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Overview

Legends emphasise the importance of the Whanganui river, and it remains sacred to Whanganui iwi.

Manawatu-Wanganui is a region in the lower half of the North Island of New Zealand, around the city of Palmerston North and the town of Wanganui. The district is dominated and defined by two significant rivers, the Whanganui (290 km), and the Manawatu (182 km). The Whanganui River is the longest navigable river in New Zealand. Legends emphasise the importance of the river and it remains sacred to Whanganui iwi. The region is a major agricultural power, leading in beef, sheep and deer production. Farm stays allow visitors to experience life on a New Zealand farm, not to mention some excellent country cooking. The Manawatu-Wanganui region takes up a large proportion of the lower half of the North Island. It is the second-largest region in the North Island and the sixth-largest in New Zealand; totalling 22,215 km2 (8.1% of New Zealand's land area).

The region stretches from north of Taumarunui to south of Levin on the west coast, and across to the east coast from Cape Turnagain to Owhanga. It borders the Waikato, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay and Wellington regions and includes river catchment areas that run from the volcanic plateau to the sea. The Pacific Ocean is the eastern boundary and the Ruahine Ranges form a natural boundary between the region and Hawke's Bay. Within the region’s boundaries is the tallest mountain in the North Island, Mount Ruapehu. An active volcano, it is 2,797m high. During the last 100 years Ruapehu has experienced six significant eruptions, and last erupted in 1995 and 1996.

Local Employment

There are many restaurants, cafes, hotels and lodges, plus home stays in this wonderful region. These range from exclusive lodges to everyday cafes. This area is a marvellous place to work if you love water sports and the great outdoors. Palmerston North is a university town so there is also pub work aplenty. The region's economy is based on agriculture (notably sheep), fishing, forestry, and horticulture. It is one of the most important areas of pastoral farming in New Zealand. The region had 7,216,177 sheep (at 30 June 1996), the largest number of sheep in the North Island and the fourth-highest figure in the country behind Canterbury, Southland and Otago. The region also produces a significant proportion of vegetables in the North Island and is particularly noted for its abundant potato crop. A higher than average proportion of businesses are engaged in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, 6.3% compared with 4.4% nationally.

Population

Population: 222,423 - 2006 Census

The region had a usually resident population of 222,423 people at the 2006 Census, the fifth-largest population in New Zealand. The region has a lower than average population density, 10.3 people per square kilometre, compared with 13.1 for New Zealand. Between the 2001 and 2006 censuses the population rose by 1.6%, or 3,477 people. There are two major urban areas in the region. Palmerston North, with an estimated resident population of 80,700, expanded as an educational centre and a supply centre for the surrounding rural hinterland. It became a city in 1930. The other major urban area is Wanganui, with an estimated resident population of 39,600 (June 2009 estimates). Other urban centres include Levin, Feilding, Dannevirke, Taumarunui, Foxton and Marton. Agriculture dominates land use in the region; there were 6,344 farm holdings on 30 June 1996, which was almost a tenth of all farm holdings in New Zealand. Farming occupied 72.5% of land in the region, which was much higher than the national average of 60.1%. City life does not dominate, as half the population lives outside a large urban area and more than a third live in small towns or rural areas. The dominance of agriculture, combined with the relatively small scale of most urban areas, gives a rural quality to the region, quite distinct from neighbouring Wellington. The region's rugged interior has also become one of the main training areas for New Zealand's defence force, which maintain three bases in the region.

Land area: 22,215 km2 (8,577.3 sq mi)

Main Centres: Wanganui, Palmerston North, Levin, Feilding and Taihape

History

The Whanganui River was extremely important to early Māori as it was the southern link in a chain of waterways that spanned almost two-thirds of the North Island. It was one of the chief areas of Māori settlement with its easily fortified cliffs and ample food supplies. Legends highlight the importance of the river and it remains sacred to Whanganui iwi. Māori lived along the coast as the region was covered in bush when Europeans arrived and then timber, saw milling and flax milling dominated during the 19th century. Sheep farmers followed to exploit the newly-cleared ground. While the open Manawatu Plains became more densely settled by Europeans, inland Ruapehu, Rangitikei and Wanganui remained more Māori-dominated, remote and independent.

As late as the 1950s the Whanganui River remained a river of mystery. Since then exploitation of the river's commercial potential has opened up the area, sometimes causing friction with local Māori. The district is one of the most important pastoral areas in New Zealand, its status recognised when the government opened the Massey Agricultural College in the 1920s. The region contains areas of great ecological significance, reflected in the designation of approximately a seventh of its land area as part of the nation's conservation estate. Tongariro National Park is the largest park in the region (795.98 km2) and is the oldest national park in the country, established in 1887. The volcanoes Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe are sacred to Māori and were gifted to the nation by Te Heuheu Tukino IV, paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa. They form the nucleus of the park, which is designated a world heritage area.

Activities: What to do there?

The region has a comparatively mild climate, although Chateau Tongariro experienced the lowest temperature recorded in the North Island, falling to -13.6 °C on 7 July 1937. The Rangitikei River supports an excellent trout fishery. You'll also find opportunities for bungy jumping as well as whitewater and scenic rafting. Golf courses abound throughout the area and are a great way to soak up the scenery and all the fresh air you can handle. To the south is the university city of Palmerston North, one of the country's largest provincial cities. The central business district of is centred on a large leafy square.

Many of Palmerston North's original stores built in the 1920's and 1930's have been restored and are now charming boutiques, cafes and great restaurants. The city is a good base for exploring the many large private gardens in the surrounding countryside. There are many ways to explore the Whanganui River — jet boat, kayak, canoe, raft, paddle steamer — or on the end of a fly-fishing rod. You can also follow the trail to the mysterious 'Bridge to Nowhere', built across the Mangapurua Gorge to give access to an isolated settlement that was finally abandoned in 1942. Now only the 'Bridge to Nowhere' remains. The Horowhenua district to the south of the region is a special part of New Zealand's Nature Coast, featuring rivers, beaches, lakes, mountains, parks and golf courses. From the quiet calm of bushwalks and gardens, to the exhilaration of rivers and sea, through to history and culture, the region has something for everyone. Adrenaline enthusiasts can jet boat through the region's most identifiable natural icon, the formidable Manawatu Gorge. Manawatu-Wanganui is a region where you can also throw yourself out of aeroplanes and off bridges, ski, scramble up walls and rocks, or descend into caves, saddle up for an overnight horse trek, or tackle the terrain in a 4WD (four-wheel drive)...the possibilities go on. Occupancy rates are usually fairly low except in the peak ski season.

Entertainment

Museums, galleries and other cultural venues put you in touch with the region's heart and soul. There is so much to see and do in this area, including Feilding’s steam train museum and the Horse Drawn Era Museum run by local enthusiasts. Don’t miss the Te Manawa Gallery, Museum and Science Centre in Palmerston North, a cultural centre that celebrates life, art and the mind. Palmerston North also has a strong theatre scene so you should check out what is playing at the Regent on Broadway or the Centrepoint Theatre. Oval ball enthusiasts will appreciate the New Zealand Rugby Museum, or you can tour Massey University, New Zealand's largest tertiary facility.

Wanganui has a vibrant arts scene embracing fine arts, graphic design, glass blowing and fashion. The Sarjeant Gallery in Wanganui is known for its neo-classical architecture and magnificent exhibitions. Take a ride in Wanganui's historic Durie Hill elevator. Built in 1919, it is the only earthbound elevator in New Zealand and one of only two in the world. Also in Wanganui, the Memorial Tower is built from fossilised shell rock and offers excellent views of the city, Mount Taranaki, Mount Ruapehu and the Tasman Sea, or follow the heritage walk to find the city's oldest buildings or check out The Ward Observatory that houses the largest unmodified refractor telescope still in use in New Zealand. The Whanganui Regional Museum is recognised for its outstanding collection of Maori taonga (treasures) and Lindauer portraits and while in the area visit historic Ratana, a mainly Maori town where the tiny population swells during the annual pilgrimage of followers of the Ratana faith.

Transport

Airport: Palmerston North International Airport is the gateway to the lower North Island and the top of the South Island of New Zealand. As the premier provincial airport in New Zealand it services over 480,000 passengers per year, with 700 scheduled flights per month operated by six commercial airlines. The Wanganui Regional Airport, or WRA for short, serves Air New Zealand and another two airlines. Nearby is Wanganui city, the Wanganui Regional Helipad, and State Highway 1, which heads towards Palmerston North. Wanganui Airport was redesigned in 2007.

Roads: The region has 8,732 km of road, of which two-thirds are sealed. Approximately 12% of roads in the region are classified as urban and three-quarters as rural, with almost half of the rural roads being unsealed. With 945.9 km the region has the second-highest length of State Highways in the North Island, after Waikato.

Buses: Wanganui has four looped bus routes. The buses travel in both directions around these loops. Select your suburb name from the menu for the timetable and route description http://www.horizons.govt.nz Palmerston North: There are two ways to pay when you catch the bus in Palmerston North, cash or GoCard, a pre-paid travel card that lets you travel cheaper. http://www.horizons.govt.nz/getting-people-places/passenger-transport/bus-timetables-and-routes/wanganui-urban-services/

Water activities: Check out Whanganui Scenic Experience-Jet Whanganui River Road, RD6, Wanganui, New Zealand, 4021

Train: The region includes the North Island Main Trunk Railway - the main railway line that links Auckland and Wellington. Other railway lines that now carry freight only are the Palmerston North-Gisborne line, which follows the Manawatu Gorge and links the region with Hawke's Bay and the Marton-New Plymouth line that provides a railway link with Taranaki and from this line a short branch line runs to Wanganui. Road and rail transport give the region's exporters easy access to ports.

Cycling: Explore the region by bike. Because this area has a mild climate in summer, cycling is an excellent way to see the area. There is advice on routes and road conditions on the website below. http://www.eventfinder.co.nz/cycling/events/manawatu-wanganui

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