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Wanganui is an urban area and district on the west coast of the North Islandmarker of New Zealandmarker. It is part of the Manawatu-Wanganuimarker region.

Like several New Zealand centres, it was officially designated a city until administrative reorganisation in 1989, and is now run by a District Council. Despite this, it is still regarded as a city by most New Zealanders.

There is a recommendation from the New Zealand Geographic Board that the name be changed to "Whanganui", but this has yet to be approved by the Minister for Land Information.

Wanganui City

Wanganui is located on the South Taranaki Bightmarker, close to the mouth of the Whanganui River. It is 200 kilometres north of Wellingtonmarker and 75 kilometres northwest of Palmerston Northmarker, at the junction of State Highways 3 and 4. Most of the town lies on the river's northwestern bank, although some suburbs are located on the opposite side of the river.

It enjoys a temperate climate, with slightly above the national average sunshine (2100 hours per annum), and about 900 mm of annual rainfall. Several frosts are experienced in winter.

It is administered by Wanganui District Council. The current mayor is Michael Laws.


The area around the mouth of the Whanganui was a major site of pre-European Māori settlement. In the 1820s coastal tribes in the area assaulted the Kapiti Islandmarker of Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha. Te Rauparaha retaliated in 1830 sacking Putiki and slaughtering the inhabitants.The first European traders arrived in 1831, followed in 1840 by missionaries Octavius Hadfield and Henry Williams who collected signatures for the Treaty of Waitangi. After the New Zealand Company had settled in Wellingtonmarker the company looked for more suitable places for settlers. Edward Wakefield, son of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, negotiated the sale of 40,000 acres in 1840. A town, originally known as Petre was established at the river mouth shortly after. The name was officially changed to Wanganui on 20 January 1854.

The early years of the new town were problematic. Purchase of land from the local tribes had been haphazard and irregular, and as such many Māori were angered with the influx of Pākehā onto land that they still claimed. It was not until the town had been established for eight years that agreements were finally reached between the colonials and local tribes, and some resentment continued (and still filters through to the present day).

Wanganui grew rapidly after this time, with land being cleared for pasture. The town was a major military centre during the Land Wars of the 1860s, although local Māori at Putiki remained friendly to the town's settlers. In 1871 a town bridge was opened followed six years later by the railway bridge at Aramoho. The town was linked by rail to both New Plymouthmarker and Wellingtonmarker by 1886.

Wanganui was incorporated as a Borough on 1 February 1872 and declared a city on 1 July 1924.
The Watt Fountain in Victoria Avenue, the old Post Office building is in the background
Perhaps the city's biggest scandal happened in 1920, when the Mayor, Charles Mackay, shot and wounded a young poet, D'Arcy Cresswell, who had been blackmailing him over his homosexuality. Mackay served seven years in prison and his name was erased from the city's civic monuments, while Cresswell (himself homosexual) was praised as a "wholesome-minded young man".

Victoria Avenue, Wanganui's main street

The Whanganui River catchment is seen as a sacred area to Māori, and the Wanganui region is still seen as a focal point for any resentment over land ownership. In 1995, Moutoa Gardensmarker in Wanganui, known to local Māori as Pakaitore, were occupied for 79 days in a mainly peaceful protest by the Whanganui iwi over land claims.

Wanganui was the site of the New Zealand Police Law Enforcement System (LES) from 1976 to 1995. An early Sperry mainframe computer based intelligence and data management system, it was known colloquially as the "Wanganui Computer". The data centre housing the LES was subject to New Zealand's highest profile suicide bombing in 1982 when anarchist Neil Roberts detonated a gelignite bomb in the entry foyer. Roberts was the only casualty of the bombing.

Wanganui has also become famous for being the only city/district to ban gang insignia and to give Police new powers to control gangs. Legislation was passed through Parliament in May 2009. The bill became known as 'Laws' Law' after the current mayor who championed the legislation although it was steered through Parliament by local MP Chester Borrows.

The name

Whāngā nui means big bay or big harbour. Europeans called it Petre (pronounced Peter), after Lord Petre, an officer of the New Zealand Company, but the name did not persist.

Wanganui or Whanganui?

In the local accent, Māori 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 Māori and a wh by those Māori speakers from other areas who knew its derivation.

Following an article about the river by David Young in the New Zealand Geographic magazine 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 sometimes 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.

A non-binding referendum was held in Wanganui in 2006, where 82 percent voted for Wanganui without an 'h'. Turnout was 55.4 percent.[44056]

In February 2009, the New Zealand Geographic Board received a proposal that the city's name should be spelt "Whanganui", and in late March found there was a good case for the change. The public was given three months to comment on the proposed change, beginning in mid May. About equal numbers of submissions supported and opposed the change. Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws spoke strongly against the proposed change. Another referendum was held in Wanganui in May 2009 and residents again rejected changing the city name 77-22. Turnout was 60%. The Geographic Board decided in September 2009 that the name should be spelled "Whanganui", but the decision will be reviewed by the Minister for Land Information.

City features

Wanganui viewed from Durie Hill
Prominent buildings of the city include the Sarjeant Art Gallery, and the Royal Wanganui Opera House, which was built in 1901.

Cook's Gardens are a major sporting venue, used for cricket, cycling, and athletics. On January 27, 1962, a world record time for running the mile was set by Peter Snell on the grass track at the gardens.

Much of the city is on the river's northwest bank. The river is crossed by four bridges - Cobham Bridge, City Bridge, Dublin Street Bridge and Aramoho Railway Bridge (rail and pedestrians only). Close to the southeast end of the City Bridge is one of Wanganui's more unusual features, an elevator leading to a monument on the top of Durie Hill.

Suburbs of the city include (clockwise from due south), Gonville, Castlecliff, Springvale, St. Johns Hill, Aramoho, Wanganui East, Bastia Hill, Durie Hill and Putiki. Of these, all except Wanganui East, Bastia Hill, Durie Hill and Putiki are on the northwest bank.


A considerable proportion of Wanganui's economy relates directly to the fertile and prosperous farming area that surrounds the city. Heads Road is Wanganui's main industrial area and s home to a number of manufacturing and engineering operations. The Wanganui Port, once the centre of industrial transport, still has some traffic but is more noted for the world famous Q-West Boat Builders, who operate from here.

Tourism is now becoming a major income stream for the district and the local Council has undertaken a number of tourism initiatives. Planning to relocate the local i-SITE Visitor Centre to a higher profile and specialised building is currently underway as well as the upgrading of a number of local landmarks (including the new riverfront walkway). Council has also taken actions to raise the profile of its main tourism website ([44057]) as this has been recognised as the leading source of information on Wanganui for visitor information.


Wanganui district

Wanganui District Council resulted from amalgamation of Wanganui and Waitotara county councils and Wanganui City Council.The district has an area of 2,373 km². Much of the land in Wanganui district is rough hill country surrounding the valley of the Whanganui River. A large proportion of this is within the Whanganui National Parkmarker.

All but some people in the Wanganui district live in the city itself, meaning there are few prominent outlying settlements. A small but notable village is Jerusalemmarker.


Sport Team's Colours


Wanganui is one of the oldest rugby unions in New Zealand, but has never held the Ranfurly Shield. The Wanganui environs have produced many All Blacks including Andrew Donald, Bill Osborne, Buff Milner, George Bullock-Douglas, Harrison Rowley, John Blair, John Hogan, Moke Belliss, Mona Thomson, Pat Potaka, Peina Taituha, Peter Johns, Peter McDonnell, Peter Murray, Peter Henderson, Sandy McNicol, Glenn Osborne and Keith Gudsell who also played three tests for the Wallabies.

In 2008 the Wanganui representative rugby team under the captaincy of David Gower, won the NZRFU's Heartland Championship (Meads Cup) by defeating Mid Canterbury 27-12 in the final. They had previously been the defeated finalist in 2006 and 2007. The 2008 side had an undefeated season - the first since 1947. The rugby squad, including coach and management, was accorded the honour of 'Freedom of the City' by the Wanganui District Council - the first time the award had been given to any sporting team.

The 2009 representative team repeated this feat by regaining the Meads Cup - again defeating Mid Canterbury in the final by 34 points to 13 (after trailing nil-13 at halftime). Unlike 2008, the 2009 did lose games (to Wellington, Wairarapa Bush and Mid Canterbury) but came good at the business end of the season. Ten Wanganui players were selected for the Heartland XV. Mayor Michael Laws is to reconfirm the Freedom of the City award at a civic function in late November.

Sister cities

The Wanganui District Council decided in 2008 to formally end its sister city relationship with Reno, Nevada, USA after years of inactivity.

Instead it has looked to partner a Samoan village in the wake of the 2009 tsunami tragedy.


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