Whanganui is famous for being a good place to grow up, Mayor Hamish McDouall told a group of students new to town.

He welcomed them yesterday in the Whanganui War Memorial Centre's Pioneer Room. There were about 110 students from China, India, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Hungary, Denmark, Slovakia, Italy, France, Japan and eight other countries.

Most had already started their year of study at one of Whanganui's five secondary schools, or at Whanganui UCOL or the New Zealand International Commercial Pilot Academy.

It was a varied group. Two from China were doing computer graphic design at Whanganui UCOL. Three from India were at the pilot academy. One from Italy was an exchange student at Whanganui City College.

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They would add to Whanganui's vibrancy, Mr McDouall said, and they would enjoy their time.

"Whanganui is famous for its manaakitanga - its friendship and its welcoming."

He told the young people to try all sorts of things - surfing, skiing, hunting, new sports, theatre, arts and music.

He himself had spent two and a half years in Sweden as a young person, and he remembered the friendships he made there.

He said Whanganui at times seemed like the safest and calmest place in the world but told them to be careful, to lock up their bikes and not to walk at night.

Whanganui & Partners education and youth strategic lead Heather Cox said the students would make a wonderful difference to the town. As a 16-year-old she herself had spent an "enabling" period of time in Germany.

After the speeches the young people were asked to get into colour-coded groups and forge some new friendships. Then they were photographed and treated to afternoon tea.

The welcome for international students was a first for Whanganui, but could become annual. It was funded by Whanganui & Partners and the Education New Zealand Regional Partnerships Programme.