Grabaseat Destination: Wanganui

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Recently, Wanganui has become most famous as the town that can’t decide whether to put a silent ‘h’ back into its name. Ex-mayor Michael Laws was against the idea – which seemed a bit rich coming from a guy whose own name has a silent ‘h’ – buteventually most people agreed it was the right thing to do and did it, apart from the ones who didn’t, who didn’t.

Our point is that all that public arguing might have given you the impression that Wanga- sorry Whanganui was a bit of a stressful place, when really the opposite is true. Some of New Zealand’s most peaceful, remote destinations sit on the shores of the Whanganui River, which flows through the town on the way from Mt Tongariro to the Tasman Sea.

The best way to see it all is by canoe – the guided five-day journey down the river has been described as “life changing”. We tried to search for a romantic canoe movie to get you into the mood, but all we can find is ‘Deliverance’. Yeah … so we wouldn’t advise watching that one. The locals along Whanganui River are much nicer, we promise – with townships, campsites and maraes scattered along the trip for friendly lodging and food.

Or, you can follow the road, which winds along next to the river and stops at all those dinky little towns on the way. Do it in a rental car or – get this – travel with the local postie on the “River Mail Run Tour”, with interesting facts and quirky conversation to keep you amused while he delivers post and groceries to households in the valley. The day trip will cost you the princely sum of $63, including hotel pick up and morning tea! Let’s see email do THAT.

You can also puff along the river in a 100-year-old paddlesteamer, based in town. That paddlesteamer was buried under mud for 40 years and restored by locals – honestly, the town is full of crazy stories like this, but you have to visit to discover them. Okay here’s one more: did you know Wanganui is one of the world’s major glass-blowing cities? We know! Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.