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"Wanganui" redirects here. For the Government-run school in Shepparton, Victoria, Australia, see Wanganui Park Secondary College.
For other uses, see Whanganui (disambiguation).


Coordinates: 39°56′S 175°03′E / 39.933°S 175.050°E / -39.933; 175.050Coordinates: 39°56′S 175°03′E / 39.933°S 175.050°E / -39.933; 175.050

Country  New Zealand
Region Manawatu-Wanganui
Territorial authority Wanganui District
 • Mayor Annette Main
 • Territorial 2,372.7 km2 (916.1 sq mi)
Population (June 2013 estimate (June 2012 for urban areas))[1]
 • Territorial 43,100
 • Density 18/km2 (47/sq mi)
Postcode(s) 4500, 4501
Area code(s) 06

Whanganui (/ˈhwɒŋɡəni/;[2] Māori: [waŋanʉ.i]), also spelled Wanganui,[3] is an urban area and district on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The Whanganui River, New Zealand's longest navigable waterway, runs from Mt Tongariro to the sea. Whanganui is part of the Manawatu-Wanganui region.

Like several New Zealand centres, it was officially designated a city until administrative reorganisation in 1989, and is now run by a District Council. Despite this, it is still regarded as a city by most New Zealanders.

Although called Wanganui from 1854, the New Zealand Geographic Board recommended that the name be changed to "Whanganui", and the government decided in December 2009 that, while either spelling was acceptable, Crown agencies would use the Whanganui spelling.[4]

Whanganui City

Whanganui is located on the South Taranaki Bight, close to the mouth of the Whanganui River. It is 200 kilometres north of Wellington and 75 kilometres northwest of Palmerston North, at the junction of State Highways 3 and 4. Most of the town lies on the river's northwestern bank, although some suburbs are located on the opposite side of the river.

It enjoys a temperate climate, with slightly above the national average sunshine (2100 hours per annum), and about 900 mm of annual rainfall. Several frosts are experienced in winter.

The city is administered by Wanganui District Council. The current mayor, Annette Main has been voted as mayor for two consecutive terms[5] and overtook former mayor Michael Laws, famous for instigating the local gang patch by-law in 2012.[6]


The area around the mouth of the Whanganui was a major site of pre-European Māori settlement. In the 1820s coastal tribes in the area assaulted the Kapiti Island of Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha. Te Rauparaha retaliated in 1830 sacking Putiki and slaughtering the inhabitants.[7] The first European traders arrived in 1831, followed in 1840 by missionaries Octavius Hadfield and Henry Williams who collected signatures for the Treaty of Waitangi.[7] After the New Zealand Company had settled in Wellington the company looked for other suitable places for settlers. Edward Wakefield, son of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, negotiated the sale of 40,000 acres in 1840. A town, originally known as Petre after Lord Petre, one of the Directors of the New Zealand Company, was established at the river mouth shortly after.[7] The name was officially changed to Wanganui on 20 January 1854.

The early years of the new town were problematic. Purchase of land from the local tribes had been haphazard and irregular, and as such many Māori were angered with the influx of Pākehā onto land that they still claimed. It was not until the town had been established for eight years that agreements were finally reached between the colonials and local tribes, and some resentment continued (and still filters through to the present day).

Wanganui grew rapidly after this time, with land being cleared for pasture. The town was a major military centre during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, although local Māori at Putiki remained friendly to the town's settlers. In 1871 a town bridge was opened followed six years later by the railway bridge at Aramoho.[7] The town was linked by rail to both New Plymouth and Wellington by 1886.

Wanganui was incorporated as a Borough on 1 February 1872 and declared a city on 1 July 1924.[7]

Perhaps the city's biggest scandal happened in 1920, when the Mayor, Charles Mackay, shot and wounded a young poet, D'Arcy Cresswell, who had been blackmailing him over his homosexuality. Mackay served seven years in prison and his name was erased from the city's civic monuments, while Cresswell (himself homosexual) was praised as a "wholesome-minded young man".[8] Mackay's name was restored to the foundation stone of the Sarjeant Gallery in 1985.[9]

The Whanganui River catchment is seen as a sacred area to Māori, and the Whanganui region is still seen as a focal point for any resentment over land ownership. In 1995, Moutoa Gardens in Wanganui, known to local Māori as Pakaitore, were occupied for 79 days in a mainly peaceful protest by the Whanganui iwi over land claims.

Wanganui was the site of the New Zealand Police Law Enforcement System (LES) from 1976 to 1995. An early Sperry mainframe computer based intelligence and data management system, it was known colloquially as the "Wanganui Computer". The data centre housing the LES was subject to New Zealand's highest profile suicide bombing in 1982 when anarchist Neil Roberts detonated a gelignite bomb in the entry foyer. Roberts was the only casualty of the bombing.

Whanganui is the only New Zealand city/district to ban gang insignia and give police new powers to control gangs. Legislation was passed through Parliament in May 2009.[6] The bill became known as 'Laws' Law' after the previous mayor who championed the legislation, Michael Laws, although it was steered through Parliament by local MP Chester Borrows.

On 29 August 2012, Stewart Murray Wilson, dubbed the "Beast of Blenheim" was released from prison to be reintegrated to society. He is currently living in a state house on prison grounds, with strict parole conditions.

The name

Whāngā nui means big bay or big harbour. Europeans called it Petre (pronounced Peter), after Lord Petre, an officer of the New Zealand Company, but the name did not persist.

Wanganui or Whanganui?

In the local dialect, Māori pronounce the phoneme wh as [ˀw], a w combined with a glottal stop,[dubious ] and the name as something like "'Wanganui", hard to reproduce by non-locals. Until recently it was generally written as "Wanganui" and pronounced with a w by non-speakers of Māori and a wh (often [f]) by those Māori speakers from other areas who knew its derivation.

Following an article about the river by David Young in the New Zealand Geographic magazine that used "Whanganui" throughout, in accord with the wishes of the local iwi, the spelling of the river's name reverted to Whanganui in 1991. The region's name is now sometimes also spelt "Whanganui", but the city has kept the spelling "Wanganui".

As a result, many people from outside the area now take pains to pronounce the river and the region as "Whanganui" and the city as "Wanganui", though the variant spellings do not reflect any difference in the underlying name.

A non-binding [2]

In February 2009, the New Zealand Geographic Board received a proposal that the city's name should be spelt "Whanganui", and in late March found there was a good case for the change.[10] The public was given three months to comment on the proposed change, beginning in mid May.[11] About equal numbers of submissions supported and opposed the change.[12] Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws spoke strongly against the proposed change.[13] Another referendum was held in Wanganui in May 2009 and residents again rejected changing the city name 77-22.[14] Turnout was 60%. The Geographic Board decided in September 2009 that the name should be spelled "Whanganui", but the decision waited for review by the Minister for Land Information.[12]

In December 2009 the government decided that while either spelling was acceptable, Crown agencies would use the Whanganui spelling.[4] Despite this, many government agencies still use the Wanganui spelling, as does the local council.[15][16][17][18][19]

City features

The urban area is home to a number of iconic buildings, including the Durie Hill Elevator that taks visitors and residents to the top of Durie Hill (and back down) for a small fee. There are steps for those who want the exercise.

Whanganui has several high quality sporting venues, including Cook's Gardens - a major sporting venue with used for cricket, athletics and rugby. On 27 January 1962, a world record time of 3 minutes 54.4 seconds for running the mile was set by Peter Snell on the grass track at the gardens. The venue also has a world-class velodrome.

Much of the city is on the river's northwest bank. The river is crossed by four bridges – Cobham Bridge, City Bridge, Dublin Street Bridge and Aramoho Railway Bridge (rail and pedestrians only).

Suburbs of the city include (clockwise from due south), Gonville, Castlecliff, Springvale, St. Johns Hill, Aramoho, Wanganui East, Bastia Hill, Durie Hill and Putiki. Of these, all except Wanganui East, Bastia Hill, Durie Hill and Putiki are on the northwest bank.


Much of Whanganui's economy relates directly to the fertile and prosperous farming hinterland near the city. Heads Road is Whanganui's main industrial area and is home to a number of manufacturing and engineering operations. The Wanganui Port, once the centre of industrial transport, still has some traffic but is more noted for the Q-West boat building operation there.

Tourism is becoming a major income stream for the district, and the local council has undertaken a number of tourism initiatives. The council is also raising the profile of its main tourism website which has been recognised as the leading source of information on Whanganui for visitor information.


Climate data for Whanganui
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 22.4
Average low °C (°F) 14
Precipitation mm (inches) 62
Source: NIWA Climate Data[20]

Whanganui District

Main article: Whanganui District

Located on the West Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, the Whanganui District covers 2337 sq km, the majority of which is hill country, with a narrow coastal strip of flat land and a major urban settlement on the lower banks of the Whanganui River. The region is known for its outstanding natural environment with the Whanganui Awa (River) at its heart. It is the second largest river in the North Island, the longest navigable waterway in the country, and covers 290 kilometres from the heights of Mt Tongariro to Wanganui’s coast and the Tasman Sea. Every bend and rapid of the river (there are 239 listed rapids) has a guardian, or kaitiaki, who maintains the mauri (life force) of that stretch of the river. Whanganui hapū (sub-tribes) were renowned for their canoeing skills and maintained extensive networks of weirs and fishing traps along the River. Generations of river iwi have learned to use and protect this great taonga (treasure) and on 13 September 2012 the Whanganui River became the first river in the world to gain recognition as a legal identity. Today the River and its surrounds are used for a number of recreational activities including kayaking, jet boating, tramping, cycling and camping. A national cycleway has recently opened, which takes cyclists from the ‘mountains to the sea’. The Whanganui National Park provides protection for native flora and fauna and was established in 1986.

Wanganui District Council resulted from amalgamation of Wanganui and Waitotara county councils and Wanganui City Council. The district has an area of 2,373 km². Much of the land in Whanganui district is rough hill country surrounding the valley of the Whanganui River. A large proportion of this is within the Whanganui National Park.

All but some 3,600 people in the Whanganui district live in the city itself, meaning there are few prominent outlying settlements. A small but notable village is Jerusalem, which was home to the poet James. K. Baxter.

Sports and hobbies

Sport Team's Colours


Wanganui is one of the oldest rugby unions in New Zealand, but has never held the Ranfurly Shield. The Whanganui environs have produced many All Blacks including Andrew Donald, Bill Osborne, Buff Milner, George Bullock-Douglas, Glenn Osborne, Harrison Rowley, John Blair, John Hogan, Moke Belliss, Mona Thomson, Pat Potaka, Peina Taituha, Peter Henderson, Peter Johns, Peter McDonnell, Peter Murray, Sandy McNicol and Keith Gudsell who also played three tests for the Wallabies. Although from the Manawatu, 1987 Rugby World Cup winning All Black Captain David Kirk was a student at Wanganui Collegiate School.

In 2008 the Wanganui representative rugby team under the captaincy of David Gower, won the NZRFU's Heartland Championship (Meads Cup) by defeating Mid Canterbury 27-12 in the final. They had previously been the defeated finalist in 2006 and 2007. The 2008 side had an undefeated season – the first since 1947. The rugby squad, including coach and management, was accorded the honour of 'Freedom of the City' by the Wanganui District Council – the first time the award had been given to any sporting team.

The 2009 representative team repeated this feat by regaining the Meads Cup – again defeating Mid Canterbury in the final by 34 points to 13 (after trailing nil-13 at halftime). Unlike 2008, the 2009 did lose games (to Wellington, Wairarapa Bush and Mid Canterbury) but came good at the business end of the season. Ten Whanganui players were selected for the Heartland XV.

The Wanganui rugby jersey, due to its resemblance, is known as the butcher's apron.[21]


Wanganui has a strong cultural and recreational focus. Queen's Park in the central city has several cultural institutions including the Davis Library, the Alexander Heritage and Research Library, the Sarjeant Gallery, the Wanganui War Memorial Centre and the Whanganui Regional Museum. Wanganui is home to New Zealand's only glass school and is renowned for its glass art. There are more than 5,500 artworks in the Sarjeant Gallery, initially focused on 19th and early 20th century British and European art but, given the expansive terms of the will of benefactor Henry Sarjeant, the collection now spans 16th century through to 21st century. Among the collections are historic and modern works in all media – on paper, sculptures, pottery, ceramics and glass; bronze works; video art; and paintings by contemporary artists and old masters. Notable among these are works by Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Domenico Piola, Frank Brangwyn, Bernardino Poccetti, Gaspard Dughet, William Richmond, William Etty, Lelio Orsi, Frederick Goodall, Augustus John and others.

The Royal Wanganui Opera House was constructed in 1899 and its acoustics have been consistently recognised by international artists. The city has a variety of art galleries, and is home to many artists. Iconic arts events include the Festival of Glass, Puanga Matariki celebrations, Whanganui Open Artists Studios events, Wanganui Festival of Cultures, Wanganui Literary Festival, Underground Youth Fashion Show, Wanganui Opera Week and the New Zealand Opera School every summer.

Sister cities

Whanganui has two sister cities, as designated by Sister Cities International:

The Wanganui District Council decided in 2008 to formally end its sister city relationship with Reno, Nevada, USA after years of inactivity.[22] The relationship was parodied on "The Prefect of Wanganui" episode of Reno 911!.

Instead, it has looked to partner a Samoan village in the wake of the 2009 tsunami tragedy.


External links

  • Gigapan image: Whanganui City and River, 1 Nov 2010
  • Whanganui's Official Web Portal
  • – private portal
  • Your complete source of information on Wanganui – private portal
  • Whanganui in Te Ara the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
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