“Laughton and I, who had never been in a canoe, let alone navigated 100 rapids, joined a group for a five day trip down the Whanganui River. We survived. One of our group gave me a book, full of old photographs, about the river’s astonishing early fame as a tourist attraction. We had experienced a pristine and isolated river. At the turn of the century bustling steam boats braved the rapids taking visitors to a modern hotel, a houseboat, and then to the rail-head at Taumaranui. ‘The Rhine of Maoriland!’ boasted the tourist posters. The Mayor of Whanganui hosted the book launch and gave me freedom of the city. Am not sure how to claim this honour.”
Vivid and evocative, this is a moving novel of a unique time and place from one of New Zealand’s favourite authors.
The Whanganui River at the turn of the twentieth century is a busy thoroughfare, taking sightseers through the spectacular landscape by paddle steamer and acting as highway for the sparse scatterings of settlements along its twisting length.
The people who have made it their home are a diverse collection, from Samuel Blencoe, trying to forget his past life as a convict, to the hoteliers at Pipiriki, the nuns at Jerusalem, the Maori families, the Chinese market gardener and the farmers, like Danny and Stella, trying to tame the wild bush. There’s also Bridie, the strange, silent girl, who haunts the banks of the river where the accident occurred that robbed her of her mind.
Like the tributaries that trickle down the mountains and join the mighty river, so the lives of these people come together in this vivid and moving tale of a stunningly unique place.