A River Runs Through it: Whanganui Travel Diary

Whanganui was nothing like I imagined it. Okay, maybe my idea of Whanganui was not so much based on fact as it was based on a fantasy created through having watched too many New Zealand history movies. In my fantasy, I would sail on boats and canoes on the Whanganui river surrounded by New Zealand’s native forest. In my fantasy, I would also just step out of my hostel dorm room and would find myself deep inside the Whanganui national park where only birds were my company. What I didn’t anticipate or imagine was for my feet to run faster than my heart upon arrival and departure.

Whanganui River in New Zealand

On my day of arrival, it was pouring. As I was walking through the streets, it began to feel more and more as if I was swimming through the Whanganui river instead. Every sailor would’ve been proud of my colourful language as I was navigating myself though this stream. Less than fifteen minutes in Whanganui and my false ideas were swept down the drain.

My departure, although vastly different, shared many similarities with my arrival day. I was cursing as if I was being paid for it, I was moving my feet as fast as walking allowed me to (No matter how dire the situation or how much I’m running out of time, my inner couch potato would only bring itself to run when being chased by dinosaurs), and I looked as if I just swam through the Whanganui river. It wasn’t raining, however, I was just sweating profusely.

My hostel fantasy where, despite having booked a bed in a 6-bed dorm room, I’d be surrounded by nothing but kiwi birds and an ever flowing creativity, drowned in the cold hostel showers. Upon arrival, I was only greeted with: “Oh why didn’t you book our shuttle service?”. Unlike the hostel manager, I wasn’t in the mood for laughing. After what felt like an eternity, where I was still soaked, tired, cold, and carrying my luggage, as the hostel owner told me “everything there is to know about Whanganui” in a thick German accent, I just took a mental note to check whether the hostel at my next destination offers a shuttle service before arriving at the new destination.

Then, still soaked, tired, and mentally cursing from still having to drudge my luggage with me, I received a hostel tour. The kitchen looked alright, the bathroom not so much. My unnamed hostel in Whanganui may not be the worst hostel I stayed at in New Zealand, that honour belongs to a hostel in Napier, but the Whanganui one is most certainly not one I’d recommend either.

Why was I hurrying along to the point of exhaustion while sweating out every liquid I consumed in the last ten years on my day of departure? Well, my shuttle, which I booked the night before, thinking it”ll be a smart move, didn’t show up. This left me with trying to get to the bus stop, roughly a 30 minute walk away from my hostel, in around 20 minutes. “I’m sorry, my shuttle service didn’t arrive” was the only thing I managed to mumble breathlessly as I reached the bus. “It’s alright”, the bus driver replied amused “still heaps of time”. My sweaty huffing and puffing must’ve looked hilarious.

Days earlier, looking down on Whanganui and on the river with the same name, from the top of the 33,5 m (104 feet) high Durie Hill War Memorial, a memorial for the 513 people from the district who died in World War One, I thought about the night before. Despite my disastrous arrival, I made peace with the rain and my hostel. A mesmerizing, flowing rhythm of rain on leaves, a guitar being played in the lounge room, and footsteps in the hallway, swept my anger away as I was lying in my bed. The next day, as I followed the Whanganui river with my eyes towards the horizon, I realized that I’m happier with an imperfect reality than with any false fantasy.

Even now, months later, I smile whenever I think of my time in Whanganui. Despite all these misadventures, reality turned out to be much more beautiful than fantasy. Despite not wanting to ever go back to that hostel in Whanganui, I recollect moments filled with laughter. When I think of Whanganui, I think of a beautifully adorned city. I remember all the locals who greeted me kindly. Exited faces of other travellers, who seemed to be happy just being in New Zealand, appear in front of my eyes. The next time I’ll fantasise about Whanganui, all this will stream through my head.


4 thoughts on “A River Runs Through it: Whanganui Travel Diary

  1. this is beautifully put. as much as i am a dreamer and will fight for the validity of being one, there is a tendency for making up very ‘clean’ fantasies – where everything is perfect and all goes according to plan. no hitches, no mishaps. ever.

    but in reality, it’s always the hitches and the unexpected that really stay in one’s mind, isn’t it? i mean, what by-the-book number could possibly rival the irony of arriving in a massive downpour and leaving in so much heat you yourself become the downpour? or the absurdity of a yearly meet-up/camping/outdoor grilling weekend we’ve been having for decades somehow always being fraught with rain – usually just on this weekend? (and the one year it really was the sunny weather we were always pining for, it was so hot we had to carry our beer benches into the forest to not burn to death)


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