Nearly 19,000 people paddled the Whanganui River in the 2018/19 summer season, according to the Conservation Department's booking system.

That was 765 more than the previous season, a spokeswoman said. Of those 42 per cent were adults and children from overseas, 42 per cent were New Zealand adults and 16 per cent were New Zealand children.

It was a remarkably pleasant summer season, Whakahoro resident Richard Steele said. He lives at the point where most canoeists begin their journey, and is the co-owner of Retaruke Blue Duck Jetboat Tours.

He and son Dan often rescue canoeists who have accidents, mishaps or health problems on the river. People from the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge near Pipiriki, and Taumarunui Conservation Department (DOC) staff, do the same.


This year Steele was only involved in 12 rescues, his log for Maritime New Zealand shows, and they were all for minor matters.

"Just people on their first day getting into a bit of trouble or boats breaking up because the plastic is too old."

The 24 people he helped are a tiny percentage of those on the river.

"From my observation, they have had a great year," he said.

His one recommendation to paddlers is to reach their overnight destination by 4pm - in time to set up a campsite and cook a good meal.

In other years the Steeles have rescued people in life-threatening situations - with one party spending six hours in water cold from snowmelt and risking hypothermia.

This year there were DOC rangers at Whakahoro and the Ohinepane campsite during the season. They provided paddlers with information and taught basic skills. DOC intends to continue this in the 2019/20 season.

Booking online has worked well this year, allowing people to make their own changes. DOC would appreciate feedback from paddlers, on ways to improve services.


This was the first season in which overseas visitors were charged more than New Zealanders on Great Walks - and the Whanganui Journey is one of those. The change allowed more New Zealanders - especially children - to take the Great Walks, DOC pricing director Laura White said.

It also gave DOC an extra $2.4 million to maintain them. However the satisfaction of overseas visitors dropped from 73 per cent to 63 per cent, possibly as a result of the extra charge.

The charging differential was a trial, which will be repeated next year.