10 Things to do in Whanganui, New Zealand

Whanganui Beaches

Whanganui (old name Petre) is one of New Zealand’s oldest towns. It’s located on the lower west coast of the North Island and has a population of ~45 000 residents. It is a coastal city, mainly known for glassblowing artisans as well as having New Zealand’s third longest river – The Whanganui River. We stayed in Whanganui for a week and tried to see and experience as much as possible. Based on our experience we’ve put together a list of places that we enjoyed visiting the most.

1. New Zealand Glassworks

As mentioned above, Whanganui is well known for glassblowing. That said, visiting a glassblowing workshop should delineate be on your things to do in Whanganui list. Not only will you be able to admire and buy the displayed art work but you can also see the artisans working on their projects.

Things to do in Whanganui
NZ Glass Works

Also, if you are eager to learn or just curios then you can also join a glass blowing workshop and test your own glassblowing skills 😉
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2. Whanganui Regional Museum

The Whanganui Regional Museum has a collection of over 350 000 nationally and internationally significant holdings. Among other pieces you will be able to see the skeletal remains of extinct giant flightless Moa as well as rare Southern Beaked Whales.

Places to visit in Whanganui
Southern Beaked Whale skeleton … and Simon

One of the goofiest displays we saw was in the taxidermy exhibit where they have displayed the poop of different kind of animals as well as birds.
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3. Sarjeant Gallery

Few hundred meters from the museum is Sarjeant Gallery. This gallery is one of the most beautiful heritage buildings in Whanganui. The Oamaru stone building sits as a centrepiece in the beautiful Queens Park and is overlooking Whanganui city.

Things to do in Whanganui
Stairs to the Sarjeant Gallery

It’s one of a few purpose-built galleries in New Zealand and is Category 1 Historic Place. The Gallery is (as of July 2020) undergoing major revamp and is thus closed. Temporary premises – Taupo Quay (Sarjeant on Quay).
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4. Historic buildings

Our favorite thing about Whanganui is their huge number of historic buildings. The best place to admire the buildings is in and close by the main street – Victoria Avenue. With huge range of old refurbished buildings Victoria Avenue look like a scene from 80’s movies.

Things to do in Whanganui
Whanganui Cinema on Victoria Avenue

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5. Durie Hill Elevator and Tunnel

One of the most interesting heritage site and experience to do in Whanganui is taking an elevator ride up or down the Durie Hill. From the base of the hill, this elevator is accessed by a 200-meter tunnel. The elevator shaft is 66 m high and the ride takes about 36 sec.

Things to do in Whanganui
Durie Hill Elevator Tower and Tunnel

Ranked by Heritage New Zealand as a Category 1 Historic Place and is New Zealand’s only public underground elevator.
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6. War Memorial Tower

Next to the Durie Hill elevator is Whanganui War Memorial Tower. This powerful tower is 33,5 meters high and has 176 steps to the top. Although the climb up might look a bit intimidating, the panoramic views from the top are totally worth the effort.

Best Lookout in Whanganui
War Memorial Tower and views from the top of the tower

The tower stands for the 513 people from the district, killed in World War 1. Ranked by Heritage New Zealand as a Category 2 Historic Place.
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7. Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake is one of Whanganui’s premier parks. There is a scenic 25-minute woodland walk around the lake with a mixture of wildlife – ducks swans, squirrels, rabbits as well as various other critters.

Free walks in Whanganui
A walk along the Virginia River

Next to Virginia Lake, there is also a stunning Winter Garden and a small Art Garden. The Winter Garden is an all-year-round attraction with beautiful displays of seasonal flowers and plants. The adjoining Art Garden combines an interesting mix of sculptures and garden art.

Visiting Whanganui
Looking at you looking at me

Ou, and if you would like to have a small lunch or cup of coffee before you take off then next to the Winter garden is a coffee shop called – Funky Duck Cafe.
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8. Bason Botanic Gardens

Bason Botanical garden is a short 20 min drive out from Whanganui. It is a botanic and architectural garden that also has beautiful lookouts, picnic and BBQ facilities as well as a small 3-hole disc golf course.

Things to do in Whanganui
Bason Botanic Garden

As we were visiting this garden on a cold winter day, we were especially grateful for the ability to “drive through” the park. Yes, you heard us right. At the Bason Botanic Garden you can drive your vehicle around the allocated roads.
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9. Kai Iwi Beach

A trip to a coastal city wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a local beach. In Whanganui there are three different beaches that are a close proximate from the downtown – Castlecliff Beach, South Beach and our top pic, Kai Iwi Beach.

Best Beach in Whanganui
Kai Iwi Beach

As you can see from the picture above, Kai Iwi Beach is pretty rouged and thus has heaps to explore. A walk along the beach to the north will take you past some awesome cliffs, caves a footbridge and also a “Corona Bar”.

Best beach in New Zealand
Corona Bar at Kai Iwi Beach

If you want to see the most of this beach then we recommend visiting it during the low tide. PS! It is also the only beach, we have been in NZ, where you can light a fire.
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10. “Wairua” and “Waimarie‘ – historic riverboats

Whanganui is home to two historic riverboats which both run regular river cruises all year round. The smaller one – Wairua was built in 1904. After serving the Whanganui River over 34 years it sank into the mud where she stayed until 1987. Salvaged by a group of local men Wairua was re-launched in 2006 and is now powered by modern diesel engine.

Things to do in Whanganui

The second boat – Waimarie was built in 1899. It used to carry a wide variety of cargo and mail, but also ferried passengers on scenic excursions. Similarly, to Wairua this one to sunk and stayed abandoned for around 50 years before restored to her former glory in 2000. As a result, Waimarie is New Zealand’s only authentic coal-fired paddle steamer in operation.

Bridge to Nowhere

And last but not least, hidden away deep in the Whanganui National Park, is a concrete bridge that takes you literally to nowhere. Built in 1936 it was only used for six years, then abandoned and devoured by the Whanganui forest.

As we visited Whanganui during the cold winter month of July we did not go for this long hike and thus can’t really comment weather it is worth hiking or not. The only reason why we have listed it is because all the locals we interacted with seemed very fond of this bridge. They all said that visiting this bridge should be on everyone’s “Things to do in Whanganui” list.
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Go!!! There is #Nowhere to go but everywhere

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