meeting houses. Ōperika pā, the original home of Ngāti Pamoana, is a fine historic example of a fighting pā. An eco-lodge, The Flying Fox, is located across the river from Koriniti.
Farming community 55 km from Whanganui, the home of Ngā Poutama. Across the river was Karatia, once the main kāinga of the area and now deserted. The remains of the sternwheeler Tuhua, wrecked in 1890, are on the far side of Moutere Island. A mill gifted by Governor George Grey operated from 1854 to 1913 and has now been restored.
Settlement 60 km from Whanganui; services are still held in the Catholic church built in the 1880s for Ngāti Ruaka. Moutoa Island, the site of an 1864 battle, is nearby.
Several small settlements on the lower river have names transliterated from English into Māori, some with Biblical associations. They include Jerusalem (Hiruhārama), Ātene (Athens) and Rānana (London). Many other villages, now deserted, had similar appellations after Māori requested names from the missionary Richard Taylor in the 1840s.
Settlement and home of Ngāti Hau, 66 km from Whanganui. The nun Suzanne Aubert, founder of the Order of the Sisters of Compassion in 1892, worked there from 1883 to 1899. Unlike the other river settlements, Jerusalem is more commonly known by the English version of its name. The Catholic church and convent date from the 1890s. Poet James K. Baxter lived in a commune at Jerusalem, which disbanded soon after Baxter’s death in 1972.
Settlement 79 km from Whanganui, the home of Ngāti Kura. The main settlement was originally across the river. From 1854 Māori grew wheat there for the Kaukore mill. Pai Mārire warriors besieged three redoubts across the river for several weeks in 1865. Pipiriki was an important centre during the riverboat era from the mid-1890s to the 1920s, and remains a gateway to the wilderness reaches of the river.
The Waimarino district lies at the foot of the 2,797-metre volcano Mt Ruapehu. The region's main rivers – the Manganuioteao, the Mangawhero and the Whangaehu – all have their headwaters on the mountain's slopes.
Town on the Waimarino plain, 89 km north-east of Whanganui at the junction of State Highways 4 and 49. It was founded in 1892 on the Waimarino block, which the government bought in 1887. Until the main trunk railway reached Ōhakune in 1907, Raetihi was reached via the Whanganui River and a dray road built from Pipiriki in 1893. A branch railway line was built to the town in 1917.
In March 1918, massive forest fires destroyed pasture, stock, sawmills and property, and caused three deaths. But sawmilling thrived until the 1930s – over 20 mills operated in the district in the mid-1920s.
Near the distinctive Rātana church is a marae of Ngāti Uenuku, a sub-tribe of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi.
Pastoral farming and market gardening have been the mainstay of Raetihi’s economy since the 1930s, but have not stimulated growth. The dairy factory closed in 1966, the branch rail line in 1968, the council offices in 1989, and the hospital and bank in the 1990s. The population fell from 1,219 in 1976 to 1,002 in 2013.
Pat O’Connor, the world heavyweight wrestling champion from 1959 to 1961, was from Raetihi.
Raetihi was established in 1892 on the dray road from Pipiriki, the main route to the Waimarino district at the time. Ōhakune, 11 km east, began life as a camp for workers building the main trunk railway. For that reason it grew faster, gaining a town council in 1908. Raetihi did not follow suit until 1913.
Town on the Waimarino plain, 100 km from Whanganui, on State Highway 49. A long-established pā, Maungarongo, is the home of Ngāti Rangi, a sub-tribe of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi. Ōhakune was founded in 1895 on the Waimarino block, which the government bought in 1887. Like Raetihi, it was reached via the Whanganui River and dray road from Pipiriki until the railway arrived in 1908 and made it a rival to the older settlement. By 1921 Ōhakune’s population (1,535) was almost double that of Raetihi.
Ōhakune developed both on its original site and by the railway. Much of the district’s wealth comes from market gardening, started in 1925 by several Chinese families on the fertile volcanic soils. Ōhakune is often called the ‘carrot capital’, and a model of a giant carrot stands at the town’s entrance.
Market gardening coexists with pastoral farming, and with exotic timber milling at Karioi and Tangiwai. The Tūroa ski field on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu was opened in 1979, and other kinds of outdoor recreation are also popular.
The town’s resident population of 1,399 in 1976 fell to 987 by 2013, but is boosted by many hundreds during the ski season.
Settlement 5 km east of Ōhakune, once a sawmilling centre, but now a reserve of native forest, including the Rotokura Ecological Area, where native bush surrounds two small lakes. Rangataua Forest is a sacred place of Ngāti Rangi.
Farming and forestry locality, 13 km east of Ōhakune. The region’s first exotic forest was planted here in 1927, and trees have been harvested since the late 1960s. In the 2010s a pulp mill operated at Karioi and a sawmill at Tangiwai, both owned by Indonesian firm WPI International.
The Whangaehu emerges from the Whangaehu Glacier on the east flank of Mt Ruapehu and flows eastwards across the Rangipō Desert, then south-west for some 137 km to the Tasman Sea south-east of Whanganui. Water from its tributaries is delivered via the 8.4-km Wahianoa aqueduct to Lake Moawhango, and then to the Tongariro power scheme.
In 1953, a lahar (volcanic mud flow) from Ruapehu’s crater lake surged down the Whangaehu and destroyed the rail bridge at Tangiwai. The overnight train plunged into the river, causing 151 deaths. In February 2004 the river rose 11 metres in places, wreaking havoc in its lower reaches.
Township, and since 1940 an army base, at the junction of State Highways 1 and 49, 29 km north-west of Taihape at the south end of the Desert Road. A stopping point for many travellers, the National Army Museum is a major attraction. The 2013 population of 741 is mostly army-related. The population dropped by 639 between the 2006 and 2013 censuses because the New Zealand Defence Force cut permanent staff numbers.
Locality 8 km south of Waiōuru on State Highway 1. A naval radio station opened there in 1942 and was commissioned as HMNZS Irirangi in 1951, but it was decommissioned in 1993. The communications equipment is now operated remotely from Auckland.
This magnificent expanse of inland high country between the Kaimanawa and Ruahine ranges is named after Pātea, who centuries ago sought safety in the district after a murder in Heretaunga (Hawke’s Bay).
Missionary William Colenso traversed the district in 1847 on a return trip from Hawke’s Bay to Taupō. Today it is mostly a place of sheep and cattle stations and the route of the Taihape–Napier road, known colloquially as ‘Gentle Annie’. In the late 1860s, rumours of gold sparked expeditions into the Kaimanawa Range. Until the forest to its west was cleared and the main trunk railway went through, access to the district was from Napier.
Locality 6 km north of Taihape. The Ōpaea marae meeting house, Tumakaurangi, was built in 1896.
By 1898, wool from Moawhango was being transported to the railhead at Mangaōnoho, then west to Whanganui by rail. However, before the main trunk railway was built, most wool went east to Napier.
Locality 18 km north-east of Taihape on the Moawhango River. The 1868 settlement expanded after R. T. Batley opened a store in 1882 to service farms in inland Pātea. In 1902 a private memorial chapel was built from locally made bricks in memory of Batley’s eldest daughter, who had drowned in the South Island. After the main trunk railway reached Taihape in 1904, it displaced Moawhango as the area’s main service town. Whitikaupeka meeting house was built in 1893–94, and Whitikaupeka Māori Church in 1904 in memory of the elders of Ngāti Whitikaupeka. Moa bones were found in 1930 in a cave near Moawhango.
Major tributary of the Rangitīkei, which arises on the western slopes of the Kaimanawa Range and joins the Rangitīkei near Taoroa Junction, 18 km south-east of Taihape. In 1979 the upper Moawhango was dammed to form a 650-hectare lake north of Waiōuru. Water is diverted from the lake by tunnel and canal to Lake Rotoaira as part of the Tongariro power scheme.
Sheep station 29 km north-east of Taihape. Until 1897 it was part of the 46,580-hectare Ōruamātua Kaimanawa block between the Moawhango and Rangitīkei rivers, which was leased by Azim and William Birch in 1867. A clay house, Ōruamātua, built in 1868, is still standing.
Erewhon station in the 1870s carried around 80,000 sheep. The wool was taken to Napier by packhorses or mules, with a stockman in charge of each team of 10, and one animal in five carrying fodder and supplies. The train had to negotiate the narrow track into the Ngaruroro River valley and out again, and if it missed its step it bounced to its end in the gorge, 100 metres below.
Sheep station (originally spelt Erehwon, the reverse of ‘nowhere’) 34 km north-east of Taihape. Until 1897 it was part of the Ōruamātua Kaimanawa block, leased by the Birch brothers. The homestead was built with locally made bricks in 1884. Black Hill and Springvale stations, 3 km further on, were also part of the original lease. The Springvale suspension bridge across the Rangitīkei, built in 1924–25, survives next to its 1970 successor. A side road 51 km from Taihape leads to Mangaōhane Station.
Sheep station 56 km north-east of Taihape, part of the Ōwhaoko block and first leased in 1878. It eventually became one of the largest sheep stations in the North Island, extending between the upper Rangitīkei and Ngaruroro rivers and the Kaimanawa, Kaweka and Ruahine ranges. In 1972 the area between the Taruarau River and Kaweka Forest Park became Timahanga Station.
Locality 77 km north-east of Taihape. A two-storey hotel was built on the west bank of the Ngaruroro River in 1882, but was moved across the river beside another hotel soon after. Today the original site is a picnic and camping ground.
The Rangitīkei River arises on the eastern slopes of the Kaimanawa Mountains and flows south and south-west 185 km to reach the Tasman Sea between Moanaroa Beach and Tangimoana. The Moawhango River joins it near Taoroa Junction, and the Kawhatau River further south.
For much of its course the Rangitīkei flows in a steep gorge, with high greywacke cliffs, and a series of terraces above. Large quantities of shingle are carried along the riverbed. The river is popular for fishing, canoeing, jet boating and white-water rafting. At Mōkai, 20 km south-east of Taihape, is an 80-m bungy jump, the North Island’s highest.
Town 84 km north of Bulls and 29 km south-east of Waiōuru, sited above the Hautapu River (a tributary of the Rangitīkei) Taihape had a 2013 population of 1,509.
Settlers first took up sections of land at Taihape in 1894. The main trunk railway reached the town in 1904, and through the 20th century the town housed rail workers, as well as catering to local farms and passing rail and road travellers. St Mary’s Catholic Church, designed in 1954 by Ernst Plischke, is a modern historic building.
The loss of railway jobs has seen the population fall, from 2,586 in 1981. In an attempt to revitalise the town, an annual ‘Gumboot Day’ festival has run since 1985; new businesses include outdoor clothing stores and adventure tourism.
Winiata, 3 km south of Taihape, has a marae linked to Ngāti Hinemanu, Ngāti Paki and Ngāti Hauiti.
Settlement 8 km south of Taihape and slightly east of State Highway 1, named after the baptismal name of Utiku Pōtaka, a Ngāti Hauiti chief. The dairy factory closed in the 1960s, and the school in the mid-1990s. The only store sells wool products and yarn.
Township on State Highway 1, 21 km south of Taihape and 63 km north-east of Bulls, with a 2013 population of 150. First called Three Log Whare, it was established in the mid-1890s in anticipation of the arrival of the main trunk railway, which reached it in 1902. A local horse, Wotan, won the Melbourne Cup in 1936. State Highway 1 bypassed the main street from the late 1970s. Many buildings stand empty, but Mangaweka still has a school, library, hotel, and business enterprises catering for adventure tourists. A DC3 plane operates as a tearoom.
Locality 55 km north-east of Bulls, the centre of Ngāti Hauiti until the mid-1800s. Dense bush and difficult terrain slowed construction of the main trunk line, which was 7 km away in 1892 but only reached Ōhingaiti when the Makōhine viaduct was completed in 1902. The settlement flourished until the 1960s. Since then the bank, post office and school have closed, but the hotel still operates.
Township on the Pōrewa Stream 38 km north-east of Bulls, with a 2013 population of 429. Founded in 1884, it is said to be named after the member of Parliament George Hunter, who placed a survey peg on the site where the settlement was to grow. The railway arrived in 1887, and by 1896 the population was 546, larger than it would be a century later. Pastoral farming has always been important in the district, and the town has sculptures of sheep and a huntaway dog.
The post office and maternity hospital closed in 1989, as did three banks in the 1990s. Many services are now provided by or from Marton; tourism has provided some new business.
The first settlers in Taihape came from Canterbury, where there was little affordable land for aspiring farmers. Settlers from the southern province took up 5- to 7-hectare sections in 1894. They found work building roads and in sawmills while they developed their land for farming.
Rātā is a settlement in the tribal area of Ngāti Hauiti, who have two marae nearby. Pākehā settlement began in the 1870s. A dairy factory operated from 1902 to 1964, and for many years a row of 21 houses housed its employees. Today Ravensdown Fertiliser Co-operative has a depot at Rātā.
Near Rātā are a number of historic homes – Merchiston (designed by Joseph Maddison in 1905), Overton (designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere in 1884), and, between Rātā and Marton, Maungaraupi (designed by Charles Tilleard Natusch in 1906).
At Pūtōrino, returned soldiers were settled on land for farming after both world wars. A sheep stud business operated at Leedstown in the 1950s and 1960s.
Locality on the banks of the Pōrewa Stream 23 km north of Bulls, the site of the historic Tutu Tōtara property, owned by the Marshall family since 1853. St John Evangelist church was built in 1924 in memory of a family member who died in the First World War.
105 km-long river, rising in the hill country west of Waiōuru and coursing south-west to enter the Tasman Sea at Turakina Beach. The back-country Turakina valley road follows the river, west of State Highway 1. The river flooded in February 2004, causing damage along its valley and coastal plain.
The largest town in Rangitīkei and the second largest in the region after Whanganui, with a 2013 population of 4,548. Marton is 3 km west of State Highway 1 and 5 km north-east of State Highway 3. The settlement developed in the mid-1860s when four private speculators began subdividing. It was originally called Tūtaenui (dung heap). In 1869 it was renamed Marton after the birthplace of British navigator James Cook, exactly 100 years after he first landed in New Zealand. It became a borough in 1879, when it had a population of 593.
In 1885 Marton became the junction of the main trunk and New Plymouth rail lines. Through most of the 20th century it serviced both the railway and a rich farming district. The town acquired a gracious feel, with large houses in spacious gardens, and private schools: Huntley (an Anglican primary school for boys); Turakina Māori Girls’ College; and Nga Tawa, the Wellington Diocesan School for Girls.
Railway downsizing in the 1980s and 1990s affected Marton, but a more dramatic impact came in the late 1990s. The town’s population had reached 5,301 in 1996, but by 2001 had dropped to 4,713 – partly because nearby Lake Alice Hospital had closed in 1999. Thriving businesses today include Gallagher Fuel Systems, which sells electronic fuel pumps throughout Australia and New Zealand. Eight roads lead into Marton, making it the hub of a wagon wheel, locals say. On the spokes are found, clockwise from the north-east:
Settlement 19 km south-west of Bulls near the mouth of the Rangitīkei River, named after Thomas Scott who started a ferry service in 1849. The lower river flooded in April 1897, and the ferry site was washed away. With the river bridged upstream, the service ended in 1907. The settlement was also very hard hit by flooding in February 2004. Just beyond it lies Moanaroa Beach.
Locality 6 km north-east of Bulls. Historic properties nearby include Westoe, owned by politician Sir William Fox from 1849 to 1885, and Woodendean, home of the Willis family since 1864. On a former part of Woodendean is ANZCO Food’s meat-processing plant.
Locality on the coastal plain between the mouths of the Turakina and Rangitīkei rivers. Santoft station was bought by the government for forestry development and returned-soldier settlement after the Second World War. Sambar deer were introduced in 1875 from Sri Lanka. Today they are a protected herd, controlled by balloted hunting within a limited season.
On private property near Flock House is a monument known as the memorial to Bess. It marks the grave of one of the very few horses to return to New Zealand after deployment in the First World War.
Town 40 km south-east of Whanganui and 30 km north-west of Palmerston North, with a 2013 population of 1,515. It is named after James Bull, who ran a hotel and store from 1858. Today many of Bulls’ residents work at the nearby Ōhakea air force base. Local Chris Amon was a Formula 1 racing driver in the 1960s and 1970s.
Bulls has many shops selling antiques and collectables. Scullys toiletries, made from lavender and other natural ingredients, are exported around the world. The Ngāti Raukawa marae, Parewahawaha, was originally on the east bank of the Rangitīkei River, but in 1897 the river changed course and the marae is now on the west bank.
Pārewanui is a former Ngāti Apa centre, 8km south-west of Bulls. The parents of religious leader T. W. Rātana, and his aunt, Mere Rikiriki, are buried in the ground of Wheriko church, which is a monument to Richard Taylor’s mission work in the district. 14 km south-west of Bulls, Flock House operated as a training farm from 1924 to 1989.
Allen, Elizabeth C. In the hills of the Waimarino: the human story of the development of the district. Whanganui: Wanganui Newspapers, 1984.
Bates, Arthur P. Focus on Wanganui. Whanganui: Wanganui Newspapers, 1984.
Belich, James. I shall not die: Titokowaru’s war, New Zealand, 1868–9. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 1993.
Laurenson, S. G. Rangitikei, the day of striding out. Palmerston North: Dunmore, 1979.
Voelkerling, Rex H., and Kevin L. Stewart. From sand to papa: a history of the Wanganui county. Whanganui: Wanganui County Council, 1986.
Young, David. Woven by water: histories from the Whanganui River. Wellington: Huia Publishers, 1998.
Tourism information about trips and accommodation on the Whanganui River.
Information about New Zealand’s ‘carrot capital’, Mt Ruapehu and other attractions in the area.
A guide to tourist attractions in the Rangitīkei district.
Website of a Bulls-based company which makes luxury bath products.
Information about Taihape – events, activities, and the yearly ‘Gumboot Day’.
The website of Wanganui District Council.