River As A Person

Whanganui National Park

Image © Tom Proffitt-White

River As A Person

The Whanganui River is an ever-present life force for the North Island of New Zealand. Of great historic importance, the river is one of the most culturally significant bodies of water in the country. Maori of Whanganui iwi have long believed that the river is an important ancestor with whom they have a deep spiritual connection. In 2017 the New Zealand government formally recognized this relationship between people and river when the Whanganui River was granted the same legal rights of a person. The legislation recognizes the river as an indivisible and living whole that runs from the mountains to the sea, which has the corresponding rights, liabilities, and duties of a legal person. Following Te Urewera, the Whanganui River is only the second entity to be granted this status and the first and only river to be given such rights. Established in 1986 as part of the 100-year celebration of the forming of New Zealand’s National Park, the Whanganui River is the heart of the 742km2 Whanganui National Park.


Whio/Blue Duck

Whio or Blue Duck is a nationally threatened bird species that is much rarer than kiwi. They nest near river banks and are vulnerable to introduced predators because they are weak flyers. Whio occupy live their lives in very small stretches of river with arange of only one to five kilometers. This means they require intensive protection if the species is going to survive.

Image © Matt Binns

River Journeys

The most popular activity in the park is to take the historic 3-5 day journey travelling down the river by kayak. Along the way people get to stay at Teiki Kainga, the only Department of Conservation hut that is also a marae. The historic ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ is another important site within the park. This bridge was built to facilitate settlement in the area but was abandoned before being finished due to economic hardship.

Image © Whanganui River Dories, Tourism New Zealand

Whanganui Iwi

Local Whanganui Maori say ‘Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au’, or ‘I am the river and the river is me’. The Whanganui River has been an important route between the west coast and the centre of the North Island of New Zealand. Dotted along its banks were numerous villages and marae, many of which remain today. For these settlements the river remain their lifeblood.

Images © Kennedy Warne (left), People’s Network (right)

previous arrow
next arrow


Arthur’s Pass National Park is located in the heart of the South Island with an active alpine fault immediately below. It is nestled in an environment formed by those tectonic forces that pushed the earth up millions of years ago…
Te Urewera is the home to one of New Zealand’s greatest forests. Almost every bird species native to the North Island is to be found in this eastern pocket of lush bush and tucked away hidden amid the dense green growth is the stunning Lake Waikairemoana…
The 3555km2 Mount Aspiring National Park is a haven for native alpine plants and animals including the tiny threatened rock wren. The park is part of Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area…