A Local’s Guide to Taumarunui

August 22


If Queenstown is the South Island’s adventure capital, Taumarunui would have to fly the flag in the north. Straddling two national parks, two beautiful rivers and a whole lot of history, this wee mountain village in the central North Island of New Zealand is the perfect place to park up for a few days.

What is Taumarunui famous for?

Located in the heart of the King Country of the North Island of New Zealand, Taumarunui is known for many things. Its position on the ‘Adventure Highway’ (also known as State Highway 4) should serve as a clue. It’s the gateway to exploring both the Whanganui National Park and the Tongariro National Park, which are both home to spectacular mountainscapes and walking trails.


The village is the biggest settlement in the Ruapehu district, which makes it the perfect base for accessing the mighty Mount Ruapehu itself. In winter, this is the North Island’s snow playground, and people flock from all over to come skiing, boarding or simply to soak up the alpine vibes. With a population of only about 5,000, it’s just a little township, but when the snow arrives, the people do too.

For rail enthusiasts, the town sits on the North Island Main Trunk Railway line, the first main trunk line to join Auckland and Wellington. This 680km line, built in the late 1800’s, was a considerable effort, and became the centre of transport between Auckland the Wellington, where most government activity was taking place.

The town also marks the start of the Forgotten World Highway, which is as magical and mysterious as it sounds. The Forgotten World Highway winds through deep bush and valleys, discarded by humans and residing now, certainly, in the domain of mother nature. If you’re keen to explore, the Forgotten World Adventures takes visitors down decommissioned railways, through tunnels and over bridges which it truly does feel like the world has forgotten.

What is there to do in Taumarunui?

There’s a reason Taumarunui is one of the most popular holiday spots in New Zealand – in fact, there are plenty. Aside from the national parks, the town is surrounded mostly by farming land, and the local community is friendly and welcoming. The town is quite literally surrounded by epic activities, too. Mountain bike through the Pureora Forest on the Timber Trail. For an easy hike, head for the Taranaki Falls. This two hour loop track offers incredible views of the falls and the surrounding King Country, and is perfect for a half-day adventure.

Taumarunui sits on the junction of the Whanganui River and Ongarue Rivers, and both are ripe for exploring. The Whanganui River is especially popular for raft, kayak and canoe trips. As the biggest settlement in the Ruapehu district, Taumarunui is the perfect base for paying a visit to (or at least clapping eyes on) the mighty Mount Ruapehu. The town is two hours to the north west of the mountain.

When is the best time to visit Ruapehu?

Ruapehu is home to the two largest ski areas in New Zealand, so is an absolute hotspot in winter. Whakapapa and Turoa offer a variety of terrain for skiiers, boarders and tobogganers alike, and Taumarunui’s community swells in size in June, July, August and September. However, it’s also a gorgeous spot in the summer months, with endless hiking and biking routes winding their way through lush New Zealand native bush.


What is the Raurimu spiral?

The Raurimu spiral is a rail-lovers dream come true. The spiral is a stretch of railway that has been abandoned since the Taumarunui to Waiouru section was opened in 1982. Back in 1904, the rail line had reached the upper reaches of the King Country – and a hurdle. To the south lay an ascent into the Waimarino plateau. To overcome it, Robert Holmes designed the rail spiral, complete with three horseshoe turns and couple of tunnels, covering the 140m height difference. It’s known as a feat of engineering and has been designated as a ‘significant engineering heritage site’.

What does Taumarunui mean in Maori?

In te reo Māori, the name Taumarunui means ‘place of big shelter’, as well as ‘big screen’. There was a major Māori settlement here for many hundreds of years before European arrival, at the junction of the Whanganui River and the Ongarue river, which Maori used for transport out to the coast and to the rest of the region.

What’s the history of Taumarunui?

Taumarunui holds a significant place as a historical Maori settlement in New Zealand history. Chief Pehi Turoa was the leader of many Whanganui tribes for the majority of the era of settler arrival in New Zealand as well as for some significant tribal wars. He defeated a war party from another tribe bearing down on the river from Tuhua, and raided as far east as the southern Hawke’s Bay.

Taumarunui was also one of the earliest townships established by Europeans when they arrived at New Zealand shores. Alexander Bell is a well-known name around town – he was the first pākeha (non-Māori) to be allowed to settle in the town in 1874, after it was closed to Pakeha in 1860. He eventually took the daughter of one of the Ngāti Hauaroa tribe’s chiefs to be his wife, and set up a trading post near to the junction of the rivers.

With the construction of the train line, Taumarunui boomed, with a school and post office sprouting up quickly. Manunui, it’s small neighbour, saw significant growth as well, with the opening of a timber mill in the early 1900s. When the mill closed, farming became the main source of work. Today, Taumarunui is the seat for the Ruapehu District Council.


How far is Taumarunui from Whanganui?

Taumarunui is about a two hour journey from Whanganui .

Can you raft down the Whanganui river?

You sure can. In fact, it was the first river in New Zealand (as well as the world) to be given status as a person. In other words, recognizing that we are the river, and the river is us.


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