Virginia Lake, Whanganui © Liz Light

Four fun things to do in Whanganui

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1. Get above it all

Tunnels and towers have a special fascination, and Whanganui has both. They are joined together by a historic elevator.

Near City Bridge a 205-metre pedestrian tunnel drills into the heart of Durie Hill. Deep underground the tunnel terminates at an elevator, an old-style lift that takes you straight up, 66 metres, to the hilltop. This 1919 engineering marvel was built to give people easier access to suburbs spreading up the hill; the alternative was hundreds of zigzagging steps. It’s still used by locals to get to and from the city centre and by visitors just for fun.   

Durie Hill War Memorial Tower was built a few years later next to the elevator terminus. From the top of the tower, there are great views over the city and river and out to sea. A tower, tunnel and an elevator, Whanganui has it all. Enjoy all three for just $2.00. 

2. Glass city

It’s crazy stuff glass; fluid and flexible when hot and hard and brittle when cold. It can be blown, melted, cast and cut, making it an extremely versatile art form. Whanganui’s many glass artists work in all these mediums. 

The glass story goes back 30 years to when Whanganui Glass School was established.

It acts like a magnet to glass-minded people, pulling them from around New Zealand and overseas. 

With the glass school, Community Glass, where artists a can rent kilns, and 30 glass artists who live in the area, Whanganui is a hub for glass art and a great place for visitors to share the fascination for this versatile and beautiful medium. 

Lava Glass Whanganui

Whanganui glass blowing © Liz Light

3. Virginia Lake 

Whanganui is known as the garden city and Virginia Lake, a public park, is a fine example of a gorgeous garden. The 25-minute walk around the lake passes through gardens and woodlands. In the middle of the lake, there is a performing fountain which is imaginatively lit-up in the evenings.

If the weather is inclement, not to worry, the extensive glass-covered winter gardens are warm and brightly filled with blooms all year round. 

There is a great playground for children and, while they play, there is a café for grownups to while away the time.   

4. Paddle up the river 

Ah, the almost-forgotten smell of coal smoke. The fire in her belly is fully stoked and the boilers run hot. With a shrill whistle and billowing puff of steam, the Waimarie leaves her moorings in central Whanganui and paddles up-river. 

This paddle steamer revolutionised river transport in 1899, on her first journey to Pipiriki, making access to the central North Island faster and easier. And she has been on the river ever since, though for nearly 50 years she was on the bottom of it. 

In 1952 this redundant river queen sank at her mooring. In 2000 she was salvaged and restored and she now paddles up-river on weekend days. Visitors experience the scenery and history of this mighty Whanganui River in a genuine and relaxed way. 

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