The Whanganui River has the legal status of a person, meaning the river has the same rights and responsibilities as a person. With its birth as an alpine stream high on Mount Tongariro,in the Tongariro National Park, the origin of the Whanganui river gathers waters from both Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu, before descending through the Central Volcanic Plateau towards Taumarunui. It collects tributary from over 7382 square kilometers of watershed to eventually turn southward and become the mighty Whanganui River. The longest navigable river in New Zealand, it traverses over 200km of countryside in its winding journey through the Whanganui National Park to eventually meet the Tasman sea.
The stretch of river between Taumarunui and Pipiriki is the only river journey that is part of the New Zealand Great Walks system. Known as the Whanganui Journey, the full trip takes around five days. In development on the banks of the Whanganui River, are tracks that form part of the Mountains to Sea trail, one of nineteen that comprise New Zealand's national cycleway project.
Beautifully captured on the silver screen, the Whanganui River can be seen as represented in Hollywood movie The River Queen. The Whanganui River was, until recent times, the main arterial route into New Zealand's North Island interior. Occupied initially by the indigenous Maori of Te Atihaunui a Paparangi, then developed as a trading route by the subsequent European settlers, it has a chronicled narrative of wars, riverboat trading, settlement era flour mills, abandoned mansions and the Bridge to Nowhere.
Built in the mid 1930s, to provide road access to the lower and middle valley farms known as the Mangapurua Valley Soldiers Settlement, the Bridge to Nowhere stands as a poignant memorial to the abandoned hopes and dreams of the returning World War I servicemen who braved this remote area.
Attempting to transform virgin native forest into farmland, these pioneer settlers eventually bent to the will of the land, abandoning titles due to the area's difficult access for trading and the onset of the Great Depression. By the time the bridge was completed these areas of the Mangapurua Valley were deserted, the bridge was rarely used and the construction of the road to the Whanganui River abandoned.