164km (102 miles) SE of New Plymouth; 141km (87 miles) SW of Tongariro National Park; 193km (120 miles) N of Wellington; 252km (156 miles) SW of Napier

There's tourism potential in Wanganui, and the town has finally become aware of it. In the past few years it has transformed itself from a rather grubby little river town to something much prettier. Now that the inner city has a smart face, attention is turning to the long-awaited beautification of the town's major beach suburb, Castlecliff.

The single-biggest draw in the area is the history-rich Whanganui River, a moody snake of a river that's the second longest in the North Island and the longest navigable waterway in the country. It flows 290km (180 miles) from the upper reaches of Tongariro National Park to the Tasman Sea, where, at its mouth, you find Wanganui township. The river has always had a special place in Maori history. A long history of discontent between Maori and Pakeha over its use and ownership hopefully was settled with the mid-1999 Waitangi Tribunal decision to hand the river back to the Maori people. Local Maori won the argument to have the district and river spelling reverted to Whanganui (whanga=bay, nui=big) in 1991, but, despite a ruling by the New Zealand Geographic Board in 2009 that the name of the town should also be Whanganui, the people are still split. Hence it was made optional, so you'll see both spellings, regardless of the fact that "wanga" (as in Wanganui) has no meaning in Maori. The Whanganui River flows through Whanganui National Park, most of which is accessible only by boat or on foot. The population of the greater Whanganui District is around 48,000, and the area is blessed with 2,084 hours of sunshine annually.