Pīpīriki is a gateway to the upper Whanganui River and Whanganui National Park, and the major landing point for canoe and jet boat trips.
Before setting off on the River Road, take time to stop at the large information panel to learn about the history and spiritual and cultural significance of the Whanganui River to tangata whenua (local people). It will help bring the area’s rich Māori and European history to life.
Ōmorēhu Waterfall lookout (5km) is a fine example of the many that cascade into the Whanganui River. An ascent of around 120m – rewards with panoramic views of the river and forested Whanganui National Park. After that it’s all downhill to Hiruhārama/Jerusalem.
Hiruhārama – Jerusalem (9.5km). Home to the century-old St Joseph’s Convent & Church. Check out the church’s beautifully carved alter of Māori design, kowhaiwhai wall panels, and bliss out in the serene rosary garden. Once the home of an orphanage, you can now stay in these authentic surrounds.
The mission’s founder, Mother Suzanne Aubert (1835– 1926) is likely to become New Zealand’s first Saint, with Pope Francis declaring her ‘Venerable’ (an important milestone on the pathway to canonisation) in 2016. Her influence in the Whanganui region is still felt strongly today.
More stories surround another former Hiruhārama resident, the poet James K. Baxter whose commune closed soon after his death in 1972.
Moutoa – a small river island (17km) can be seen from the road. This was the scene of a short and fierce battle in 1864. This helped establish a close bond between local iwi and European settlers.