Hundreds of paddlers on the Whanganui River have completed their Tira Hoe Waka - an annual pilgrimage where Whanganui descendants learn about their marae and tribal stories with some of the paddlers who have been making the spiritual journey for 30 years.

They started their journey in Taumarunui two weeks ago; today they've arrived at Pākaitore.

Che Wilson of Ngāti Rangi says it was an enjoyable experience right throughout.

“I tīmata mātou i Ōtoko, piki ake ki te maunga, tatū atu ki Taumarunui. Terea ngā waka, tae mai ki konei, ki Tau nei. Kua oranga ngākau, kua ora ngā mātua, kua ora mai ngā tūpuna i ngā mahi a ngā uri e tere nei i runga i tō tātou waka, awa.”

For some paddlers, this is their first Tira Hoe Waka, including Hine Wilson.

“Tino pai. I tō mātou wā i haere mai ki konei i te āhua hōhā.”

But for some others, they've been paddling on Te Awa Tupua for 30 years, including Willie Wilson.

“A lot of improvements from 30 years ago. In the old days, we were sleeping on a bit of old flat ground and top tents. Now everything's set up for us.”

Che Wilson also adds that for this Tira Hoe Waka three generations of his family took part.

“Taku pāpā anā, kei te 78, anā, ko au, tae atu ki taku kōtiro, 12 ana tau. Āe, e toru ngā reanga.”

Organiser Willy Huch says its gained popularity compared to previous years.

“This year we had 257 registered, but only 110 took the water from Taumarunui. We expected a bit more but being the 30th Tira Hoe Waka this year I think a few shied away from it because we had a few kawe mate that was meant to come down the away this year. But due to the popularity, a lot of them shied away so we ended up with just over 78 as we hit Hiruharama. You know some jumped off and had work commitments and so it's been a good journey. I'm just happy to be in Whanganui.”

The river flows from the mountains to the sea, as the traditional saying goes, I am the river and the river is me.