Whanganui River – Roadside Stories


[Māori flute] [Reporter]
The river is the thing which links you together in many ways. [Rangi Pohika, Ngāti Pomoana elder]
Yes, yes, we can’t help it. If we don’t see
each others for month, and one on to another and other, but the thought behind it: we live
here, there’s our parent body in the river. You can’t just sit in the city area… [Narrator] At nearly 300 kilometres long,
the Whanganui River is New Zealand’s second longest river. Its tributaries are located
high on the Volcanic Plateau in the middle of the North Island and the river flows out
to the Tasman Sea at the city of Whanganui. The river has spectacular scenery in its middle
reaches, north of Pipiriki, where it passes through a series of narrow gorges set amidst
lush native forest. The river is of huge importance to local Māori
who used it as a highway, a food source, a playground, and a spiritual home. There is
a well-known whakataukī (proverb) which ends: ‘Ko au te awa ko te awa ko au.’ This means,
‘I am the river; the river is me.’ Māori built settlements — some of them fortified
— the length of the river, and paddled up and down on waka (canoes). This included large
waka taua (war canoes) that could carry up to 40 warriors. The river used to contain an abundance of
eels, which Māori caught with ingenious pā auroa (eel weirs). A pā auroa was a single
fence built almost parallel to the current at the top of a rapid. As eels came downstream,
the fence guided them into a net attached to the end post and another post opposite. Many river weirs were removed by Pākehā
or Europeans in the 19th century in order to let steamboats travel the river, and the
diversion of water for hydro-electric power in the 20th century saw water levels fall
and eel numbers decline. The first European settlers arrived in Whanganui
in the early 1840s, but they led a fearful existence for some years as they occupied
land where Māori disputed the sale. However, by the late 19th century, Māori opposition
had largely been circumvented, and paddle steamers plied the river, deep into the interior.
Hotels were built on the riverbank and tourists also stayed in riverboats moored to the shore.
A trip up the Whanganui became a celebrated tourist attraction, drawing visitors from
around the world. However, the extensive clearance of the bush-clad
interior caused eroded land to fill the river and it soon became impassable to large vessels.
Today visitors can enjoy a riverboat ride on the restored Waimarie, the country’s only
operational paddle boat. It travels the still navigable lower reaches of the river from
its mooring near the city’s ‘Town Bridge’. Across the road, Moutoa Gardens occupies the
site of an old Māori market, Pākaitore. Issues about ownership of the river and relations
between local Māori and Pākehā came to a head at Moutoa Gardens in 1995. About 150
Whanganui Māori occupied the gardens for 79 days to protest delays in the settlement
of historic land grievances. The dispute attracted national attention and infuriated many Pākehā
locals. However, these issues have come to the fore again in recent debates over whether
there should be an ‘h’ in the name of the city, Whanganui. Today, few people live on the banks of the
Whanganui River, but it is a popular tourist attraction, especially for trampers, jetboaters
and kayakers. The stretch of river between Whakahoro and Pipiriki, with a gentle gradient
yet lots of rapids, is particularly popular with canoeists and kayakers.

3 thoughts on “Whanganui River – Roadside Stories

  1. SAY IT THEN SPELL IT ..THIN MAORI VOWELS…
    IS THERE A F IN MAORI???????
    AAHH NOO
    QUIT SWEARING..
    IF MAORI TEACH MY CHILDREN MAORI WORDS WITH F OR FUKA IMA TEACH EM TO SAY FUCK THE WORLD
    TYPICAL MAORI JUST SEE ALL FOREIGNERS AS WHITE MAN FROM ENGLAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    YOUR FORGETTING THEM AUSSIES, DUTCH CHINESE …

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