A fitting conclusion to our visit to Wanganui was a ride on MV Wairua. Purchased as a kitset from boat builders in the Isle of Dogs, London, the boat was assembled on the river bank, and Wairua (Spirit) joined the famous Hatrick & Co Wanganui River Steamer fleet in November 1904. She was a pioneer of river travel above Pipiriki - in those days the Wanganui River was the local highway.
Wairua has a unique form of propulsion that is known as tunnel drive or raised propeller boat. The propeller is located in a tunnel above the bottom of the vessel and the water is drawn up into this and then thrust out of the stern past the vessels rudders, an early version of today’s jet boats. This enabled Wairua to work in very shallow water, and she was kept busy carrying settlers and supplies to the Mangapurua Landing, gate way to the famed Bridge to Nowhere settlement.
The river trade declined with the opening of the railway and the Wanganui River Road and the Wairua was one of the many riverboats were laid up. Uncared for and forgotten, she eventually sank slowly into the mud until only a portion of the bow remained in view. The boat was salvaged in 1987 by a dedicated group of enthusiasts, and after 19 years of hard slog, was returned to the boat we see today, thankfully saving this piece of local history.
The bow of the Wairua can just be seen at low tide in this photo from the 1980s.
PICTURE: MARK CAMPBELL
Our trip up river took us under the Dublin Street Bridge. On the bank we saw the Waimarie Paddle Steamer, another Wanganui icon which was salvaged and restored. Originally it was planned that our excursion would be on this boat, but it was still in the throes of maintenance work.
Waimarie Paddle Steamer
The Waimarie had been pulled out of the river for her maintenance work using two vintage engines, which were on display in the railway yards when we departed the River City Express train.
Vintage engines used to haul the Waimarie onto the hard for maintenance work
We did wonder why the boat slowed right down as we passed under the bridge. The reason – our train was taking another group on a little trip and was due to pass right over us. And there she goes! We had to be quick to get a photo as the train rushed by.
River City Express crossing the Dublin Street Bridge
Coffee and biscuits were included so we helped ourselves to a cuppa and sat back to enjoy the journey. We had claimed good seats in the open sided boat so we were able to take photos without the bother of windows or frames in the way.
Enjoying our trip
Our trip continued up river, a nice calm trip. There was expensive real estate to admire, and on the way back, we noticed the many rowing clubs who have their buildings on the riverside closer to town. Rowing of course is a very popular sport on the river.
It was a fun trip, and we really enjoyed it. At least there were no crocodiles in the river, coming up to whack the boat with their tails, unlike our last boat trip in Oz. A bus was waiting to take us back to the train, to complete the homewards part of our trip. What a great day!
There’s our transport back to the train
Last view of MV Wairua