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This park encloses the wild Whanganui River, which is New Zealand's longest navigable waterway. Beginning beneath the shadow of the central plateau's giant volcanoes, the 329 kilometre river winds its way to the Tasman Sea through an endless procession of forested valleys and hills.
The river was once an important transport route for Maori, and many defensive pa (forts) were constructed on headlands along its sinuous course. Early European settlers and traders also used the river for transport, guiding their shallow-draft boats through the long narrow gorges that today provide so much enjoyment for kayakers. The paddling adventure that begins in Taumarunui and finishes in Pipiriki is known as the 'Whanganui Journey'.
For bird watchers, there is much to be seen. There are large numbers of kereru (native pigeon), piwakawaka (fantail), tui, toutouwai (robin), riroriro (grey warbler) and miromiro (tomtit). The beautiful whio (blue duck) is the target of a Department of Conservation recovery plan, and numbers are increasing steadily. You can also hope for sightings of kaka and yellow-crowned parakeets. At night it's possible to hear the call of the North Island brown kiwi.