Last Updated On 11th July 2023 By Lauren | Wild Lovely World
In this post, I will share with you the best fun and FREE things to see and do in Whanganui, New Zealand.
Whanganui was recently crowned New Zealand’s most beautiful city (small city that is – it had to jointly share the top spot with the ‘big city’ of Hamilton. Hamilton is nice, but in my opinion, it’s no Whanganui!).
Whanganui is a small city of the southern western coast of the north island of New Zealand. Although its own particular stretch of coastline isn’t much to look at, Whanganui is blessed by the beautiful Whanganui River. To the north is the magnificent Whanganui National Park, with a really mesmerising landscape I had the pleasure to drive through on our way to Whanganui from Tongariro National Park.
Is Whanganui Worth Visiting? Why You Should Visit Whanganui
As soon as we arrived in Whanganui, we loved it. The town had a really inviting atmosphere. Within minutes we were engaged in friendly conversations with locals who gave us a warm welcome and plenty of tips on things to do. We found an abundance of great sightseeing opportunities. And the best thing is, all the best things to do in Whanganui are FREE! Whanganui is worth visiting and including on your New Zealand itinerary.
What Is Whanganui Known For?
Whanganui is known for being an artsy town, and it definitely lives up to this claim. The city is full of intriguing little art galleries and creative centres. The streets are dotted with innovative sculptures and thoughtful murals. In addition, there is a great regional museum to explore to learn about the history of the landscape and it’s people.
As we only had one full day in the city, we have plenty of things saved to do for the next time we visit. We are looking forward to returning to Whanganui, but for now, here are the best things we enjoyed with one day in the city.
The Best Free Things To See & Do In Whanganui
8 Free Things To See & Do In Whanganui, New Zealand
1. View Of The City From Durie Hill
Head across the river to the neighbourhood of Durie Hill. This area was a planned addition to Whanganui to provide housing to the growing population.
A bridge over the Whanganui River connects the neighbourhood to the city centre. From the bridge, a tunnel leads to an elevator located at the bottom of the hill – the Durie Hill Underground Elevator. You can get to the top of the hill by taking the elevator for 2 dollars a ride. There is a road and a footpath to the top of the hill too, so you want to do it for free just walk or drive up!
At the top of Durie Hill is a War Memorial Tower. Climb the 176 steps of the early 19th Century Tower to get a 360 view of Whanganui, the river and surrounding countryside and parks.
Durie Hill Tower is open 8.00 – 18.00 seven days a week.
2. Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics
This small ceramics museum displays the large personal collection of Whanganui’s well known and local potter Rick Rudd. Take a look around as he works on pieces in his studio.
On display are Rudd’s own art works from throughout his lifetime, as well as those of other potters that he has admired over the years. There are over 400 pieces in the collection and it is continually growing.
Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics is a free museum which is worth a visit for up to an hour.
Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics is open 10.00 – 16.00 Tues – Sun.
3. Whanganui Regional Museum
Whanganui’s Regional Museum is one of the best free museums we have visited in the North Island. The collection is extensive and features various local and international exhibits.
The museum shares the natural history of the area as well as the local history of Whanganui. There is a great Maori exhibit featuring a canoe. Discover the true size of a Moa from their great collection of skeletons. I particularly enjoyed learning about Russian Jack who was a travelling man who walked the roads of the North Island for 53 years!
Whanganui Regional Museum is free and well worth a visit. There’s a lot to see so allow 1-2 hours.
Whanganui’s Regional Museum is open 10.00 – 16.30 seven days a week.
4. Sarjeant Gallery
The Sarjeant Gallery building in Queens Park is currently closed for rennovations until 2022. However, some of the exhibits have been moved to temporary buildings in Whanganui. You can visit them in the i-SITE Visitor Centre and across the road at Sarjeant On Quay. During our visit, we saw an interesting exhibit from local potters.
Sarjeant On Quay is open 10.30 – 16.30 seven days a week.
5. Discover Whanganui’s Street Art
Whanganui is famed for it’s artsy vibe. Wander around and you will find that there are plenty of great murals and quirky sculptures all over the town.
Make sure you check out artist Pat Perry‘s beautiful mural close to Victoria Street. Our personal favourite was the giant emperor penguins in an alleyway close to Article Cafe.
Love street art and graffiti? Check out this post: 10 Best Street Art Cities In New Zealand’s North Island 
6. New Zealand Glassworks
Pop in for a quick visit to the New Zealand Glassworks, a glass studio and shop. Take a look at the small gallery of selected works on display. If you are lucky, you may also be able to watch the glassblowers at work creating their masterpieces.
New Zealand Glassworks is open 10.00 – 16.30 seven days a week.
7. Article Cafe & Vintage/Retro/Arts Store
Set within the converted offices of the Chronicle Newspaper building, Article Cafe is a gem in the heart of ‘Old Whanganui’.
We popped in for a quick coffee and a poke around the so-called Vintage/Retro/Arts Store. There we browsed such delights as ‘Travel the World in 3D’, charming kitchen ceramics and gorgeous old woolly jumpers that would make the most hipster of hipsters envious. Locally made creative goods (earrings, pottery, drawings etc.) are also for sale.
The vibe is (knowingly) too cool for school, but undoubtedly inviting and absolutely chocker-block with locals that you know it’s gotta be good. With large communal tables, it’s a sit down, relax and chat with a friendly stranger kind of place.
I could have spent hours there – I’ll make sure to next time.
Article is open 8.30 – 15.00 Wed – Sat.
8. Walk Down Victoria Avenue
Victorica Avenue is Whanganui’s main street. Here you will find books, cafe, takeaways, restaurants and shops.
We took a walk down at night and I really enjoyed the soft street lamps lighting our path beneath the colonial terrace shop fronts.
There is a really lovely atmosphere in the town. You may also want to pop into one of the many pubs for a drink.
Where To Stay In Whanganui
Looking for a place to stay in Whanganui? Here are my recommendations of where to stay.
Recommended Accommodation In Whanganui
Freedom Camping: Moutoa Quay (between i-site and Whanganui Riverboat Centre) – Whanganui
We stayed in our campervan when we went to Whanganui at the great freedom camping on Moutoa Quay. There are quite a few spots here (we never had any bother finding a space). There are modern, public toilets open all night in a nearby car park. The spot is next to the beautiful Whanganui River and in close walking distance to all the best things to see and do in Whanganui. Moutoa Quay is the best freedom camping spot in Whanganui! However, be mindful that it is closed on Fridays due to a market. Click here to see the Moutoa Quay freedom camping spot in Whanganui.
Need some tips on buying a campervan for traveling in New Zealand? Check out this post: 10 Key Things You Need To Know Before You Buy A Campervan In New Zealand
As we freedom camped in Whanganui, I didn’t stay at any of these accommodations below. However I would absolutely stay at these places myself as they all look fabulous!
Budget: Braemar House B&B & YHA Hostel, Whanganui
Braemar House is set in a beautiful historic homestead on the banks of the Whanganui River. As a YHA Hostel the standards are high. The rooms are clean and you can chill out in the lounge and prepare your meals in the kitchen. The vibe is relaxed and you can even enjoy the sunny garden. Braemar House is just a 5 minute walk from all the best things to see and do in Whanganui. Rated 9.7/10 from guest reviews. Click here to search for prices and availability at Braemar House B&B YHA Hostel in Whanganui*.
Mid-Range: Kings Court Motel, Whanganui
Just a few minutes walk from Whanganui’s city centre, the Kings Court Motel has everything you need for a relaxed and comfortable stay. The spacious studios have cooking facilities and HD Smart TVs with free Netflix. Parking is provided outside each self-contained unit. There’s a garden area with a sunny terrace and BBQ facilities if the mood takes you. Rated 9/10 by guest reviews. Click here to search for prices and availability at Kings Court Motel in Whanganui*.
Luxury: Browns Boutique Bed & Breakfast, Whanganui
Browns Boutique Bed and Breakfast is one of the top rated accommodations in Whanganui. Situated in the heart of the city, the boutique B&B features rooms filled with art made by local artists and makers, alongside quirky finds from local second hand and antique stores. Each room has its own bedroom area, breakfast/seating area and private bathroom. Plus, enjoy a private courtyard nestled amongst the gardens. A gourmet breakfast is provided. Rated 9.7/10 by guest reviews. Click here to search for prices and availability at Browns Boutique Bed and Breakfast*.
The Best Free Things To See & Do In Whanganui
Are you planning to visit the most beautiful city in New Zealand? Write a comment and let me know which of these free activities you are going to do on your trip to Whanganui!
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Looking for more fun and free things to do in New Zealand? Check out these posts:
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- 16 Must-Have Apps For Van Life In New Zealand
- The Best Freedom Camping Spots In Wellington City
- I’ve Been A Tourist In New Zealand For 3-Years During The Covid-19 Pandemic. Here Is My Experience.
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