Think of New Zealand’s best looking towns and cities and what springs to mind? Waihī, Pukekohe, Hutt City…? Nope, us neither. Yet all three are finalists in this year’s Keep New Zealand Beautiful Awards. The town we DO think of though is Whanganui!
Judges celebrity chef Michael Van De Elzen and Keep New Zealand Beautiful chief executive Heather Saunderson have said the contest will come down to which communities best maintain their good looks through beautification, sustainability and waste management, with bonus points for those with active community and school volunteer groups. The superficial stuff is important too though – it is a beauty contest after all.
So, why should Whanganui win?
Dismiss this west coast city as another provincial backwater at your peril, Whanganui spokesperson Marianne Cavanagh suggests – it’s a strong contender for New Zealand’s most cultured city as well as its most beautiful.
It’s a common misconception, Cavanagh says, that city is a “sleepy hollow” when “the reality is that those who have not travelled to Whanganui before may not comprehend the sheer beauty of the place”.
A strong creative vibe reflected in its opera house, galleries, artist studios and street art, prime position between the river and the sea, priceless views of mounts Ruapehu and Taranaki, under-the-radar attractions such as Cooks Gardens and Pukenamu Queens Park, and shared pathways with links to the Mountain to Sea cycle trail are among its many positive attributes, she says.
The town centre, with is multiple heritage buildings’, has been given a facelift and community sustainability initiatives, such as the Resource Recovery Centre, also make it a great place to live and visit, she notes. Others seem to agree: The latest census figures showed the city is growing.
Best viewpoints: Gentle Annie Aramoana Lookout, Durie Hill Tower and Sarjeant Gallery for its stellar views of Ruapehu.
Best selfie spots: St Pauls Memorial Church in Putiki, the historic Watt fountain on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Ridgway St, riverbank art installations, street art including the Whanganui Walls and Castleciff Beach.
Best places for a bite or bevvie: Jolt, Article, Ambrosia or Brew Brothers for coffee, La Quatro for Mexican, Cuban Belle for – err – Cuban, Wa for Japanese and Honest Kitchen or Yellow House Cafe for healthy but hearty. On Saturdays, head to the Riverside Traders market for goodies such as homemade pasties, crepes, donuts and woodfired pizzas. After something stronger? Frank and Lucky Bar are great for live music, The Red Lion and Caroline’s Boatshed have river views and the Rutland Arms in the heritage quarter has a particularly jovial vibe at weekends.