Maori Legends

Maori Legends & History of the Whanganui River

Maori Canoe on the Wanganui River

Maori Canoe on the Wanganui River

It would be presumptuous for us to tell the stories of the Whanganui River from an iwi perspective. However, we recognise that there is a genuine desire by visitors to know and understand what the river means to Maori and their history on the river.

There is a common understanding that the Whanganui River was formed in Maori mythology when Mounts Tongariro and Taranaki clashed over Mount Pihanga, the Whanganui River trench was carved as Taranaki retreated to the sea.

In more modern times, the Whanganui River has been a battleground in more ways than one. The following web links provide a basic understanding of how we came to be at the point we are today, and what the future may hold.

Te Ara – The Online Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

Waitangi Tribunal decision on the Whanganui River claim

Information about the protocols for the Tieke Marae can be found in the free downloadable booklet.

Wanganui or Whanganui?

Maori carvings in the Wanganui Museum

Maori carvings in the Wanganui Museum

In the local accent, Maori say wh as w followed by a glottal stop, and the name as something like “W’anganui”, hard to reproduce by non-locals. Until recently it was generally written as “Wanganui” and pronounced with a w by non-speakers of Maori and a wh by those Maori speakers from other areas who knew its derivation.

Following an article about the river in the New Zealand Geographic magazine by David Young that used “Whanganui” throughout, in accord with the wishes of the local iwi, the spelling of the river’s name reverted to Whanganui in 1991. The region’s name is now often also spelt “Whanganui”, but the city has kept the spelling “Wanganui”. As a result, many people from outside the area now take pains to pronounce the river and the region as “Whanganui” and the city as “Wanganui”, though the variant spellings do not reflect any difference in the underlying name. Source: