Whanganui Part 1: Castlecliff and Durie Hill

After spending most of the day before in the car, I wanted to get out and stretch my legs. The city of Whanganui is located on both sides of the Whanganui River right before it flows into the Tasman Sea. After a light breakfast at my AirBnb, I took a long walk on the river’s north side.

Morning in Whanganui

It was about 40 degrees when I first woke up but the day was beautiful and sunny and warmed up to get in the lower 60s. I was really digging this New Zealand winter so far. I liked it even more after checking the weather back home. Baltimore was going through a little heat wave with temperatures reaching the mid 90s.

Whanganui is an artsy kind of town with galleries, museums, and the Royal Wanganui Opera House which serves as a venue for a variety of events. The city also hosts the biennial Whanganui Literary Festival. My kind of town. And yes, I did spell its name two different ways in one paragraph. Wikipedia has a good breakdown of the variation in spelling here.

Mural I spotted on my morning walk.

After my walk I visited the i-SITE to learn more about the local attractions. I would’ve loved to take a cruise on the Waimarie Paddle Steamer but offseason got me again. However, the Motor Vessel Wairua, a vintage riverboat, offered cruises on Saturday and Sunday. I was able to book a spot for the next morning right at the i-SITE, easy peesy.

Next I headed to Castlecliff, a suburb of Whanganui. Castlecliff’s main feature is its location by the black sand beach on the Tasman Sea. Despite being a beachside community, Castlecliff looked more like a working class neighborhood than a hideaway for the area’s rich. Good. Maybe because New Zealand has so many amazing beaches and a lower rate of inequality than in the United States there just aren’t enough rich people to hog all the best stuff. Except in Auckland.

Anyway, back to Castlecliff. The area is protected from the full force of the sea by some big dunes which open up to a black sand beach littered with driftwood. I walked along the dunes and made my way down to the beach for a look around. A few other people were off in the distance but it seemed desolate. I loved it. The wind was pretty fierce along the water’s edge and I had to zip up my jacket and pull out a scarf. I wandered around for a while, stopping to examine some interesting seashells or pieces of driftwood. I don’t know if there is always so much driftwood on the beach or if the big storms that swept through a few weeks earlier caused the sea to throw it on the shore.

Felt like my own private beach.

My stomach was demanding food so I headed back to the central part of Whanganui for some lunch before checking out the Durie Hill elevator.

After grabbing a bite, I crossed the river using the City Bridge (one of four bridges) and walked to the elevator’s entrance. It was built in 1919 to help make it easier for people living in Durie Hill to get to the town proper. The elevator’s claim to fame is that it’s the only underground elevator in the southern hemisphere and one of only two in the world (the other is in Paris). What’s an underground elevator, you may ask. I didn’t know either. The elevator shaft runs down through a large hill and to reach the entrance at the bottom you have to walk through a 66 meter long tunnel. I guess that’s the underground part. When I got to the tunnel opening I hesitated. It was kind of creepy and I was alone and if I had been in Baltimore I’m not sure I would’ve gone in.

Once you walk through the pedestrian tunnel at the bottom, you have to ring a bell to let the elevator operator know you want a ride. It’s $2 per ride and when I handed my coin over to the operator she opened a wooden cash drawer that looked original to the elevator.

At the top, the elevator opens next to a small tower with a spiral staircase. Nearby is also the Durie Hill Memorial Tower dedicated to the dead of World War I. I climbed the small tower and was rewarded with a gorgeous view of Whanganui.

Looking northeast from the elevator tower.

An alternative to the elevator is a set of stairs with 191 steps of fun. I took those to get back down to river level and then headed back to my AirBnB to relax a while before dinner.

Next up: farmers’ market, MV Wairua, and Lake Virginia.



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