Māori carving and meeting houses
The earliest tangible records of Māori culture in the region are mysterious rock carvings of lizard and bird-like shapes at Kōhī, near Waverley.
Particularly noteworthy meeting houses along the Whanganui River include:
- Te Waiherehere and Poutama, at Koriniti
- Te Paku-o-te-Rangi, at Pūtiki
- Te-Rangi-i-heke-iho, at Ātene
- Te Mōrehu, at Rānana.
Other important meeting houses include:
- Te Ōrotaraipi, at Turakina
- Rangitāhuahua, at Whangaehu
- Te Ruka-a-te-Kawau, at Rātā
- Tumakaurangi, at Ōpaea
- Whitikaupeka and Ōruamātua, at Moawhango.
Noted carver Hōri Pukehika worked on houses at Koriniti and Pūtiki. Two books on marae in the region have been written by Morvin Simon of Kaiwhaiki.
A number of Māori churches are culturally significant, notably:
- Wheriko (built in 1862), at Pārewanui
- Tūtahi (1883), at Nukumaru
- Pepara (1920), at Koriniti, which replaced earlier churches on the site
- St Paul’s (1937), at Pūtiki, which has some of New Zealand’s finest modern Māori carving
- Whitikaupeka Māori Church (1905), at Moawhango
- Rātana Temple (1926–28).
The Whanganui Regional Museum houses the historic 21-metre canoe Te Mata o Hoturoa, which was made around 1810 and gifted to the museum by Ema Hīpango of Pūtiki in 1924.
Many in the region have encouraged Māori culture – prominent among them was the late Ruka Broughton of Ngā Rauru. An important cultural group, Te Matapihi, is organised from Kaiwhaiki. Consisting of people of all ages from the Whanganui River hapū (sub-tribes), it has produced several compact discs and records. In 1991 the radio station Te Reo Irirangi o Whanganui (AWA FM) began broadcasting.
Turakina Maori Girls' College was set up in Turakina in 1905, but has been based in nearby Marton since 1928.
Scottish influence has been strong in the lowland regions, especially around Turakina. In Whanganui, a Friends (Quaker) school ran from 1920 to 1970, and a Quaker settlement, ‘Quaker Acres’, was established near the school's site in 1974. There are three well-known Anglican schools: Wanganui Collegiate (1854), with which St George’s primary school (1928) amalgamated in 2010, in Whanganui, and Nga Tawa (1891) and Huntley (1896) in Marton. Germans were among those who settled Marton, and the town has had a Lutheran church since 1876.
British regimental bands gave public recitals and played at balls, and in 1857 the 65th Regiment set up a theatre. Whanganui subsequently became known for its brass bands – Wanganui Garrison and Queen Alexandra’s Own were winners of many national contests. The bands merged in the 1970s, and in the 2010s the band was known as Brass Whanganui.
Whanganui UCOL has major fine arts, craft and design programmes. The Whanganui branch of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, later Heritage New Zealand, ensured the survival of many notable buildings and historic sites. Specialist museums include the National Army Museum in Waiōuru and the Whanganui Riverboat Centre.
Whanganui’s cultural buildings and institutions include the Royal Whanganui Opera House (built in 1899), the Ward Observatory (1903), the Sarjeant Gallery (1919) and the Whanganui War Memorial Hall (1960).