A Visitor's View
Economic development director at Albany City Council in Oregon Kate Porsche shares her impressions after her recent stay in the Whanganui district.

In the United States we often use the Will Rogers quote: “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression”.

The night I was driven into downtown Whanganui I was greeted by blue lights shimmering along your waterfront, a welcoming beacon for your community. I asked out loud: “What are those? What's happening downtown ... it looks so festive.”

It's easy to get down on a place after a while, or to let long-held beliefs pervade, but I am here to share my honest first impressions of Whanganui city.

I travelled to Whanganui on an exchange through the US State Department and ICMA to learn about local government. I came from a community with many similarities - Albany, Oregon, population 50,600.

On my first drive through the city it became clear that Whanganui is a community with a long tradition of investment in public infrastructure and spaces.

The Sarjeant Gallery looks stately and gracious sitting atop the hill - the crown jewel of Queens Park. Your parks and sporting areas are also a testament to this investment. Virginia Lake, even in the middle of winter, was well-used by runners with happy dogs, families, and folks just out for a stroll.

The council and planning staff have done right by the community, by working to keep large retail in your core downtown. In Albany, the department stores were allowed to move to the outskirts of town, which has almost killed our downtown.

When I would go out for walks in Whanganui, imagine my delight in the lively centre, with people out shopping, eating and enjoying the vibrant core with its abundance of delightful boutiques, stores, and great restaurants.

The rich collection of residential and commercial heritage buildings give the Whanganui community a sense of history and place, which made me feel instantly welcome. Continue the work to revitalise these pieces of history, as they are an essential element of what gives Whanganui its character.

Like Oregonians, Kiwis enjoy their abundance of surrounding natural beauty and the opportunity to go play in the outdoors. Whanganui and Albany share a striking similarity in their central geographic setting.

You are next to the ocean, on a river, and within driving distance of the mountains and national forest - Whanganui is an excellent central location for enjoying all of these. Nothing brought this point home to me more than my excursion to the Bridge To Nowhere. Though the bridge is the ultimate destination, like life, the beauty is in the journey ... by narrow winding road, by jet boat, and by foot.

The waterfront is arguably one of Whanganui's greatest assets, and recent investment makes this a wonderful place to enjoy, with paths, open views, and the future tram service. Whanganui strategically placed the i-Site at this location - a lovely, open, airy space that welcomes visitors, and encourages them to stay, maybe for lunch at the adjoining cafe, or for the night.

If you overhear an American accent and a woman says she's moved her family from Oregon to Whanganui, don't be surprised if it's me - Whanganui made a great, and lasting, first impression on this traveller.