Manawatu: An introduction

Manawatu has all the relaxed charm of rural New Zealand, with exciting outdoor experiences offered by landscapes that sweep from mountain ranges to the sea.

Manawatu's landscapes – sweeping from the Tararua and Ruahine mountain ranges, across hills and a wide river valley to the long, sandy beaches of the Tasman Sea – inspire outdoor discoveries and adventures.

Palmerston North, Manawatu’s main urban centre, is home to an impressive line-up of museums, heritage collections, theatres, art galleries and studios, as well as dozens of educational and research institutions. An inviting array of cafés, bars and restaurants offer refreshments and meals to satisfy all appetites.

Beyond the city are myriad ways to enjoy the rural setting, including scenic touring routes that take in charming villages and farmers markets, and walking and cycling tracks and trails.

Māori heritage

Rangitane iwi – the tangata whenua or people of the Manawatu – trace their origins back to the Kurahaupo and Aotea migratory canoes. Many Māori legends tell the story of this people, the landscape and the origins of place names.

According to Māori legend, the great Manawatu River was named by an explorer named Hau who had travelled down the coast from Taranaki, chasing after his runaway wife and her lover. Hau had already crossed other big rivers, but the Manawatu made his "heart stand still". 

Nature and wildlife

At Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge, just outside Palmerston North, visitors exploring the ancient native bush on foot, by bike or from the river, may encounter the legendary Māori warrior Whatonga, whose sculpture towers over a walking track. The gorge, between the Ruahine and Tararua mountain ranges, is the only place in New Zealand where a river begins its journey to the sea on the opposite side of the mountains. 

Another landscape unique to Manawatu is New Zealand's largest sand dune field. Formed more than 6,000 years ago, the sand dunes extend 18 kilometres (11 miles) inland and stretch 200 kilometres (124 miles) along the coast.

The number and diversity of wading and shore birds that visit the Manawatu Estuary make it one of New Zealand's best spots for bird watching. More than 90 bird species have been recorded here. Keen-eyed visitors might spy the migratory bar-tailed godwit (kuaka), wrybill (ngutu pare) and caspian tern (taranui).

Art and culture

Manawatu enjoys a mild climate and most areas have rich fertile soil, providing ideal growing conditions for the region's stunning collection of gardens, wetlands and parks. 

Feilding, a busy agricultural town, has the southern hemisphere’s largest working stock saleyard. Here, local farmers provide a special insight into New Zealand farming and the tradition of livestock auctions, offering a truly authentic rural New Zealand experience.

Feilding's Coach House Museum has an outstanding collection showcasing the lives of early settlers and the region's development over more than 140 years.

The New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North has one of the world's largest collections of rugby relics and memorabilia. This is the place to discover how New Zealand's rich rugby heritage has shaped the nation.

Adventure / outdoors

Manawatu’s unexpected scenic diversity provides a great variety of adventure activities for all levels and tastes. In a single day, visitors can hike in the mountains, swim in the ocean and dine in the city.

On the Rangitikei River, whitewater rafts and kayaks take experienced thrillseekers on an exhilarating trip over grade four and five rapids. Family-friendly scenic rafting trips offer a more relaxed journey with a stop for a picnic lunch and gentle interaction with the river.

Horse trekking and four-wheel drive tours offer a background of expansive landscapes, virgin bush and abundant native wildlife. 

Seasonal highlights

For a week each March, a Festival of Cultures in Palmerston North celebrates the diversity brought to the region by people of more than 100 ethnicities.

Peak flowering periods at the internationally acclaimed rose gardens at Victoria Esplanade in Palmerston North are from September to mid-December, but colour and vibrancy feature all year-round.

In November, shoppers and gardeners travel from far afield to the Country Fair at Cross Hills Garden in the high-altitude village of Kimbolton, to browse the seven hectares (17 acres) of gardens and dozens of gift stalls.

Speedway enthusiasts travel from all over New Zealand to join in the adrenaline-pumping action at the Robertson Holden International Speedway. The season from October through April includes international competitions, local derbies and firework bonanzas.

And by the way...

  • Feilding has been crowned more than 14 times as "New Zealand’s most beautiful town". 
  • Massey University in Palmerston North is New Zealand’s largest tertiary institution.
  • Manawatu has New Zealand's largest sand-dune field.